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Along the Manayunk Canal

A Brief History of the Canal: 1761 to 1999

Manayunk, 1835(?)
(showing Goose Island)
Watercolor of Manayunk (1835?)
Nicolino Calyo (American, born Italy, 1799-1884). Watercolor and gouache on paper, 17 x 24 in. (The Schwarz Gallery, Philadelphia Collection LII, Apr. 1993) Click to enlarge

1761 The Pennsylvania Assembly recommends improvements to the Schuylkill River Channel to accommodate up-river traffic. Surveying and random blasting begins.
1791 Money raised for additional work on the proposed Schuylkill Canal System.
1815 Schuylkill Navigation Company formed by Josiah White and others.
1818 On October 18, the Manayunk section of the Schuylkill Canal opens.
1819 John Towers opens first mill to use water power from the Canal.
1823 Entire system officially opens.
1825 First through-traffic from Port Carbon to Philadelphia.
1833 Reading Railroad serves Manayunk for the first time; competes with Canal.
1833-5 Canal enlarged to handle larger boats.
1840-54 Rapid growth and industrialization of Manayunk.
1842 Philadelphia and Reading RR opens, in direct competition with the Canal.
1850 Tremendous floods require complete rebuilding of Canal.
1854 Manayunk and Roxborough annexed by Philadelphia.
1859 Most active and profitable year for the Schuylkill Canal.
1860's Manayunk emerges as a major world textile center during Civil War.
1860's Civil War, drought and floods cause decline in Canal usage and profitability.
1869 Catastrophic flood breaks the back of the Schuylkill Navigation Co.
1870 Reading RR rents Canal. Commercial use virtually ceases.
1889 Venice Island spur opened by Reading RR.
1917 Last commercial boats use Manayunk Canal.
1920's Demise of Manayunk as major textile center; paper mills continue operation.
1940's Last pleasure boats use Canal.
1945 Schuylkill River Desilting Project destroys Schuylkill Navigation channel.
1972 Tropical Storm Agnes floods Schuylkill River and destroys locktender's house in Shawmont.
1978-9 A new towpath is constucted; Canal is dredged.
1980-90s Redevelopment rekindles interest in the Canal.
1996 Friends of the Manayunk Canal established by founder Darlene Messina as the local group to protect the integrity of the watershed. Click here for more info.
1999 September 16, Hurricane Floyd floods Venice Island and devastates local businesses for ten days with water.
2004 Founder and President Darlene Messina steps down and passes the role of President on to Nicole Galdieri.