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  • This image depicts one of the most unique places in the city of Philadelphia. Regrettably, not many Philadelphians even know that it exists. This is the case in that it is both literally and figuratively "off the beaten path." It's nestled in the heart of Fairmount Park in the Northwest Philadelphia neighborhood of Wissahickon. It's unique for many reasons, but what I've always found to be particularly interesting is that it doesn't, in fact, have a number address. Its Web site reads simply "Valley Green Road at Wissahickon, Philadelphia, PA." It's also the only building I've ever come across that's located smack-dab in the middle of a wooded area. As evidenced by its hanging sign, this place is known as The Valley Green Inn, an establishment that traces its origins back to William Penn and his fellow Quakers who founded Pennsylvania in the 17th century.

    The Valley Green Inn has served as a home, a hotel and travel stop for traders during the second half of the 19th century, and since its dedication as a ceremonial diner in 1937, a restaurant and event hall. To the untrained eye, The Valley Green Inn looks like your average neighborhood cafe with an adjoining porch and snack bar. But, to the locals who regularly walk and ride their bicycles on the dirt trail in this secluded area, it represents the only building-like structure along the 7-mile path.

    The path itself is also characterized by its historical roots, and locals often refer to it as Forbidden Drive. The gravel pathway's name comes from an instance in the early 1900s when the first cars were banned from using the road. Today, the path is only accessible by walkers, joggers, and cyclists, and has been permanently closed to automobile traffic since the 1920s.

    On this particular October day, the beauty of this place is evident most notably by its activity and the smooth flow of pedestrian traffic in the action-packed park mecca. It amazed me to see groups of individuals finding their way to The Valley Green Inn given that a river and bridge separate it from the street level of the park. On this very Saturday, there happened to be a wedding taking place directly in front of the cafe. There were green lawn chairs set up in front of a wedding arch laden with fabric and flowers. The bride and groom, the bridesmaids and groomsmen, and dapper family members adorned in tuxedos and gowns conversed and took pictures.

    The walkers and cyclists did not seem to mind the unusual commotion created by the matrimonial atmosphere. Parents pushing children in strollers and joggers seemingly training for marathons circulated through the crowded area of the path with ease, all appearing to be coexisting effortlessly. Wedding guests took pictures while walkers and cyclists stopped to feed the ducks in the river behind the ceremonial arch. While some passers-by, especially women and children, stopped to admire the bride's dress and the locale slated to host the outdoor ceremony, most path users, especially joggers, simply flashed a smile of approval and continued moving along the path.

    This October afternoon was particularly enthralling for me in that my girlfriend, Kristin, and I sat down in the movable chairs on the cafe's porch and ate while taking in the hubbub around us. I had never seen the area as populated as it was on this particular day. Perhaps the uncharacteristic crowds of people had something to do with the wedding that was about to take place, but even with the presence of so many people, The Valley Green Inn retained a sense of intimacy that I often find to be absent from other public places in Philadelphia.

    That said, it seemed to be a less than perfect setting for a wedding ceremony. There were dogs without leashes disrupting the capturing of professional wedding pictures. There were children seemingly unrelated to the wedding guests running up to tug on the dresses of the bride and bridesmaids. Even so, there was a sense that the bride and groom preferred to be married in the midst of this "organized chaos" that was The Valley Green Inn. At times, I noticed the bride and groom stopping to pet the dogs and greet the women and children who seemed to be in awe of the flowing white gown and black tuxedo. Even the wedding guests were captivated by the site's charm. Every so often, a group of two or three guests would step out of the wedding photographer's scope to take in the setting in all its glory. When Kristin and I finished our meal and walked to the snack bar to indulge in soft-serve ice cream, I noticed the bridesmaid and the man in the tuxedo from the image standing behind us. Even though the bride and groom were about to exchange their vows, the wedding guests waiting in line for ice cream did not seem out of place in this setting.

    It is days like these that make me wish more Philadelphians were aware of The Valley Green Inn and Forbidden Drive. The eatery and path where it sits are not huge tourist attractions as they are not located near other popular landmarks such as Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Boathouse Row, or the famous Rocky Balboa statue. This quaint bistro and its beautiful surroundings will most likely never receive the notability they deserve. But perhaps, it is for its intimacy that local natives with varying interests can appreciate a site like the picturesque and aesthetically pleasing Valley Green Inn. This picture-perfect October Saturday was truly a great way for Kristin and me and this now-newlywed couple and their loved ones to discover and explore this timeless edifice and its surrounding splendor.
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