What’s New at the Farm Park

My husband and I took a walk this morning at the Norristown Farm Park. There was nothing exciting about it, really – but being outside on a cool morning in June, before 7 AM, and traveling a circuit of 4.5 miles or so around a place we are familiar with and yet always surprises us – it seems worth noting.

I’ll show you the photos and let you see.

We park at the East Norriton admin building/township park. The bocce court is open this summer, after being closed all last year.

The corn continues to grow up through the golden remnants of the winter cover crop.

I remembered to take a photo of the symbol for the Montco Trail Challenge – a trout. Very fitting for this park with a stocked trout fishing creek running through it, and its own trout fishery up on the hill near the hay barn.

Near the Getty Cottage, at the main entrance to the park from Germantown Pike, we decided to take the loop around the large field that fronts the road. We split up here, going in opposite directions, to meet and continue on together later.

I headed toward the road and turned along it. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has been developing a learning garden here for some time. It’s now taking form.

These buildings, right up on Germantown Pike, have become an area related to the garden, though I don’t know how, exactly. Looks to me as if they have building materials here. I wonder if they are meant for the greenhouse that’s to be built?

I continued around the field. I am always struck by how, if you look in one direction, into the park, the scene is so rural:

… and then you turn to the other side and face the highway and the hospital and the suburbs…

I’m seeing these plants all along the edges of every field. I don’t know what they are – I think last summer is the first time I have noticed them. I photographed some detail and will look them up.

I also took this photo of a flyer in a kiosk to remind me to look up the park’s programs. In the past they had quite a few events, walks, and nature sightings to choose from. There was nothing last summer but this year is different.

Well, that’s about it. Thanks for coming along.

Beginnings

A couple of days ago my husband and I were at the Norristown Farm Park for an early-morning walk.

The fields have been planted. I am going to show you several sites in corn, the green shoots just rising out of the remains of the winter cover crop. The pictures tell the whole story, so I will stop talking, and let you look.

Art Drop-Off 12-24-20

This day found us on another morning walk at Norristown Farm Park. We had an errand in the vicinity and decided to take a 4 mile loop around the park, starting and ending at the Dairy Barn. Here are the tiles we left:

and in their context:

at the Dairy Barn, which is right across the trail from this little picnic table kiosk. It seemed like a nice place to leave them. The park was getting busy as we were heading out – it’s a mild day and the snow is melting. People want to take a walk before the rain starts this afternoon.

And that’s where we are today!

Art Drop-Off 12-22-20

On the morning of December 22, 2020, my husband and I returned to Norristown Farm Park for a walk. Two days in a row! Why?

Well, for one thing, we have extra time in the morning right now, as my husband is taking some days off from work. The Farm Park is 20-25 minutes from home so on regular work days, it is just a little too far to go to and get back home in time for his work start time.

Second thing – there’s snow on the ground, and that means snow on the trails…and lots of parks don’t do winter maintenance, meaning they don’t remove snow. But the Farm Park does. So…we have safe good footing here today.

All right. We parked at the lot at Whitehall Road. We set off in a steady rain. Yes, we knew it was raining when we set out, but – we have raincoats! And these days, it is important to get outside no matter what, if we can manage it.

Parking in this location we are at the outer boundary of the park for much of the walk. Right across the street are lots of houses. The dense suburbs of Norristown PA (our county seat) are right here.

But the houses have a lovely view. We are circling a large field – this year they grew corn here and you can see what remains after the harvest – a landscape of spiky cornstalks, shin-high. Let me show you some photos taken at different points in the walk.

We went around the 2 mile circle twice – we started off, came back to the start point, and then turned and did the circle in reverse. On the first round we stopped at the trout farm (a remnant of the time when this farm was part of the state mental hospital, and patients worked the grounds, the trout farm was one of the activities; it’s still in operation as a club and anyone can join).

You may remember a few days ago I left tiles on the steps of a small building by the trail, at this location.

We checked today – they are gone.

This time I set an array of tiles on the picnic bench near the info kiosk and the memorial garden.

All the time that we had been walking, a steady stream of geese had been flying in overhead. There is a trout pond in the field (in the above photos, look out over the table into the distance and you can see a stand of trees and brush way out there – the pond is in the middle).

Hundreds of geese had congregated there. The pond was packed with the crowd and there were other groups scattered in the field. The honking was loud and continuous. And every time a group decided to lift off and fly away, the noise increased. If if were a crowd of people, you would say they were all bidding each other good-bye.

We watched and listened for some time. It was a moment of peace for me. The birds had no thought for humans; they were entirely focused on their own doings, and they might as well be occupying a whole other level of existence from us, their observers. In turn, it reminded me that there are billions of lives, human and otherwise, going on all around us on this earth, and though my own is important, it is also not any more of a focal point than any other creature’s is. We are all here together, with our own parts to play.

*******

We walked on, passing the hay barn, which is always a favorite spot for me – I like the bulky shape of the structure. It always looks very self-confident to me, set as it is on this hill.

When we finished the walk, the rain had mostly stopped;. We went on our way to do our own things that we do, because it is our purpose to do them. Just as the geese and the snow and fields and the sky have theirs.

Art Drop-Off 12-21-20

This morning, 12/21/20, my husband and I took a walk at Norristown Farm Park. We parked at the bocce court, entering through the Stanbridge Street township park. It was dark when we arrived – we needed our headlamps.

I left tiles at the wishing well site – it’s meant for leaving a message rock or taking one, but I’ve been doing tiles instead. I left an assortment arrayed on the edge. But it was too dark to take the photo then…so, I’ll take you around the park as we went and then show you the tiles at the end, when daylight had come and I could take a photo.

Let’s go.

We saw this snowman out in a field. He is a mysterious figure blending in so well with the snowy landscape and the blue pre-dawn light.

Up at the top of the hill we came to the Getty Cottage. You know this has been a repeated subject of drawings for me. Here is one from June 2020.

I took these photos thinking I might do a sketch of the house in this stark winter setting.

Some time later I took this photo of a harvested cornfield in the snow. I love the lines the truncated cornstalks make, poking through the snow.

The park is just beautiful right now, I think.

Finally we arrived back at our starting point, after walking over a little more than 4 miles. Here are the tiles in their setting. They are also near the tot lot. Which, as you can see from the footprints, has been getting some use even in this snowy cold weather.

It’s a nice time of year to be outside. If you bundle up and step out the door, you will be rewarded with a real sense of invigoration from the crisp air and the snowy scenery. It is also very quiet on the trails now – not everyone wants to be out early like we do. We only saw 4-5 other people in the hour plus we walked. And I so enjoy being out just as the day is beginning.

Art Drop-Off 12/6/20

I’m a little behind on chronicling my art drop-off activities. Let me catch up. We’ll start with a walk my husband and I took on Saturday, December 6, at the Norristown Farm Park.

We followed a different route than usual, a loop that took us around fields along Whitehall Road, past the trout farm and then into the hospital grounds.

What am I talking about, trout farm? Well, as you know, this park is the former farm associated with Norristown State Hospital (the hospital I mentioned above). It was common for mental hospitals of the past to have extensive grounds for cultivation of crops and animals. NSH was founded in the 1870’s and up until the 1970’s patients worked the land. It was thought beneficial for mental patients (who were able to do so) to have work to do as it gave purpose and order to their lives. And the practical benefits are obvious: the hospital was able to support its needs.

Hay Barn, Norristown Farm Park.

Remember, for much of the hospital’s history, there was not much that could be done for mental illnesses other than rest and calm and keeping occupied in non-stressful activities. Advances in medications, treatments, and diagnosis have changed the role of the hospital and requiring patients to work was outlawed in the 1970’s.

And that brings me to the trout farm. One of the activities of the farming era was the raising of trout. It’s still being done today, but via a local anglers club – Stony Creek Anglers.

I left these tiles at the steps of this little anonymous building – I don’t know what its original purpose was.

This park serves as an example of past practices in many ways and the marks of its history can be seen on the land. On this day that we were there, the park was full of people walking and enjoying the nice weather. It is a tangible sign of the new phase in this location’s life.

Art Drop-off 11/27/20

On November 27 my husband and I took a walk at Norristown Farm Park in East Norriton, PA.

You will remember this is a favorite site of ours. I have written many posts about it and the associated grounds of the Norristown State Hospital (just search under Norristown Farm Park or Norristown State Hospital in the blog here, and you will come upon the information, if you are interested).

So you will know that this park is the former farm attached to the hospital, worked by the patients up until the 1970’s. In the past, it was thought beneficial for mental patients to work if they were able. This farm filled that need as well as providing food for the hospital patients, who at one time numbered in the thousands.

Now the farm is a county park with the paved farm roads serving as trails. The fields are leased out and generally planted in corn and soy. At this time of year they are harvested and it’s easy to see long vistas over the park that in summer are blocked by the plantings.

*******

OK. Here’s the art drop off – we set some tiles on an info kiosk near the Power House and the Stony Creek fishing area.

Before we got to this location, though, we had already gone 2+ miles. Part of our route took us on a wide loop around a harvested soy field at the front of the park. It runs right along busy Germantown Pike. As we look out over fields, the cars are rushing by at our back, and we are standing across the street from a large hospital complex.

But you’d never know it from the view of the park we had.

The morning was chilly but sunny, and there was a light mist over the field. The view across it to the Dairy Barn complex was beautiful – the buildings rising up as if they were some mysterious and somehow otherwordly city, far away and full of peace.

I took several photos. I changed positions a couple of times, but the view is the same. And since I could not choose one favorite, I will show them all to you. Take your time and go through them slowly, and you will maybe experience some of the calm I felt in seeing this scene.

Art Drop-off 10-4-20

This morning my husband and I went to the Norristown Farm Park for a walk. As you know, this is a familiar place to us. Many many footsteps around the roads and trails of this park. On a beautiful morning, we parked at the bocce court area and started off.

Almost immediately we stopped to leave some tiles in the wishing well. People leave painted rocks and other objects here for other parkgoers to pick up. It’s a little spot next to the trail in a small tot lot.

As I think I have mentioned, most of the park is planted in soy this year. You may remember how the fields looked earlier this season – the plants were green and lush.

We are now near the harvest. The fields are golden brown.

You can see the soybeans on the dried stalks.

Another view.

We continued our walk and ended by going through Norris City Cemetery. Look here for a post I did about this location some time back.

A really nice walk in a familiar place that always has something new to show me.

A Walk in Which I Continue to Put Pieces Together

What am I talking about? Well, on August 18, my husband and I took an early morning walk in Norristown Farm Park. No art drop off, just a walk. 

It was a lovely morning and we decided to do a circuit including the trout farm area and the hay barn. From the parking lot on Whitehall Road we moved along these cornfields. I really like how the plants’ roots look like skinny toes digging into the dirt. 

When we got to the hay barn, I took it into my head to veer off the route, and we headed into the state hospital grounds.

Note:

As you may remember, the Farm Park is the former farm (and now a county park) attached to Norristown State Hospital; in the past, patients worked the farm if they were able, as it was thought therapeutic. Many relics of that past still exist in the park landscape, such as the hay barn. Additionally, the grounds of the hospital are open to visitors for walking. The hospital houses a small number of forensic patients but is otherwise closed. Many buildings have been torn down and of the remaining ones, some are rented to various county and related agencies, and the others are mothballed.

We ended up near this building, a barn of some sort:

I am interested in how this building is becoming part of the landscape, and yet its solidity and architectural detail are still apparent.

Now I get to the feature of this walk that I wanted to show you. Do you remember that in previous posts about the hospital, I mentioned the system of tunnels connecting the buildings? There was an extensive network of below-ground and partially-aboveground tunnels that carried people traffic and also pipes for water and heat. Here are a couple of photos from previous visits:

Today, we were near this section of the system pictured below. What looks like a wall is actually an above-ground section of a walkway that dives underground as it heads to the right of the photo.

NFP 8-18-20 (15)

But what happens next? From previous visits, I think it continues straight ahead to another building. But I also know there is maybe more to the story now, and here is why. My husband spied an interesting clue on a previous trip to the grounds. Here are our findings.

As we stood on that road you saw in the previous photo, looking at the tunnel structure I just mentioned, to our right there is a steepish rise of ground.

NFP 8-18-20 (16)

We turned around 180 degrees and walked a little way along it. Look. A door in the hillside.

NFP 8-18-20 (17)

 

You know what it is – an entrance to a tunnel. So, it seems possible that from that half-submerged walkway across the street, a perpendicular branch tunnel came under the road and rose again, buried under this berm. We followed it along – the berm parallels the street we’re on and it’s very obvious what it is, once you know. But the door is well hidden, if you don’t know. The arrow reveals its location.

NFP 8-18-20 (13)a

We continued to walk, heading toward a large building.

It seems clear that the tunnel is heading for that building. But how does it connect? We found that answer, too. First, we headed past the little shed-like structure (and hold it in your thoughts, we will come back to it) and finally arrived at the side of the large building.

We are now at the back of a large E-shaped building, this being the part of the E that would be the bottom short leg. The arrow points to where it looks like the tunnel emerges and accesses the building in the middle of that short leg.

NFP 8-18-20 (7)a

Well, what do you think of that? Remember, we’re speculating. But it seems to me that another secret of this landscape can be deciphered and understood.

*******

Here is the large building after we have passed all along its length to the other side. I am thinking it was a patient residence in the past – those are sunrooms on the ends of the wings, I would guess from the look of them, and that is a feature I’ve seen on residence buildings all over the hospital grounds. They provided light and fresh air for patients while remaining secure spaces.

That’s my guess, anyway. I don’t really know for sure.

NFP 8-18-20 (5)

This building is still in use, leased to an outside agency; around the front side, there are cars in the lot, people moving around, and other signs of activity. What I wonder, though, is this: can the tunnel, if it as we think it is, can it still be used? Maybe so. That steel gate over the external entrance looks relatively new.

I’d love to get a look around inside the tunnel.

All right, I’ll end with this last little bit of detail. Remember the tiny brick shed building?

NFP 8-18-20 (10)

Here is what is inside. I have to admit I was half-expecting it to be a deep shaft, like a well, but it has a concrete floor. I will need to do some research to see if I can find anything out about this building and what it was used for.

NFP 8-18-20 (11)

But it seems clear this machinery is meant for something to be wound around it, like a hose. 

Well, you figure out one mystery, you get another one coming up right behind it. Thanks for going along with us on this walk today.

Montco Trail Challenge #3 – Norristown Farm Park 8-13-20

Good news! The Montgomery County PA Trail Challenge is on for 2020. We will be walking trails in our county to meet the goal of visiting 10 local trails.

For my post with a full explanation of the challenge, look here.

And here is the challenge website.

On August 13 my husband and I visited Norristown Farm Park, very early in the morning. It’s a place we visit often because it’s not far from home and easy for us to do on a weekday (workday) schedule. And right now it has the honor of being our third trail visit for the Montco challenge.

Here are our trail verification photos:

We are standing in front of the dairy barn (we parked the car in the lot next to it). Challenge rules say we must take a photo of ourselves at some marker or landmark for the trail. This distinctive complex of buildings qualifies, I think.

We set off on this humid morning. Rain is coming in later and the clouds show it.

Here is a view over the fields next to the dairy barn, and a close up of the hay bales. I love the pattern of the rolled-up hay the bale has in cross-section.

We set out on our route. We planned to do about 3 miles or so, following the marked 5K course around the park – a short trip today.

Arriving at the power house for the state hospital, which adjoins the park (in fact, at this section we are on hospital grounds), I decided to leave some tiles on the barriers at this bridge. We noticed they are replacements for the dilapidated wood ones there previously, and I love their fresh yellow paint.

Next, we crossed the railroad tracks into another section of the park. Here we took a close-up look at the soybean crop. I’ve noticed that most of the park is planted in soy this year; in the past it seems more of it has been in corn. Anyway, take a look – the pods are forming on the plants now.

This section makes a big loop around the field. In these next two photos, you can see the innumerable soy plants arrayed into the distance, and the arrows also point out two landmarks of the park:

the hay barn, which we didn’t pass on this walk, but I have mentioned in the past – it’s also near the trout farm.

NFP soy and hay barn 8-13-20 with arrow

and the dairy barn, where we started off today.

NFP soy and dairy barn 8-13-20 with arrow

I think this gives you an idea of the distances we can travel inside this farm park.

All right, that’s about it for this day. I’ll leave you with a view of yet another soy field, this one near the dairy barn. Though we are in the middle of suburbia, it feels very isolated here, especially on this early morning.

NFP 8-13-20 (4)

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