Go Deeper

Site-Specific Performance Potential: Fort Mifflin

Posted May 11th, 2009

Fort Mifflin (, one of Philly’s strangest, most amazing “unknown” sites, would make a terrific venue for site-specific performing arts work. The fort, which you fly over when coming into the airport, should be a major tourist attraction because of its size and its incredible history, but on a nice Saturday afternoon in May perhaps ten other people were there. Known as Mud Island, it was the site of a five-week Revolutionary War battle and in the early 1800s was built into a legitimate fort, and most of the ghostly buildings date from that time. Surrounded by a wetlands moat that’s home to egrets, great blue herons, and ground hogs, you can basically walk anywhere, even on top of the fort’s walls. There’s a lot of open grassy space within and without the fort, and along the riverbank are overgrown and unexcavated buildings.

Much larger than Eastern State Penitentiary, which has so successfully combined arts programming and historical tours, Fort Mifflin, which was also used as a prison during the Civil War, seems ripe for unique arts programming to draw people to the site, and for the fort and its surroundings to serve as inspiration to a variety of artists. It’s near the airport, down Enterprise Road where private jets are parked. On the way you might pass the wheelie-loving ATV kids, a subculture that is springing up in left-aside Philadelphia landscapes. Officially there is a $6 entrance fee, but where you pay for this is not obvious (it’s the “hospital” building); the staff is almost nonexistent and at times hidden and inebriated; visitors just seem to wander about. For added strangeness, every five minutes a large jet flies overhead at 300 feet and descending.

Directions: Near the airport. Go south on I-95, take Exit 15 Island Avenue/Enterprise Avenue. Follow Enterprise and at stop sign turn left onto Fort Mifflin Road. Times: Weds–Sun 10–4.

–Josh McIlvain

Photos by Josh McIlvain