The history of Manayunk, a Philadelphia neighborhood located along the Schuylkill River, is inextricably connected to the history of the canal that parallels its riverfront, and the 108-mile navigation system of which the canal was once a part. The canal is now a key element of the Manayunk Main Street Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition, the canal itself is listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.
Starting Point – Lock Street
This walking tour will guide you along the historic Manayunk Canal from the Lock Street Bridge in the center of Manayunk to the more natural environment of Flat Rock Dam, a distance of nearly two miles. The original towpath was the path used by mules as they pulled canal boats carrying coal and passengers through the water. The railway covered it in 1889. The path you are walking on is part of the Schuylkill River Trail and the Circuit regional trail system.
Canal at Lock Street - The Manayunk Canal is significant among the structures left from Philadelphia’s 19th-century industrial heyday. As a part of Pennsylvania’s earliest slackwater canal system, the original Schuylkill Navigation System was a 108-mile series of dams, locks, slackwater, and canal segments. Its purpose was to bring coal from Schuylkill County to Philadelphia. The canal created a navigable waterway in Manayunk which was completed in 1818, and also carried water to drive the water wheels and turbines for manufacturing. The availability of water power led Manayunk and ultimately Philadelphia into the industrial era, with Philadelphia becoming one of the dominant American industrial cities of the 19th century.
Railroad Bridge c. 1889 – replaced old mule bridge c. 1819
Krook’s Mill c. 1922, now Manayunk Brewery and Restaurant
Locks 69 and 70 – The Manayunk Canal flows into the Schuylkill River at Locks 69 and 70. Located south of the Lock Street Bridge and directly behind the old Krook’s Woolen Mill, the locks allowed canal boats to travel the canal by either raising or lowering the level of water between each lock gate. This double chamber has a 23-foot change in water level.
The Mills of Manayunk
Many of the stone buildings along the canal towpath were once textile mills. They were part of a large textile manufacturing center that produced, among other items, cotton blankets for the Union Army during the Civil War.
Mill Buildings Still Standing:
Schofield Mill (c. 1857 – now Richards Apex)
Blantyre Mill (c. 1847 – at corner of Cotton and Main Streets) (http://www.philageohistory.org/rdic-images/view-image.cfm/HGSv1.0006)
Above Cotton Street, you will see two small iron bridges over the Canal. These bridges provided mill workers with access to and from the McDowell Paper Mill (c. 1828) and its offices. The Canal was once lined with mills on either side and small bridges like these were very common.
Mural Across from Canal View Park -This mural, created by the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, depicts Manayunk’s industrial heritage as the “Manchester of America.”
Pennsylvania Railroad Bridge (c. 1918) - Manayunk’s landmark bridge will soon become a rail-to-trail project connecting Lower Merion Township to Philadelphia.
Blankin Mill (c. 1870’s)
Fountain Street Bridge - A gang of thieves called the Schuylkill Rangers used the Fountain Street Bridge, and other similar bridges, to ambush canal boats by jumping down onto the boats as they passed underneath. The leaders of the Schuylkill Rangers were Harry “Red” Carroll and “Wild Bill” Katon.
Original location of the American Wood Paper Co. and Nixon Paper Co., early producers of wood pulp used for papermaking.
Locktender’s House -Through the trees you may be able to see the ruins of the locktender’s house. Captain Winfield Scott Guiles was the locktender at Lock 68 for more than 60 years. His wife, a Lenni-Lenape Indian known as the “Manayunk Healer,” treated the people of Manayunk when they were ill with herbs, leaves, and bark from local plants.
Lock 68 and Sluice House - Now in ruins, the sluice house once housed the machinery that controlled water flow into the canal. When the canal was in operation, water from the Schuylkill River was channeled into a sluiceway, and was either let through or held back by the opening or closing of the sluice gates. Water level in the Canal was critical to the operation of the mills.
Flat Rock Dam - Originally built in 1818, the dam was destroyed by a flood in 1839 and was rebuilt.
Shawmont - The Canal Towpath ends at the Shawmont neighborhood, but the Schuylkill River Trail continues to Valley Forge and beyond, after a brief on-road portion on Nixon Street. Bikers should bear right before crossing over the tracks a second time to reconnect with the trail.