When Mabel Wilson and her mother moved to Gray’s Ferry in 1929, her cul-de-sac block was lined with rowhomes. Soon though, many homes were abandoned and the City tore them down, leaving behind a block of empty lots. Looking at these new eyesores, Mabel decided to do something.
“They began to use that lot for youth activities, vacation Bible school and community meetings,” explains Mabel’s son Stanley Wilson, pointing to a grassy lot across the street from Central Club headquarters, which was incorporated as a nonprofit in 1947. Under Mabel’s care, the empty lots became an unofficial community center. She offered classes in skills like typing and sewing, hosted picnics, and organized arts and crafts for neighborhood kids. She also planted gardens and taught how to grow vegetables, fruits and flowers, creating an edible urban oasis.