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.