Free Shipping. Entire Store. Always.

Schuylkill River History: Uncovering the Sheltered Creek

Schuylkill River Scenery

Humble Beginnings: the Schuylkill starts in the mountains near Tuscarora, PA.

Many Were Here Before Us...

If you live in Pennsylvania, you’ve probably familiar with the Delaware River and the Schuylkill River. The Schuylkill River is within the eastern side of the state, where the Delaware carries itself through five states and is longer, being approximately 330 miles in length.

Let’s take a closer look at the Schuylkill River.

The river itself runs approximately 135 miles in length, and feeds into the Delaware River. The Schuylkill River is fully housed in Pennsylvania and covers approximately 2,000 square miles. Its current runs from northeast to southeast.

The Schuylkill River hugs the Philadelphia region, and has been an important part of the country’s history. While most of us think of William Penn when we think of Philadelphia, he wasn’t the first one there.

Archaeological evidence indicates that the Lenape inhabited the area centuries before the Europeans arrived. They established various villages along the Schuylkill River and its tributaries.”

Along with the Lenape tribes, there was also Iroquois tribes, Shawnee tribes, and Susquehannock tribes located in the area. The American Library Association states:

They were hunters, fisher people, and cultivated the area around Philadelphia along the banks of what are now called the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers.”

Schuylkill River at Boathouse Row

...Then meanders its way past landmarks like Boathouse Row...

The Schuylkill River’s Pre-Colonial History

The Schuylkill River region is well known for its prominent shift in The Revolutionary War. In fact, according to the Schuylkill River Greenways Heritage Association, “the Schuylkill River Heritage Area was home to over 50 iron forges and furnaces in 1776, more than all the other colonies combined.

And as the British were covering more ground during the war, overtaking control of the Philadelphia regions in 1777, the Schuylkill River played an important role in turning the tides.

With things not looking so good, and after losing ground, the army watched the opposing British forces from the bluffs. Winter made things difficult, and the army decided to keep an eye on the situation and opposing forces.

They waited until spring to make their move. From those very bluffs which overlooked the river, they launched their attack and the tides turned.

Schuylkill River and Pre-Colonial Bridges

From the years of 1718 through 1760 there were multiple attempts to build a bridge. The first two were destroyed, one by soldiers, another by rushing water. The third bridge was deemed dangerous and didn’t provide the crossing that was needed. It held no railings and was basically a set of boards attached, which sank down too far when horses tried to cross it.

Finally, a better plan was hatched, and an iron bridge would be attempted. Or would it?

The idea of an iron bridge was approached in the 1780s. Though, time got in the way and things didn’t get moving again until the late 1790s. The interesting thing is that although they were originally going to go with the iron bridge which was proposed, the people in charge decided instead to choose a wooden bridge to put in its place.

And just like with modern technology, construction was held up once again. The bridge did eventually get built, but it took until 1805 for them to finally have a completed project! Even the best laid plans take time—just like in modern times.

Through the years, the Schuylkill River proved to be an important component in the area of transportation, especially when it came to coal. Sadly, with the continual use of the river for coal movement, the byproduct and residue waste of the coal ended up polluting the river.

Their answer was to create a channel system, so they could start capturing the sludge to remove it. It would take time, but in their efforts, they hoped to improve the water quality.

A neat fact is that the Schuylkill River was once called the Manayunk by the Lenape tribe. The word Manayunk means, “where we go to drink.” (source)


Schuylkill River Near Philly

...Before meeting and joining the Delaware near Philadelphia.

Whereas, according to the Schuylkill Center, Schuylkill is Dutch and means “hidden river.” (source)  Another translation is "sheltered creek." Which is the one I like.  Sheltered creek is a bit more poetic, don't you think.

If you’re looking to enjoy time in the Schuylkill River region, you’ll want to check out this great recreational activities list of options such as kayaking, trails, and more.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published