Main Line Times Column, Place We Love – Shortridge Memorial Park
On December 7th of this month over 70 people came out on a cold, but sunny, winter morning to plant trees in Shortridge Memorial Park. This planting is the last step this season in the next phase of improving the park’s key natural feature, the East Branch of Indian Creek. This week’s place we love is Shortridge Memorial Park in Wynnewood.
The story of Shortridge Park begins in 1780 when Welsh Quaker Joseph Price owned the land that would later become the Shortridge tract. At one point, he actually lived in the park in his “forest hut” next to the site where the mill was being built. A few months later, he moved into his new residence, the just-completed William Penn Inn on Lancaster Pike. Later, in 1880, the Inn and its 171 acres were purchased by dry good merchant and bank present Nathanial Parker Shortridge. By 1937 the property was owned by Elizabeth J. Shortridge and Shortridge Memorial Park first appears in the railroad atlases in 1948. The park’s land was conveyed to Lower Merion Township in 1940 with the stipulation that the property be used for neighbors enjoyment but that no activities, such as playgrounds or playfields attracting spectators, were allowed. Considering that this site was occasionally flooded, it makes sense that this would be excluded from development and set aside as a neighborhood amenity.
The history of the land use is interesting too. Part of the property was quarried and part of it contained a mill and mill pond. At one point in its history, the mill pond served as a place for the neighborhood to ice skate. Also, a portion of Mr. Shortridge’s property was called Clover Hill, it’s reminder existing now in the name of a nearby street.
The most important natural feature of the park is the stream, the East Branch of Indian Creek. This stream, along with the West Branch of Indian Creek, forms the headwaters for a major tributary of the Cobbs Creek Watershed. The East Branch begins up near today’s Evviva restaurant. In the 1600s this site on Montgomery Avenue was a collection of log cabins in which trappers and traders who built Libertyville (now Ardmore) traded with the people of the Lenape tribe.
Today, this creek has become the focus of much attention from the Lower Merion Conservancy, Lower Merion Township and Villanova University. With support from the William Penn Foundation and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, projects are actively underway to monitor and improve water quality through research, public education and capital improvements.
Starting in 2009, Lower Merion Township funded the stabilization of the stream banks for one-third of the park. Changing the grade of the banks, replanting them with native species and establishing a planted buffer without mowing was a critical first step to improving water quality. This reduced sediment entering the stream during storms, allowed the creek to flood naturally and cooled the stream by providing more shade. This past fall, Lower Merion completed the next phase of stabilization, further contributing to improving water quality. The Conservancy worked with a local Eagle Scout candidate, Max Mazo, to complete the work this fall by adding 28 native trees and 34 new shrubs.
If you walk the site today you will notice bundles of sticks planted vertically along the stream bank and a number of new rocks along the stream bank. The rocks are called boulder toe and they serve to give the bottom of the banks support. The sticks are bundles of willow and dogwood cuttings that are dormant now but will sprout into low shrubs with deep roots. These shrubs will hold the bank together and provide a natural buffer along the creek. Also in the spring the seeds of a stream bank wildflower mix will begin to grow and you will see the stream sides come alive with nectar and host plants for butterflies and other pollinators.
As the year comes to a close, we will begin to look for funding to complete the next and final phase of stabilization in Shortridge Memorial Park. We will also look forward to watching the new section of streambank bloom. As we continue to monitor this important site, and additional projects come together upstream, we will keep a close eye on improvements to water quality in this special place we love.
Patty Thompson is the Executive Director of the Lower Merion Conservancy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.