Celebrating a 1921 anti-automobile protest in Fairmount Park

This article is a revised version of an earlier story. 

There were hikers, bikers, doggie-walkers, joggers, brunchers, and bridesmaids, but absolutely no cars on Sunday – or any day – on Forbidden Drive in Fairmount Park.

The fact that cars are forbidden on this drive is celebrated every year with the Wissahickon Day Parade, a pageant of horses and carriages of all sizes and types. May 1 marked the 90th anniversary of the parade, which began as a protest.

Dr. Tom Fitzpatrick, of Flourtown, parade grand marshal, explained that a proposal was made in 1921 to open the main artery through Fairmount Park to automobiles. “In response, 600 horsemen put their horses on the drive to stop the cars.”

The action worked. The proposal was dropped and Upper Wissahickon Drive was renamed Forbidden Drive.

Fitzpatrick, 86, said he has participated in or watched 85 of the 90 parades since then. Organizers say the springtime event, sponsored by the Wissahickon Valley Riding and Driving (as in carriage-driving) Association, is the oldest annual equine parade in the nation.

The parade began Sunday at Harper’s Meadow, where a horse show showcased winners in such categories as Western and Senior English Walk/Trot/Canter. The participants then paraded along the scenic winding creek to the Valley Green Inn, the 19th-century former hotel, covering about four miles of the seven-mile Forbidden Drive.

The crowd that assembled at the informal viewing area at the inn watched fantasy carriages and surreys pass by, followed by standard horses, quarter horses, thoroughbreds, and the members of the elegant Philadelphia Saddle Club.

Diana and John Gross of Ft. Washington have been part of the parade for 25 years. This year, John, a Springfield police officer, rode Daisy, a Haflinger, and Diana drove a carriage behind little Bubbles, a miniature horse. “We come because it’s just fun to get down here with other horse people,” she said.

But the numbers of horses and riders has diminished, even on Forbidden Drive.

Thirty horses and seven carriages from a 35-mile radius of the Wissahickon Valley took part in the parade this year, said organizer Pat Berkery, a former Philadelphia Police mounted officer. There used to be many more in the parade. “It’s the economy. It’s an expensive hobby, and gas prices also killed us. It costs a lot to bring a rig to the park.”

Even on an average day, “you used to see 25 horses on the trails. Now, you may only see one or two.”

Winners of the horse show included Nancy Peter, Western; Diane Garvey, Senior English Walk/Trot; Diane Garvey, Amber Korpa, and Dave Driscoll, Senior English Walk/Trot/Canter.

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