These plaques are mounted around the back of the base of Frank C. Gaylord's statue of William Penn, but are actually about the history of the Park.
The Great Elm of Shackamaxon is the site under which William Penn and the Delaware Indians are traditionally said to have made the great treaty in 1682. Since that time, the legend and history of the celebrated event have generated admiration for William Penn and for the tree. The tree became the living symbol of the Great Treaty. During the Revolutionary War, British General Simcoe posted guards around the tree to protect it from the settlers seeking firewood. When the elm was blown down in a storm on 3 March, 1810, it was 283 years old, eight feet in diameter, and twenty-four feet in circumference. The next day, hundreds of people gathered to marvel at and take cuttings from the ancient tree. Part of the tree was made into a chair for Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Today there are second, third, and fourth generation cuttings of the elm at the University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Hospital, Haverford College, and Penn Treaty Park.
On 19 September 1825, a report on the location of Penn's Great Treaty was read by Roberts vaux, vice-President of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. It was Vaux's suggestion that the Society should plan an "obelisk of granite", with the appropriate inscriptions, at the traditional spot of the treaty where the Great Elm had once stood at Shackamaxon. The obelisk was erected by the Penn Society in 1827 and is the earliest public monument in Philadelphia. Over the years, there has been debate about whether or not the obelisk actually marks the spot of the Great Elm. It was this debate that initiated the movement to make a historical site of the land surrounding the obelisk. Thus, the notion of Penn Treaty Park was born.
There has been much debate over the exact details of Penn's dealings with the Indians of the Delaware River Valley. It is written that Penn dealt fairly with all the Indians and settlers that he encountered. It is true that the great treaty, if it actually did occur, was one of many treaties that Penn made with the Indians. Making treaties with area Indians was a practice that went on in other settlements as well. However, Penn's treatment of the Indians was consistently fair and equal. This theme of equality was noticed in Europe and created a new interest in the colonies and great respect for Penn. Voltaire even spoke of the treaty as one that was "never sworn to and never broken". It also provided the inspiration for a number of artistic representations of the treaty, the most famous being the one by Benjamin West. Today we can see the one artifact of Penn's amity - the wampum belt given to Penn by the Indians - on display at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
The subject of the Great Treaty has always held a special place in the hearts and minds of Pennsylvanians, especially those in the area surrounding the legendary site. When the Great Elm blew down in 1810, the land upon which the treaty was made had no marker of the event. The Penn Society erected an obelisk to mark the spot of the tree in 1827. Later, the land was appropriated for public use as a preservation landmark. Members of the Kensington Community sought to have the area dedicated as a park; the dedication ceremony took place on 28 October, 1893. Since then, the community has promoted proper care of the park. The park changed hands twice before becoming part of the Fairmount Park system in 1954. In 1987 the community came together once again to fulfill their dreams for the park and to make it a beautiful place to enjoy the peace Penn made there over 300 years ago.
The natural beauty of the land along the Delaware river attracted William Penn to build his "Greene Countrie Towne" there. It also drew many influential people to settle there. In 1702 Thomas Fairman, Deputy Surveyor-General to the Proprietor built a home very close to the spot where the Great Treaty is said to have taken place. The mansion he built was of a generous size and elegance for the period. The house was occupied by a number of Pennsylvania governmental officials including William Penn, Governors John Evans and Anthony Palmer. At one point, Penn decided to make Fairman's Mansion his home, in order to enjoy both the sights of the city and the peace of the country. Unable to accomplish this, Penn continued occupancy of Pennsbury, his estate on the Delaware river. Fairman's Mansion was condemned and taken down in 1824-25.