By Pat Vance
Today, Cloverly Park in west Germantown is a beloved neighborhood jewel: a place to sit in the shade of century-old trees, to enjoy the toddler-friendly play equipment, and to wander on quiet paths among an array of flowers from March to October.
In 1916, Cloverly Park, a two-acre parcel donated to Fairmount Park by the E. W. Clark family and once the site of its “fine mansion,” was lovely enough to warrant placement of Paul Manship’s “Duck Girl” sculpture that now graces Rittenhouse Square.
Thirty years ago, though, it was a weed-choked ruin used by drug dealers and prostitutes. Enraged by rapes in the park in the mid-1980s, the neighbors had had enough. With the bare-bones Fairmount Park staff overwhelmed and underfunded, a small group of people led by Hap Haven and the Westside Neighborhood Council took matters into their own hands.
They removed abandoned cars and filled in deep ruts. Invasive species, including mature Ailanthus and poison ivy as thick as ropes, were chopped down, pulled out, and hauled away. And they filled bag after bag with trash and garbage.
Over the next decade, a dedicated group continued the reclamation. Their goals were to provide a safe place for families to bring young children to play and to create a beautiful public garden and mini-arboretum.
In 1993, Hap was joined by neighbors Cecelia McColgan and Julie O’Connell in working with Fairmount Park to secure a $50,000 allocation for large-scale improvements, including installing play equipment for toddlers, removing dead and diseased trees, and constructing an herbaceous perennial border. Through small grants from Weaver’s Way Environmental Committee, the group was able to augment donations of plant materials from the park’s friends and neighbors and enlarge the gardens.
Mayor Ed Rendell was so impressed with the group’s accomplishments that he accepted the group’s invitation to attend Cloverly’s rededication in 1996 and presented awards to Hap, Cecelia, and Julie.
The Friends of Cloverly Park were well known as successful, resourceful park stewards when the mayor’s office began its Growing the Neighborhood program, and in late 2004, Cloverly was selected to receive $20,000 in improvement funds. Through the efforts of the large volunteer team, the award funded installation of extensive border gardens; 1,000 feet of fencing; a new brick entrance, six new trees, dozens of shrubs to create a green “buffer” between the park and adjacent residences, and arbor care for the park’s mature trees, some of which were planted before the early 1900s.
With subsequent improvement grants through the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, matched with donations from the park’s neighbors, including Post Brothers, the group replaced the park’s old wooden benches, many of which had been vandalized or were in disrepair, and planted more trees. Neighbor Ted Ellerkamp contributed countless hours to rehabilitate a barren area into an inviting shaded "pathway garden" that connects the deep shade garden to the park’s sunny “meadow" area.
In the last two years, largely through the Fairmount Park Conservancy’s free tree program for park groups, the Friends of Cloverly have planted an additional 13 trees as part of their ongoing effort to ensure successors for the park’s mature trees. And every year, flowering plants of many kinds are added into the park’s borders to increase color and texture.
While new people continue to join, many of the original volunteers remain
actively involved, including Hap Haven. Ellen Wert, Mark Kearney, Kathleen Wert, and Mark Bardsley are leaders of Friends of Cloverly Park, providing hours of dedication and effort to make Cloverly one of the loveliest public parks in the city. They organize twice yearly clean-up days that are enthusiastically attended and, recently added an annual plant sale.
Cloverly was awarded first prize in PHS’s City Gardens Contest in seven of the last eight years, taking second place in the remaining year. In 2014, the park was named a “Garden of Distinction” by PHS for “motivating people to improve the quality of life and create a sense of community through horticulture.”
Margaret Meade said, “Never doubt that a group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world…” The Friends of Cloverly Park have most assuredly proved that Meade was right.