The waters of the Schuylkill River may end their 128-mile journey in Philadelphia, passing through the communities of Manayunk and East Falls before emptying into the Delaware, but it was around the water that these communities had their beginnings. Originally settled by Lenni-Lenape Indians, the area was a lush, scenic paradise, from the rapids of Flat Rock down through the falls of the Schuylkill. Early on, East Falls was home to fisheries, and catfish were so plentiful that fishermen’s nets could barely hold their catch. Meanwhile, early settlers farmed the land up above the hills of Manayunk, with the area remaining largely unsettled until the advent of the Schuylkill Navigation Company.
The abundance of natural resources, along with the Industrial Revolution, spurred development of East Falls and Manayunk. Workers of German, Polish, Italian, and Irish descent settled the hills rising up from the river. Along the Schuylkill in Philadelphia and in tributaries such as the Wissahickon and Falls Creeks, mills sprung up with products as varied as cloth, paper, gunpowder, lumber, milled wheat and corn, and pressed oil from flax. The Schuylkill Navigation Company Canal provided power to the mills along the river and allowed coal to be transported to the steam engines of Philadelphia from a hundred miles upstream.
Today, the communities that grew up around the river are turning back to it not only as their heritage, but also as a resource for living well. The neighborhoods of East Falls and Manayunk offer all the advantages of urban living coupled with the beauty of green space. Life in these “villages along the river” is good.