Northwestern Equestrian Facility : Northwestern Stables
120 W Northwestern Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19118
The Northwestern stables, named after the road on which they reside, were built in response to changing needs of the surrounding Northwestern Philadelphia area. As society became increasingly industrialized, everyday life began to change. Cars and trucks were making horse and carriage travel obsolete. Paved roads, such as Bethlehem Pike, replaced former horse and carriage trails.
With this industrialization came the rise of wealthy business men, such as E.T. Stotesbury and John Sargent Price. These two men were prominent and powerful in Chestnut Hill, as well as the surrounding communities. Stotesbury was head of the Fairmount Park Commission, and thus had great influence over the changing landscape. Both Stotesbury and Price played roles in the creation of the Northwestern Stables.
In 1921, he Fairmount Park Commission acquired the Wissahickon Turnpike, a 5- mile carriage trail along the Wissahickon creek along with a great amount of the surrounding land. Stotesbury proposed that the park open this newly obtained road to automobile traffic. The community was in uproar at such a proposal. Local organizations launched the “Save the Wissahickon” campaign in protest.
One spring day, a group of 1,000 gathered on horseback and in horse-drawn carriages to march down the Wissahickon in support of the “Save the Wissahickon” cause. These participants were supported by 12,000 spectators. The protest was successful, and cars were forbidden from driving along the road. This protest had such a huge impact that it became an annual event celebrating its success. The march became a parade, which was named “Wissahickon Day”. The Wissahickon Day march continues to this day and has expanded to include horse shows and competition.
After the protests success, the trail was aptly renamed “Forbidden Drive” since cars were now “forbidden” from driving along the trail. It became the epicenter of equestrian activity in the Chestnut Hill area. All of this activity led to the idea of building a stable near the trail to increase convenience for riders. The land at the entrance of the trail was owned by the aforementioned John Sargent Price. Price agreed with the idea. An avid equestrian himself, he wanted the park to be easily accessed by all.
Despite the popularity of the idea, Price met some protests as he began building. Neighbors along the Wissahickon worried about the impact the stables would have on the area. Stotesbury and the Fairmount Park Commission intervened to settle disputes. The City purchased the land and stable from Price, and it became part of the Fairmount Park Commission.
In 1929, the Riders and Drivers of Chestnut Hill, an organization of horseback riders and carriage drivers, petitioned the Park Commission to open the stables to the community, but the motion was denied. Stotesbury was still president; however John Sargent Price’s brother, Eli Kirk Price, became Vice President. A little while later the motioned was made again. This time Stotesbury was away in Europe, and the decision fell to Eli Price. Price cast the deciding vote, and the motion was passed. Needless to say Stotesbury was not happy when he returned. In the end, the public was allowed to use the stables so long as they were run by a community organization, and not an individual. The Riders and Drivers of Chestnut Hill were overjoyed.
Since then, Northwestern Stables has offered private boarding, riding lessons, and several programs. Northwestern operates in partnership with the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation, the Boy Scouts, 4-H, and even the Police athletic league. The Philadelphia Police house and train horses at Northwestern.
Northwestern also is required by contract with the City to offer programs that benefit the City. Northwestern’s executive director explains that their goal “is to make the stables open and accessible as a true community resource and to welcome kids and adults of all ages to get involved with equestrian activities. Some of these children have never even seen a horse in person.”. The stables help to preserve a part of the local heritage, while offering recreation and sport.