Logan Circle Began As Logan Square, and Before That, Northwest Square - So Which Name Is Right?

Logan Circle - Swann Memorial Fountain

Swann Memorial Fountain in Logan Circle, as clouds move in and evening falls.

Center City District - BLUE - Parkway Museums District

Logan Circle- or Logan Square?

There is some understandable confusion. But we have a conclusive answer.

So, let's look through the history of Logan Circle, and its once-gruesome reputation...

In 1682, surveyor Thomas Holme - an associate of the colony's founder, William Penn - laid down a grid with five squares.

They were named for their geographical positions on the grid: Northwest Square, Northeast Square, Center Square, Southwest Square, and Southeast Square. The mundane names were in keeping with the Quaker belief in simplicity, and that naming streets for persons, was a sign of arrogance.

And so, this part of Philadelphia's original street plan began its existence as simply Northwest Square, in the late 17th century.

So why was humble Northwest Square first renamed Logan Square, and later reconfigured into Logan Circle?

In 1825, Northwest Square was renamed Logan Square, after James Logan, a colonial official who had been a contemporary of William Penn.

We speculate that the renaming of Northwest Square was not primarily motivated, by a desire to honor Logan. Instead, it may have been more likely to rehabilitate the reputation of the Square.

By the early 19th century, Northwest Square had become not only a burial ground, but the site of public executions, and accordingly, had a highly unpleasant reputation.

In that era, cities were growing quickly, and Philadelphia grew as lustily as any in America. There was an increasing desire to take public areas, landscape them, and provide amenities to citizens.

In this civic spirit, the opportunity to take the old cemetery and public-hanging site, and transform it into an urban oasis, was likely welcomed by Philadelphians.

Evidence for this speculation is the fact that the last public execution at Northwest Square was of an individual named William Gross, and it took place on February 7, 1823. And just two years later, in 1825, it was renamed "Logan Square". The timing of these two events seems to fit this theory, as to the real reason behind the name change.

Philadelphia, to its credit, immediately began to convert the eerie, macabre site, full of graves, hills and irregular ground, into a flat, landscaped residential area, with plenty of gardens and leafy trees for pedestrians to enjoy. In short, the goal was to make Logan Square far more pleasant to visit, than Northwest Square had been.

Northwest Square had undergone a radical transformation, not just being renamed, but renovated to suit the more refined tastes of a changing, booming Philadelphia. It had been fundamentally altered not only in name, but in appearance.

By 1842, further evidence of Logan Square's successful renovation was the fact that cows, horses and wagons, were now officially banned from the Square by law.

However, while these highly pleasant changes were welcome, Logan Square still remained a Square, though, for nearly another century.

In 1917, in the midst of World War I, the Fairmount Park Commission, which owns the Square, commissioned a French architect in Paris, Jacques Greber, to revise the diagonal Ben Franklin Parkway. Greber was an associate of one of the original Parisian architects of the Parkway, Horace Trumbauer, who had designed the boulevard in 1907.

Greber retained the integrity of his associate's design from a decade earlier, but among the significant changes he made, was to transform Logan Square into Logan Circle. Greber was inspired by the Place de la Concorde in Paris, which had been constructed during the 18th century.

In 1924, seven years after the Square had become a Circle, it received its famous centerpiece - the Swann Fountain of the Three Rivers, designed by a sculptor, Alexander Stirling Calder, and an engineer, Wilson Eyre, Jr. It was commissioned by the Philadelphia Fountain Society, to honor its president, Dr. Wilson Cary Swann.

The "Three Rivers" are the Delaware River, Schuylkill River, and the Wissahickon Creek, each depicted as Native American figures.

Because the Wissahickon is, far and away, the smallest of the three bodies of water, Calder portrays it as a young girl. The Rivers are both adults: the Delaware River is a man; the Schuylkill River is a woman.

They are holding two swans, a pun on Dr. Swann, for whom the Fountain was built. Rounding out the sculptures are frogs and turtles. The turtle was of great symbolic significance to Native Americans in the region; the statue of the Native American leader Tamanend, in Old City, depicts him standing on a turtle.

The center geyser normally shoots out water at an impressive height - about 25 feet off the ground. It actually was built with the capacity to blast water twice that distance - 50 feet. However, that capacity can't be used, since if the fountain's streams were 50 feet high, the fountain's water would be blown by the wind, directly into traffic on the Parkway. (And so on windy days, city engineers reduce the apex of the fountain to even lower than 25 feet.)

The Fountain sits at the precise midpoint of the Ben Franklin Parkway. But there is another artistic touch: the linking together of three generations of sculptors named Calder.

Alexander Stirling Calder, the Swann Fountain's designer, was the son of Alexander Milne Calder, the first of the line.

A Scottish immigrant who had arrived in Philadelphia in 1868, Alexander Milne Calder designed the gigantic, 36-foot statue of William Penn atop City Hall, a few blocks away, at the beginning of the Parkway. City Hall occupies what used to be Center Square.

Conversely, at the other end of the Parkway-

You can find a sculpture designed by the third Alexander Calder (grandson of the Alexander Milne Calder, who had designed William Penn, and son of the Swann Fountain sculptor). It is a mobile sculpture titled Ghost.

Created by the third Calder in 1964, Ghost currently can be found on the Great Stair Hall Balcony, on the second floor of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a few blocks from Logan Circle.

As a result, three sculptures by three different generations of Calders, are in a perfect, straight line, from one end of the diagonal Ben Franklin Parkway to the other: City Hall, Logan Circle, and the Museum of Art.

So, to go back to our original question-

Is it Logan Circle, or Logan Square?

The answer - Logan Circle.

Since 1917, when it was redesigned to resemble the Place de la Concorde, Logan Square has been transformed into Logan Circle. So that's the name it should have, today.

Getting There

Logan Circle can be reached easily, via SEPTA or the Phlash Trolley. However, please bear in mind that with the Phlash, it only runs between May and October. In addition, even during May through October, it stops running around 6 PM or so.

You can take SEPTA Regional Rail to Suburban Station, which is located at 16th Street and JFK Boulevard. Just follow signs for "17th Street" and you'll emerge near the Ben Franklin Parkway.

The Phlash also runs regularly up and down the Ben Franklin Parkway, and so we'd recommend that, rather than SEPTA buses. You can take the to el/Market-Frankford Line/Blue Line to the 15th Street stop, exit there, and walk up several blocks, but it's easier, just to get on the Phlash somewhere else.

It is a pleasant place to visit, regardless of the time of day. We would recommend that you try to go past the Swann Fountain at night, even if you were there during the day, in order to get the full, spectacular impact of the illuminated fountain.

That having been said, Logan Circle is less crowded (and somewhat isolated from foot traffic) after the various Parkway attractions have closed for the day. And so, if you do want to see the Swann Fountain at night (and you really should), please be particularly cognizant of your surroundings, and be alert for your safety.

In addition to the Swann Fountain, the Franklin Institute, the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul, and the Academy of Natural Sciences are all nearby. The architecture surrounding Logan Circle is among the best in Philadelphia.

A Map of Logan Circle and the Surrounding Area

View Logan Circle / Logan Square in a larger map

Added, Tuesday, August 3, 2010...

Getting to Logan Circle From Amtrak 30th Street Station

If you are visiting Philadelphia via Amtrak, you will get off at the magnificent 30th Street Station - Amtrak's primary station in the region, and which is located at 30th and Market Streets.

While you can walk all the way from 30th Street Station to Logan Circle, it would be a long walk. There are two other ways to get there...

Your Amtrak ticket is good - on the same day - for a free trip both to and from Suburban Station and Market East Station - which is located at 11th and Market Streets. In your case, you want to get off at Suburban Station.

When you leave the Amtrak train, just follow signs for SEPTA Regional Rail. Ask at the SEPTA ticket window, "can you direct me to an eastbound train going to Suburban Station?" Service will be frequent and you'll be able to get on one within 10 minutes, most likely. And once you're on the SEPTA platform - before you get on - double-check with the conductor - "Is this train going to Suburban Station?" If so, get on...

Suburban Station is the next stop, so be ready to leave - it's only about a five-minute ride from 30th Street to there, about 10 minutes to the next stop, Market East, if you were going there.

Once you arrive at Suburban Station, just get off the train and follow the directions above.

Getting to Logan Circle by Taxicab

If you are pressed for time, you can take a cab to Logan Circle from 30th Street Station. It isn't very far, and it will save you a lot of time. You can jump into one of the plentiful cabs just outside 30th Street, and it will take you directly there.

In contrast, if you have to take SEPTA Regional Rail, you have to get to the SEPTA section of 30th Street, figure out what train to get on, and then once you're at Suburban, you have to walk a couple of blocks up to Logan Circle.

So if you're pressed for time, take the cab.

If you'd like to leave Logan Circle and return to the Ben Franklin Parkway, please click here.

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