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Jonathan Burton '94: History Preserved

Jonathan Burton '94: History Preserved

As someone who was intrigued by our nation’s history, Jonathan Burton ’94 has found his professional career path focused on what makes Philadelphia so great: its history. As a student in the Montessori program here at Norwood-Fontbonne Academy, Burton recalls finding himself looking up to the older students in his Junior Level Montessori classes. Taught by Sister Roseann Tribuiani, SSJ, Burton recalls having a naturally competitive spirit and always wanting to be better. He appreciated that his Montessori education allowed him the freedom to explore what his interests were and focus on what he liked. Burton also reflected on his 5th grade English Language Arts classes with Mrs. Miller, who instilled in him a love of learning and reading. “I have always had a competitive spirit since my time at NFA. It’s how I approach projects in my professional career. I would do anything within reason to succeed,” shared Burton as he reflected on how his learning experience at NFA has impacted his professional journey. 

Following his graduation from La Salle College High School, Burton headed to Baltimore where he studied at Towson University. He then made his return to Philadelphia, where his career and appreciation for the history of the city took root. “I was looking for a job and a place to live and someone my mom knew said that the Powel House Museum was looking for a live-in site manager. Not only did I find a job, but also a place to live,” shared Burton. For over four years, Burton lived and breathed Powel House as the site manager. During that time, he worked with volunteers and interns and maintained the 18th century house museum and its historic antique collection. 

Less than four years later, Burton was named Executive Director of The Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks, a role that he held until May of 2019. Burton and his family made the cross-country move for a few years while he obtained his master’s degree in nonprofit leadership and his wife obtained her doctorate degree in advanced renewable energy solutions. Upon returning to Philadelphia in June of 2022, Burton was named Director of Development for the Independence Historical Trust (Trust). The Trust is the philanthropic nonprofit partner to Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia. Burton's biggest endeavor has been raising funds for a $35 million project that was announced in July 2023. The First Bank of the United States, which has been closed off to patrons for nearly a century, was recently awarded $22.2 million from the Great American Outdoors Act. Once the next $6.6 million is raised, the National Historic Landmarks building will be converted to a museum about the early American economy and will be operated by the National Park Service.  

Burton’s role has also given the city of Philadelphia an opportunity to preserve history and honor Indigenous peoples, which has been an ongoing discussion amongst Philadelphians. “There is a statue of Lenni-Lenape tribal leader, Chief Tamanend, at Front and Market Streets that isn’t easily viewed by pedestrians. So, we are creating a pedestrian friendly plaza at Second and Market Streets and we’re working to make that space more accessible for pedestrians,” Burton shared. He continues, “Outdoor exhibit walls will be curated to honor Chief Tamanend, his role in the peaceful land treaty with Wiliam Penn, and all the contributions of the Lenni-Lenape Tribe. So far, we have raised $4 million for the project that is expected to be completed by the semiquincentennial in 2026.” Revered by many as a symbol of peace, Tamanend was named a “Patron Saint of America,” and May 1st was considered “Tamanend Day.” This project is a step in the right direction in honoring those who came before us. 

Burton is one of many NFA graduates doing amazing work in Philadelphia. It’s evident from his hard work that he loves the city and preserving its illustrious history, and we’re incredibly excited to read more about the interesting projects that he will lead. 

From the Fall/Winter 2023 "The Good News" magazine.