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Biking Along Kelly Drive, Philadelphia

Fairmount Water Works and Boat House Row

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On a glorious afternoon in May, my sister and I hopped on the train into center city for a visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We had no specific plans, but the beautiful day beckoned us to stay outdoors. We walked the perimeter of the museum, pausing along the pathways to view the city and scenes along the river. The famous boathouse row, housing social and rowing clubs, has stood on this site for over a century. Each building has its own unique character, with different architectural styles and colors.

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We strolled down to the buildings that make up the Fairmount Water Works. Just weeks before, the Schuylkill River flooded the area leaving the buildings and furnishings waterlogged. Officials had the spaces cleaned, but more work had to be done before visitors could come through again. Philadelphia built the Fairmount Water Works between 1812 and 1872, and finally ceased operation in 1909. The Classical Revival exterior, which hides the industrial inter-workings, has made this site a tourist attraction, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Schuylkill River Trail

As we walked along the river, we came across Wheel Fun Rentals, which had a good choice of bikes, including cruisers, city and road bikes. Being the perfect day for a bike ride, we picked up a map and headed north on the River Trail that runs parallel to the Schuylkill River. The entire trail, about 10 miles in length, follows Kelly drive for about four miles. Kelly Drive was named for John B. Kelly, Jr., a triple Olympic Gold Medal winner in rowing; he was the father of Grace Kelly.  The bike path then loops with the MLK Drive bike path, crossing over the Falls Bridge. Bikers can also ride all the way to the Manayunk tow path and to Valley Forge.

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Biking along the river was exhilarating as every scene that unfolded in front of us presented a view that I had not appreciated when driving past the river. We stopped and admired the gardens and statues. Just beyond the West Girard Bridge, a brown stone railroad bridge stretched across the river, its arches framing the distant landscape.

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A bit of irony about the statue of John Kelly resting on a bed of bricks in the photograph above: in 1920 Kelly applied to race in the prestigious Diamond Sculls at the Henley Royal Regatta but authorities rejected his application because he was a bricklayer by trade, and the regulations at that time deemed that anyone who had been employed as laborer, artisan or mechanic could not be considered “amateur.”

The trail was well-maintained and flat, but we had to be careful negotiating around others on the path, which was busy with strolling families, runners and other bikers. The river supported traffic from the rowers and a few motor boats. Maps located the many sculptures in Fairmount Park. We stopped often along the way to take pictures or reflect on the view.

We hope to return to the trail to bike the entire loop and perhaps kayak to Bartram Gardens.

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