FHSP came into being in 1995 after a fire destroyed what once was Cheltenham High School. Originally built in 1906, this building had been home not only to the township high school, but also to a township junior high school, and a religious day school. The school and adjacent property was abandoned in the mid-1980s after a private developer who bought it failed to turn it into a planned senior citizen residence. It soon became a neighborhood eyesore, with weedy overgrowth, the scattered debris of the previous school and drug paraphernalia used by squatters.
After the fire, a committee originally formed to represent the concerns and interests of the neighborhood when the senior housing development was first proposed, became a major advocate for turning the abandoned property into a park. This committee formally incorporated as the Friends of High School Park (FHSP) in May of 1995, and during the same year, the 11-acre site of the high school was purchased by Cheltenham Township under Montgomery County's Open Space Acquisition Program.
The Township agreed to FHSP's remarkable visionary plan for creating a public space that is unique in the area-one devoted to a habitat for native plants. Instead of being a typically monotonous grassy lawn that requires pesticides, fertilizers, and regular watering to grow well, FHSP envisioned a natural oasis-a park filled with wildflowers and other native plants that are well-suited to the local growing conditions and need little care to thrive. Such native plants would be a draw to birds, butterflies, and other wildlife in the area. It was also expected to also serve as a valuable educational resource to local schools, and a gathering point for the community.
The Township welcomed FHSP's efforts to clean up and restore the park. To help raise money for this huge effort, FHSP created Arts in the Park, our annual crafts and music festival, which continues to be a beloved tradition in Cheltenham.