Blog of the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

Should I go left or right at the next historical marker?

There are only so many times I could run to the Race Street Pier or the Art Museum steps… I needed my next destination.

You see, I’ve been logging long distance runs since July 2015 training for seven half-marathons, one full-marathon, and five Broad Street runs to date. I also jump on my dad’s 1970-ish Viscount 10 speed when I need to cross train.

Man standing next to fence and historical marker for Anthony Palmer.
Here I am stopped next to the historical marker for Anthony Palmer, founder of Kensington.

When the pandemic hit, I knew exercise would help the nervous energy I was experiencing. I just needed the next destination.

That all changed on May 20, 2020. I was running around Northern Liberties not really headed in any particular direction when I noticed the African Zoar Methodist Episcopal Church marker.

Metal sign on metal post, both painted blue, with gold lettering.
Historical marker for African Zoar Methodist Episcopal Church at N 4th and Brown streets in Philadelphia.

As a life-long resident of Philadelphia I was excited to learn something new about my favorite city. When I got home, I was so happy to know I could download the entire list of markers all over the city. I immediately started to map out where these markers were and planned which ones I could run to and which to bike. 

I was a tourist again in my hometown. I had found my next destination.

The most markers I’ve visited in one workout was 12 on August 11, 2020. I was on my bike for a total of 9.49 miles, it took 59 minutes and I learned more about the city of Philadelphia in those 59 minutes than in 35 years as a resident.  

My favorite sign that morning was Edmund N. Bacon, Philadelphia’s city planning director in the 1950s and 1960s. Because of my roots growing up in Northeast Philadelphia, I had no idea the impact Bacon had on my life.

Metal sign on metal post, both painted blue, with gold lettering.
Historical marker for planner Ed Bacon on JFK Boulevard between 15th and 16th streets in Philadelphia.

That being said, I look forward to riding north and visiting Pennypack Creek Bridge. The bridge was built in 1697 at a Lenape Indian trail crossing and is the oldest roadway bridge in continuous use in the nation (it also happens to be down the street from my high school – Father Judge).

This year, the Broad Street 10 miler was canceled because… you guessed it, COVID. It was made completely virtual and runners were allowed to plan their own route. Luckily for me, I don’t live far from Broad Street so I completed most of my run on Broad and was able to visit 11 markers along the way.

Metal sign on metal pole, both painted blue, with yellow lettering, in front of large stone building.
Historical marker for the city of Philadelphia in front of City Hall at Broad and Market streets.

My favorites that morning were, Philadelphia and Union Local 274 – American Federation of Musicians. It’s amazing the amount of legendary music history in Philly: Francis Johnson – America’s first native-born master of music lived here; Marc Blitzstein – influential American composer, lyricist studied at the Curtis Institute of Music; Eddie Lang – the father of jazz guitar lived here; Sister Rosette Tharpe – gospel music’s first crossover super-star lived here.

Thanks to these historical markers, their stories and accomplishments will inspire the next generation of talented musicians. To that, all I can say is, “thank you.”

I’ve been able to log all my miles and photos on Strava –  Strava is a wonderful application that works a lot like other social media platforms. You can run, ride, swim, walk, or kayak with friends and compete with other athletes. Follow me for a complete look at all the markers I’ve visited with turn by turn directions.

I’d like to challenge anyone reading this blog. Is there a marker near you? Can you walk, run, or bike to it?

I can’t tell you how much fun it’s been running and biking around Philly these past five months. I’ve learned a lot about my city and I lost a few pounds along the way – it’s a win-win!

So if you’re up for the challenge, find a marker near you, hit the streets and find me on Strava! If you like it, hey – maybe you found your next destination.

Editor’s note: Quick reminder! 2020 Historical Marker nominations are due on December 1. Visit the PHMC webpage for nominating a marker for criteria for approval, nomination procedure, forms, and guidelines.

If you missed the September 2020 informative historical markers webinar, you can view the recording here and review the slides here.

This week’s guest contributor is Mike Sabara. Mike lives in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia, thanks to Anthony Palmer who founded the community of Kensington in the 1730s. He enjoys the outdoors, the Jersey shore, Philly sports, and Indian food.  He lives with his wife – Courtney, daughter – Monica, and two cats – Pearl & Albert.  

1 Comment

  1. Scott Doyle

    Great to hear you are interacting with PA history on your training rides and runs through Philadelphia. I have a similar marker route on my bike rides around Harrisburg using the Greenbelt. Please check back in March 2021 when new marker approvals are announced. You may have a new route with new markers to incorporate in your spring training.
    Scott Doyle

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