Mount Moriah Cemetery, spanning 142 acres across Southwest Philadelphia and Yeadon Borough, is a study in awe-inspiring contrasts and coexistence. Its rolling landscape is a fecund, sometimes wild oasis in the midst of dense housing stock, a trolley stop, and nearby commercial activity. Within the gates, invasive plant species jockey for dominance with vibrant daffodils and the grave markers for an estimated 200,000 people. Stand near the Circle of St. John and you see nothing but markers and flora in one direction. Look the other way and behold the unmistakable Philadelphia skyline. Since its establishment in 1855, Mount Moriah has been an inclusive final resting place for Philadelphia’s diverse population, welcoming of all races and incomes, and adapting to changing burial needs of its diverse communities, including incorporating US military lots, Muslim burials, and communal plots. Neighbors bustle through their daily routines just outside of the gates that surround this spectacular sanctuary, likely unaware of Mount Moriah’s history, or of the bird houses tied to trees by local Cub Scouts eager to catch a glimpse of one of several species of warbler, or the natural wetlands that offer the perfect conditions for ironweed and deer-tongue grass, which in turn attract butterflies and sparrows for which these plants are food.
Today, about eight years after the Cemetery ceased operations due to the former owners’ mismanagement of the business, and just five years after a court order established the Mount Moriah Preservation Corporation1 as the temporary receiver of the cemetery, Mount Moriah is poised to reemerge with a new identity, a renewed mission, and a vision for Southwest Philadelphia:
Mount Moriah Historic Cemetery & Nature Sanctuary is one of the nation’s oldest rural parkland cemeteries and a unique cultural, ecological, and educational resource in Southwest Philadelphia and Yeadon Borough. Its mission is to provide outdoor respite that inspires serenity, learning, and deeper connections between past and present, nature and the urban environment, neighbors and visitors, and those for whom the cemetery is a tranquil final resting place. Its vision is a world where everyone, irrespective of where they live, has access to tranquil green space.
The timing of this renewed mission, approved by the Strategic Planning Committee2, is propitious. Consider the following:
- Philadelphia has seen recent and significant growth in interest and investment in place-making as demonstrated through the current administration’s Rebuild initiative and large-scale investments by local philanthropy (e.g., William Penn Foundation, the Knight Foundation, etc.) in neighborhood-based infrastructure and greenspace. The first round of Rebuild projects have targeted Southwest Philadelphia’s library and recreation center, both within walking distance of Mount Moriah, as early priorities for revitalization.
- In addition to its open space, ecological assets, and connection to sites like the Woodlands, Bartram’s, and Heinz, current and potential funders, like the City, William Penn Foundation, and DCNR, cite interest in Mount Moriah’s contribution to the watershed and stormwater network in Lower Southwest, a key piece to resolving major flooding issues in the area.
- Philadelphia Planning Commission’s District Plans for the University Southwest and Lower Southwest districts, part of the Philadelphia 2035 Comprehensive Plan, both outline goals to create a strategic plan for the reuse and stabilization of Mount Moriah Cemetery (University Southwest) and reestablish Mount Moriah as a major open space asset (Lower Southwest). Currently, just 7% of Lower Southwest is parkland and another 6% is cemetery land, comprised principally of the Woodlands and Mount Moriah Cemetery. The development of Mount Moriah as parkland would almost double the amount of green, publicly-accessible land in the district.
Energy for the revitalization of Mount Moriah extends beyond Philadelphia, as well. Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission’s Baltimore Avenue Corridor Revitalization Plan promotes a main street character through Southwest’s Kingsessing neighborhood and Yeadon borough, just north of Mount Moriah Cemetery. Delaware County Planning Commission’s Delaware County 2045 Plan outlines the expansion of greenways throughout the county as a top priority for the county. Cobbs Creek, which runs through Mount Moriah, is identified as a key opportunity for the development of a greenway corridor, along with the county-owned Cobbs Creek Park as an open space. Mount Moriah, with revitalized pathways and landscape, would vastly extend this network of greenways and open space.