Officials Reverse Plans to Remove William Penn Statue From a Philadelphia Park

The National Park Service had proposed replacing the statue with public resources showcasing the city’s Native American history

Welcome Park in Philadelphia
Welcome Park is named after the ship that brought Penn across the Atlantic in 1682. John Greim / LightRocket via Getty Images

A statue of Pennsylvania founder William Penn will remain standing in Philadelphia after all.

Last Friday, the National Park Service (NPS) announced plans to remove the statue, as well as a model of Penn’s original home, from Welcome Park, a small paved area located a few blocks from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.

That decision was met with swift criticism, which eventually reached President Joe Biden and the Pennsylvania governor’s office. This week, the NPS reversed course, declaring it would leave the statue in place.

Completed in 1982, the park is located at the site of Penn’s former home. Its name comes from the ship Penn traveled aboard on his journey across the Atlantic in 1682. Today, it’s part of Independence National Historical Park, which is managed by the park service.

Statue of William Penn
A statue of William Penn, Pennsylvania's founder, stands in Welcome Park. NPS

The park service wanted to rehabilitate Welcome Park ahead of the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, which will be celebrated in 2026. Many park features—such as cracked sidewalks and faded signs—are due for an update, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Frank Kummer.

In a bid to make the site more welcoming and inclusive, the park service had also suggested adding an “expanded interpretation of the Native American history of Philadelphia.” The proposal was crafted in collaboration with representatives from several Indigenous groups.

The park has deep Native American roots. In 1755, John Penn, William Penn’s grandson, gave the plot to the Haudenosaunee so they could stand on their own ground and build council fires while visiting the city for trade and diplomatic meetings. Today, that land is the property of the federal government and the owners of nearby condominiums, though when or how this exchange took place is unclear, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Charles Fox in 2020. The park makes no mention of its Native American ties.

"This was a sacred site, a place of convergence,” said Louise McDonald, also known as Wa’kerakátste, a Mohawk Bear Clan Mother who visited the park in 2020, to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “We would like to see it returned to its earthly state, a place to have a fire, to have a historical marker to explain the history, and a place for us to return to so we can carry forward the memory in our children and grandchildren.”

In addition to adding more Native American resources and materials, the park service proposed removing the statue and the model of Penn’s home, called the Slate Roof House. It also wanted to add a ceremonial gathering space and replace existing educational panels about Penn with new exhibits.

When it announced the changes, NPS invited the public to weigh in by January 21. But the plans provoked intense opposition, including from some Republican lawmakers, who accused the Biden administration of trying to “cancel” Penn. “It was Penn’s commitment to the Quaker principle of pacifism that led to a long and lasting peace between Native Americans and settlers in Pennsylvania,” said Bryan Cutler, a Republican Pennsylvania state legislator, in a statement. “To remove Penn’s statue to create a more inclusive environment takes [an] absurd and revisionist view of our state’s history.”

The backlash continued over the weekend, until Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, confirmed on social media that the statue would stay.

“My team has been in contact with the Biden administration throughout the day to correct this decision,” wrote Shapiro. “I’m pleased Welcome Park will remain the rightful home of this William Penn statue—right here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Penn founded.”

The NPS also announced that it was retracting its original proposal. The draft was “released prematurely” and had not undergone a complete internal review, according to the agency. “No changes to the William Penn statue are planned.”

Officials still plan to update the site before 2026. Per the statement, “The park looks forward to engaging in a robust public process to consider options for refurbishing the park in the coming years.”

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