Located in the Kensington area of North Philadelphia, the land for this 5.8-acre square was donated by the family of Isaac Norris to be used as a “public green and walk forever.” The original design, created in 1859, was the based on William Rush’s layout of Franklin Square (1824), one of Philadelphia’s five squares conceived by William Penn and Thomas Holme. Both squares were symmetrical in design featuring geometric patterns of lawn outlined by paths—curvilinear from the corners and axial from the sides of the square—converging on a central, circular green. Although Norris Square originally lacked an ornate fountain such as that in Franklin Square, by the 1880s a water feature with planting beds was added to its central circle. Shortly thereafter, the plan was simplified: flower beds were removed and paths straightened, resulting in a radial design of eight walks originating from the center. Triangular-shaped segments of lawn were shaded by numerous trees. In 1953, Wheelwright, Stevenson & Langran were commissioned to refresh the park’s understory plantings.
The surrounding neighborhood (also called Norris Square) and the park declined in the later part of the twentieth century as nearby mills and factories closed. In response to this situation, in 1973 the Norris Square Neighborhood Project (NSNP) was created, aiming to reclaim and improve Kensington. Five years later, a grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund resulted in the construction of a basketball court and tool shed. In the early 1990s, the NSNP worked with the Philadelphia Horticultural Society to renew park plantings. Today, the park, retaining its historic character and flanked by residential buildings, is shaded by mature sycamore, oak, and maple.