Ridge Ave Roxborough Historic District

Development of Manayunk


As the John Hills map shows,  the land in Roxborough Township along the Schuylkill River was virtually  uninhabited in 1808. Almost all development in Roxborough at the time  was located along Ridge Road and around the several mills on the  Wissahickon Creek. Manayunk had not yet been established in the first  decade of the nineteenth century. However, with the discovery of  anthracite coal in 1790 in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, 80 miles upstream  on the Schuylkill River, and the subsequent discovery of a method for  igniting anthracite coal in 1808, development of the Schulkill bank in  Roxborough progressed quickly in the early nineteenth century. In 1810,  the Flat Rock Bridge was constructed at the base on Domino Lane across  the Schuylkill River to Montgomery County.61 Domino Lane, which ran down from Ridge Road, was officially confirmed in 1819.62 In 1815, the Manayunk & Flat Rock Turnpike Company was chartered to  build a roadway along the Schuylkill from Ridge Road west of the  Wissahickon Creek to the Flat Rock Bridge, thereby opening Manayunk for  development. Most significantly, in 1815, the Pennsylvania Legislature  chartered the Schuylkill Navigation Company to build a system of canals,  dams, and slackwater pools along the Schuylkill River from Philadelphia  to the coal mining region at Pottsville, Pennsylvania. The company  built 120 locks and the first ever canal tunnel. The Flat Rock Dam in  Roxborough, a part of the canal system, was completed in 1819 and not  only facilitated transportation on the river, but also served as a  significant source of water power for mills. Despite several financial  and technological setbacks, the canal system between Philadelphia’s  Fairmount Water Works and Reading became navigable in 1824. The first  boatload of coal arrived in Philadelphia in 1825. An extension of the  canal to Port Carbon, at the mouth of Mill Creek in Schuylkill County,  completed in 1828, made the Schuylkill River Pennsylvania’s most  efficient mode of transportation for anthracite coal for the following  decade and a half. By the early 1840s, some 500,000 tons of anthracite  coal was being transported annually to Philadelphia using the Schuylkill  River (Figure 21).

Taking advantage of the water  power furnished by the Flat Rock Dam, John Towers built the first mill  in Manayunk in 1819, the year the dam was completed. Charles Hagner  built a second mill in 1820. Two mills were erected 1821 and five more  in 1822. Almost overnight, the mill village of Manayunk emerged along  the east bank of the Schuylkill in Roxborough Township. From 1817 to  1824, the population of Manayunk grew from 60 to nearly 800 people, and  by the late 1820s the community had become known alternately as the  “Lowell of Pennsylvania” and the “Manchester of America.” In 1827,  engraver C.G. Childs noted the rapid development of Manayunk, reporting  that:

The  thriving little vilage [of Manayunk] is situated on the banks of the  river and of the canal, at the distance about six miles from  Philadelphia. It derives its name from the aboriginal title of the  Schuylkill, and owes its origin to the improvements which have been made  upon that stream. Within the last twelve years, the spot which it  covers was singularly wild and secluded. High and barren rocks overhung  the river, crowned by thickets which were scarcely broken; and the broad  projecting cliff, which gave for a time the name Flat Rock to the early  settlement, remained nearly inaccessible, as when it was the chosen  encamping ground of the Indian hunter. Manayunk is now [in 1827] the  scene of active and extended business. It contains sixteen  manufactories, five of which give motion to sixteen thousand spindles,  and to two hundred and fifty power looms,— two schools, a neat and  capacious place of worship, four taverns, and about two hundred  tenements, which accommodate some fifteen hundred inhabitants.63


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Following on the heels of the development of the canal system and the  concomitant water power system that ran the mills, a second early  nineteenth-century technological breakthrough advanced the development  of Manayunk. In 1832, the Philadelphia, Germantown & Norristown  Railroad initiated train service between 9th and Green Streets in  Philadelphia and the center of Germantown, one of the first train lines  in the country. By the fall of 1834, the Philadelphia, Germantown &  Norristown Railroad had constructed a branch into Manayunk. Horses  pulled the first trains into Manayunk, owing to a lack of available  steam engines. By the spring of 1835, the Manayunk line had been  extended to Norristown along the east bank of the Schuylkill River. The  trains not only transported raw materials and finished goods to and from  the mills of Manayunk, but also significantly reduced the travel time  between Roxborough Township and the City of Philadelphia, portending the  suburban development that began in the middle on the nineteenth century  (Figure 23). During the 1830s and 40s, textile manufacturers built  mills in Manayunk and the Falls of Schuylkill at a feverish pace.64 In the short term, Roxborough Township remained primarily rural even  while the land around the Manayunk mills was quickly and intensively  developed for industrial, residential, and commercial uses. Evidencing  its growth, Manayunk was erected as a borough in Roxborough Township on  11 June 1840. The official boundaries of Manayunk did not correspond  with established streets, but would roughly correspond to the current  lines of Hermit Street at the south, Pechin Street at the east, Parker  Avenue at the north, and the Schuylkill River at the west. On 31 March  1847, Manayunk Borough was separated from Roxborough Township. In 1830,  Roxborough Township including Manayunk had a population of 3,334. By  1840, it had grown to 5,797. In 1850, after Manayunk was separated from  Roxborough, Manayunk had a population of 6,158, while Roxborough’s was  only 2,660, even though Roxborough was geographically much larger  (Figure 22).65


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This information has been posted by RMWHS with the permission of the Philadelphia Historical Commission.


61  The Flat Rock Bridge was washed away in a freshet in 1850 and not  rebuilt. “Some Quaint Old Bridges,” The Times, 7 June 1896, p. 20.


62 Domino Lane, Ridge Road to Schuylkill River, 24 June 1819, Road Dockets, vol. 8, p. 96.


63 Views of Philadelphia and Its Vicinity Engraved from Original Drawings (Philadelphia: C.G. Childs, 1827), n.p.


64 Cynthia J. Shelton, The Mills of Manayunk, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.


65  John Daly and Allen Weinberg, Genealogy of Philadelphia County  Subdivisions (Philadelphia: City of Philadelphia, Department of Records,  1966), p. 6, 7, 94.