There’s a lone statue with a mistaken identity hidden on a bluff along the Wissahickon Creek in Fairmount Park. It stands high above the creekbed, gazing westward. Hikers and bikers cruising along the nearby trails may not even know it’s there, as it’s not only high above the paths, but also secluded behind rocks and trees.
Though many people assume this concealed statue is of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, it’s actually of an unnamed Quaker man. The statue, officially titled “Toleration,” was sculpted in 1883 by Herman Kirn and is a tribute to religious and political tolerance. It was gifted to Philadelphia by John Welsh, a noted citizen of the city and one of the park’s former commissioners.
The Toleration statue is atop a spit of rock called Mom Rinker’s Rock, which was named after Mom Rinker, a Revolutionary War patriot who, according to one legend, dropped balls of yarn from the rock to colonial soldiers below. She tucked notes inside the yarn that detailed the positions of British troops along what is now known as Forbidden Drive, a multi-use path that snakes along the contours of the Wissahickon Creek.
The walking path below the Toleration statue is of interest as well. It is, in places, directly on top of the Wissahickon Creek High Level Intercepting Sewer. The sewer line was installed in the 1880s to intercept and divert the waste from the Chestnut Hill, Mount Airy, and Germantown neighborhoods to prevent it from polluting the creek. The path just south of Mom Rinker’s Rock uses the pipe as a bridge across a small dip in the terrain.
Know Before You Go
The statue sits about 40 feet above the walking path, which itself is another 75 feet above the level of the creek below. It’s possible to climb around the jutting rock and sit next to the statue, although it is placed at the edge of the precipice and could be hazardous. Please be careful with small children and pets.
There are many access points to the trail system along the Wissihickon Creek. The best place to park is in a small lot at the end of Kitchen’s Lane. Turn west on Kitchen’s Lane from Wissahickon Drive in the Mount Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia and drive down to the end. Look for the small trailhead on the uphill side of the parking area (not the wide path leading downhill to the Kitchen’s Lane Bridge) and follow it for roughly a quarter mile to a junction marked with a sign post. Following the path straight ahead (orange trail) will bring you to the base of Mom Rinker’s Rock, where the Toleration statue can be seen above. An unmarked scramble around the back side of the rocks will bring you to the statue itself. Or you can take the left path at the junction (white trail) and wind around to the top of Mom Rinker’s Rock and the statue.