Friends of the Wissahickon celebrates newly restored warming shed at Valley Green

Dozens of horses and their equestrian friends gathered on Sunday afternoon to dedicate the recently-completed warming shed at Valley Green.

Located on Forbidden Drive in the Wissahickon Valley Park, the shed will continue its traditional and historic purpose of providing shelter for horses and their riders. In addition, it will continue to serve all park users as a meeting spot and a weather shelter.

“This was painstakingly restored,” said Maura McCarthy, executive director of the Friends of the Wissahickon, whose Structures Crew oversaw the rebuilding of the shed which was completed earlier this year, nearly two years after the former structure burned down in a fire. The cost of construction was approximately $20,000.

Each piece of lumber for the shed – one of the longest existing structures in the Wissahickon Valley, McCarthy noted – was hand-cut and intricately joined by pegs and other period-appropriate joinery. No exact date for the shed’s origin is known, but McCarthy estimated its existence at approximately 1,800, predating the Valley Green Inn.

This project marks the fourth time FOW has restored this structure in recent years. In 1999, the Friends rebuilt the shed after it collapsed. Several years later, a fire burned two large holes in the shed, which FOW repaired. Soon after, a large hemlock tree fell on the building, requiring more repair work.

The current project was undertaken in 2010 after the structure burned down due to an electrical fire during a rain storm. Over $8,000 was raised on behalf of the Pennsylvania Equine Council, with additional funding coming from the local business community and a community partnership grant from IBM.

Sustaining a ‘link to our past’ 

“The warming shed is an important aspect of the city’s historic heritage,” said Diane Garvey, co-director of the Philadelphia chapter of the Pennsylvania Equine Council. Garvey said that the activities of many of the group’s members take place in the Wissahickon, which she observed has almost 50 miles of trails for horseback riding.

Referencing the involvement of equestrians in protests that secured Forbidden Drive’s non-vehicular status in 1921, Garvey said that legacy continues today through capital programs like the shed and through ongoing outreach efforts.

“Horses are a living reminder of our historic heritage and continued recreational usage of horses on public land is necessary to sustain this link to our past,” she said.

Buzz Wemple, co-chair of FOW’s Structures Crew, spoke about the importance of the shed in preserving the memory of Mike Souders, a Structures Crew member who led rebuilding efforts and died not long after its completion this year. Souders’ name is emblazoned upon a plaque commemorating the shed’s completion.

“He made a commitment to do the job as he saw it should be done,” said Wemple of Souders. “It was a remarkable effort by a remarkable man.”

Next up, trail signage 

Cynthia Turecki, co-director of Courtesy Stable in Andorra and co-director of the Philadelphia chapter of the PEC, was present at the dedication. She was leading “Ride for the Signs,” a fundraiser for new trail signage that brought together 24 horses and riders on Sunday and garnered over $2,500 for the cause.

Holding the reins of Sonny, Turecki expressed enthusiasm for the new barn, explaining that riders will again be able to rest their horses while stopping in for refreshments at Valley Green Inn.

“It’s just fabulous,” she said. Noting that sometimes wayward motorists end up parking under the shed, she added, “We’re going to get signs: Horses Only.”

John and Diana Gross of Ft. Washington were present at the dedication. John was manning a carriage tethered to Daisy while Bubbles was resting nearby. A member of nearby Monastery Stables, Diana has been using the shed for 35 years, and was pleased with its return.

“It’s nice to have a place to stop and tie them up while you’re off doing whatever,” she said.

Pointing to the ponies, John said, “They really missed the shed when it burned down.”

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