Friends Hospital, the nation's oldest private psychiatric hospital, is situated on 100 acres next to Tacony Creek Park — a rare piece of privately owned bucolic land in crowded Northeast Philadelphia off busy Roosevelt Boulevard. And its owners with Quaker roots want it to stay that way.
On Thursday, the Natural Lands trust announced it struck a deal with the Thomas Scattergood Behavioral Health Foundation to place nearly half that land, 49 acres, under permanent conservation easement to protect it from development. As part of the easement, the public will have access to a forest on the property that adjoins the park.
"The Foundation is thrilled to place the property under conservation easement with Natural Lands," said Joe Pyle, president of the Thomas Scattergood Behavioral Health Foundation, which owns the grounds. "We are committed to being good stewards of the land and honoring our Quaker roots by using the property to promote healing and recovery for all."
A conservation easement is a legal agreement that permanently restricts the use of a property to protect land, water, historic sites or to provide public space. In this case, the nonprofit hospital in the Crescentville neighborhood, founded in 1817, is designated as a National Historic Landmark. Its grounds comprise buildings, lawns, and gardens as well as the forest.
"Urban green space is essential for the health and well-being of city residents, which makes the permanent protection of Friends Hospital's campus all the more significant," said Molly Morrison, president of Natural Lands.
The easement was valued at $1.2 million, according to Natural Lands, and attempts to secure that funding began in 2014. The area will be restricted with limited use for hospital programs, such as therapeutic care or a community activity such as gardening.
The project was funded by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Financing Authority with funds from the Marcellus Legacy Fund; the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources' Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund; the Virginia Cretella Mars Foundation; and the William Penn Foundation. The Thomas Scattergood Behavioral Health Foundation will provide support for stewardship of the easement and monitoring of the property.