zoe strauss - the walking purchase path

Logan Square is dedicated to statesman and historical icon James Logan, and the Swann Memorial Fountain within its circle depicts three Native Americans that represent the regions waterways — the Delaware, Schuylkill, and Wissahickon. Despite Logan's celebrated status, he was a major player in one of the more egregious land swindles in the history of the continent. During the early settlement of Pennsylvania, the treaty between William Penn and the Lenape was dissolved in a fraudulently constructed walking purchase. With Penn's sons Thomas and John, Logan forged Penn's signature on a deed stating that whatever distance a man could walk in a day and a half – a common unit of measurement among the Lenape – would belong to the Pennsylvania settlers. Logan sent three surveyors to run, not walk, along pre-cleared pathways; they covered over 50 miles, which led to the dubious transfer of nearly one million acres. The Swann Memorial Fountain is a point of pride in Philadelphia, yet it symbolizes a violation of William Penn's treaty with the Lenape and highlights a chasm between history and public monuments. Little is heard of this troubling narrative, despite its existence in public records and court cases as recent as 2006.

 The Walking Purchase Path is a speculative monument that proposes three 65-mile paths that lead from the fountain outward in three directions. These paths are not meant for the pleasure of walking or meandering—they are meant to measure distance. No matter the current ownership of the land, a marker the size of a manhole cover will sit at each mile, describing the longitude, latitude, and details of who owns the land when the monuments are made. Each will be inscribed with “Walking Purchase Path.” This unfeasible proposal is a call to make more public the history of the land theft that fueled the evolution of the Pennsylvania landscape, and to reconcile contemporary matters of land ownership and civic responsibility in Philadelphia.

 

Cover image property of Norman Maddeaux