Intersection of 2nd and Center Street (Entrance)
Top things to see in the Philadelphia Are before you die.
Soupy Island is a bizarre yet wonderful place surrounded by barbed wire. Nestled on the end of a dead end street and sits among quiet residential homes. I have lived in the Philadelphia vicinity all my life and can’t believe I have never heard of this place. It’s more like a local “hush hush” secret. An old grammar school friend had brought it up to me. I was immediately intrigued and had to check it out. Generation after generation has enjoyed Soupy Island over the last 100 years.
As per the bible proverb in Ecclesiastes, one generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the earth stays forever. Soupy Island is for sure the earth in the Philadelphia area.
The Sanitarium Association was founded in 1877 by an amusement park owner, John F. Smith and other philanthropists. Including many doctors of the time.
In 1886, the Sanitarium Association moved their facility which was on an island in the Delaware River near the Ben Franklin Bridge and relocated to NJ. They had to move because they were widening the Delaware River (dredging) and the island was being wiped out. The Sanitarium Association created a hospital to treat children with tuberculosis on this land. Tuberculosis was one of the most common illnesses to die of in the late 1800s and it affected hundreds of thousands of people.
The plan was to give children clean country air and hot soup as well as recreational facilities to aid in their healing. Amenities as these were a luxury in those days when the majority of the population lived in crowded, filthy and small tenements coexisting with other families. Personal Hygiene was not the best at the time.
Kids were transported via steam engine to the docks of Sanitarium Playground now known as Soupy Island.
The land housed a steam operated carousel and recreational facilities for the children to heal and be happy at the same time. The Sanitarium Association thought this was the best way for children to heal instead of a cold, sterile hospital as they were very common in the era.
Over the next few decades, there wasn’t much use for the hospital since antibiotics, vaccinations, and better hygiene came into play. The hospital was knocked down and a swimming pool was put in it’s place.
The current main swimming pool is actually part of the foundation of the hospital.
However, the Sanitarium Association still continued to ship kids from Philadelphia to enjoy their day at Soupy Island in the summers. Kids always got a bowl of soup, snacks, milk, and crackers.
This tradition still continues today in the original soup kitchen.
In The Great Depression, the soup kitchen was a sanctuary for over 8,000 local families in South Jersey.
During WW2 it was a military base. It was used as surveillance of the naval ship yard directly across the river. There were anti-aircraft missiles housed here to aid in the protection of the shipyard from outside attacks. There was also a ferry service next to the Soupy Island property that sailed across the river called the League Island Ferry. The ferry transported workers and military personnel to and fro the naval yard.
The steam carousel stopped working during the 1930s and was replaced by a Joseph Ferrari carousel from New York. The Ferrari carousel is still operating to this day on Soupy Island. This carousel attracts collectors and carousel enthusiasts all over the world. Multiple offers have been given for this beauty over the last few decades and The Soupy Island people simply refuse to sell it.
After WW2, it continued to be a recreational facility for kids in Philadelphia and in the surrounding counties. The Soupy Island ferries continued until the 70s. Now, they are primarily bussed in or travel by car.
The grounds contain the original slide that was built in 1907 with kids continuing the tradition of bringing wax paper to aid in going down the slide for a faster ride. Two swimming pools, various playgrounds, a soccer field, a basketball court that was donated by Campbell’s soup in 2008. Bathroom facilities, covered picnic areas, the original soup kitchen handing out the tradition of soup, milk, and graham crackers, and best of all the Ferrari carousel.
All of these amenities are FREE to the public. Funding is from a trust that was set up over a century ago. Donations of food come from Campbell’s soup, and other organizations. This is definitely a place that is reminiscent of a century gone by with a ton of history. It’s definitely nostalgic. However, I see myself taking my son here a lot when he is older.
Soupy Island only asks if you have a party greater than 6 people to call and give them a heads up on your arrival. They don’t permit overcrowding and it is polite for them to be aware of how many people will be on the property.
Hours are generally 9-2. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays after July 4th and until the end of August.
Private Parties are available on weekends.
Take the children to see a bit of history in our region and to be taken back in time. A true gem in our vicinity.
I’d like to apologize to the readers since the photos are a bit hazy. My camera had run out of battery and had to use my backup, my phone. Normally, I take pretty photos 😦
Also, thank you to the awesome volunteers that aided me on the great information and history!
Hopefully, Soupy Island will continue to be here and be enjoyed for the next century to come.