Manayunk: Rich in history, the arts

The Manayunk Canal Towpath is an important link for the Schuylkill River Trail, which connects Center City Philadelphia to Valley Forge National Historical Park. (Photo By B. Krist For Visit Philadelphia)

The history of Manayunk, a section of Philadelphia along the Schuylkill River, is inextricably connected to the history of both the canal that runs through the riverfront of the hilly neighborhood, and the 108-mile navigation system of which the canal was once a part. The area’s name comes from the language of the Lenape Indians, which literally translates as “place to drink” and was later altered and adopted as the town’s name. In the present day, the canal is 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.

According to manayunk.com, the Schuylkill Navigation, built between 1815 and 1828, was one manifestation of a national movement for “internal improvements” to connect coastal cities like Philadelphia and New York with productive agricultural lands and mineral resources in the country’s interior. When first completed, this navigation system — sometimes misleadingly called the “Schuylkill Canal” — included 62 miles of canals and their associated locks, along with 46 miles of so-called “slackwater” on sections of the river pooled behind a series of dams. It also included 17 aqueducts, and a 450-foot tunnel near Auburn that was the first transportation tunnel built in the United States. The sum of these parts was a navigable waterway from tidewater at Fairmount in Philadelphia to Mount Carbon in the heart of the coal fields of Schuylkill County.

According to historian Edward J. Gibbons, the Schuylkill Navigation system was one of Pennsylvania’s “most successful internal improvement projects,” opening “the upper reaches of the Schuylkill River and contributing to the general economic development of the entire Schuylkill River valley. By making available the vast resources of the anthracite coal region, it fostered the growth of eastern cities and the development of the iron and steel industry.” The two-mile canal section through Manayunk, which provided water power for factories as well as a route for transportation, quickly transformed this small settlement into an industrial behemoth which was dubbed (in reference to England’s major textile-producing city) “the Manchester of America.” Employing thousands of workers and producing millions of dollars of goods a year, Manayunk played a key role in the industrialization of Philadelphia in the 19th century, which itself earned a nickname: “The Workshop of the World.”

Today, Manayunk is central to Philadelphia arts scene and serves as the site of the area’s largest outdoor juried arts and crafts festival every June along energetic Main Street. Nestled along the banks of the Schuylkill River and the Manayunk Canal and Towpath, the commercial district is lined with renovated Victorian storefronts. Bazemore Gallery, a boutique art gallery, exhibits and sells original works of art that create synergy in the home and in the workplace. Owner, Leonard Bazemore, describes his stunning sanctuary for fine art as food for the eyes and the soul. “Owning art enriches life and brings beauty into the everyday environment. The gallery is a great place for the entire community to enjoy.” The Bazemore Gallery is located at 4339 Main St. in Philadelphia, PA 19127.

Named a National Historic District in 1983 and a Classic Town by The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission in 2007, Manayunk is centrally located just 15 minutes from Center City Philadelphia, King of Prussia, Chestnut Hill and The Main Line. For more information, visit www.manayunk.com.

Contact staff writer Bobbi Booker at (215) 893-5747 or bbooker@phillytrib.com.

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