Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Then and Now: East bank of Schuylkill River from Chestnut Street Bridge, Philadelphia


In 1928, the lower end of the Schuylkill River running through Center City Philadelphia was not exactly an inviting place to linger. Between Spring Garden Street and Spruce Street, the river's east bank was lined with freight depots, warehouses, and factories, while the west bank was home to an enormous stockyard and abbattoir. To top it off, much of the city's untreated sewage was dumped directly into the river via over twenty mains placed by the Fairmount Dam, turning the Schuylkill into an enormous cesspool.

As the 20th century progressed, the lower Schuylkill slowly shed its grimy, industrial character. The current Market Street Bridge replaced its iron predecessor in 1932. Shortly afterward, the west bank was wholly transformed after the stockyards were replaced by 30th Street Station and the adjacent U.S. Post Office. In the 1950s and 1960s, the city made great strides toward completing its sewage treatment network, vastly improving the river's water quality. One by one, the freight yards and warehouses along the east bank closed under the forces of deindustrialization. The Hudson Essex automobile factory (pictured above) shut its doors, reopening as the Marketplace Design Center, a design showroom, in 1975.

Forward-looking Philadelphians had in fact dreamed of a riverfront park on the lower Schuylkill's east bank as early as the 1920s. Concrete development plans emerged for the first time in the late 1960s, but came to a grinding halt before being revived nearly 30 years later. In 1995, the City of Philadelphia began finally began construction of a segment of the Schuylkill River Trail between Kelly Drive and Locust Street. Originally scheduled for completion in 1997, spectacular delays and legal battles postponed the park's official opening to 2004.

1. Demick, Barbara. "The Marketplace: its doors open by invitation only." Philadelphia Inquirer. 11 Jul. 1988: D01.
2. Heavens, Alan J. "Schuylkill Park ready to bloom." Philadelphia Inquirer. 4 Jun. 1995: R01.
3. Lewis, John Frederick. The Redemption of the Lower Schuylkill. Philadelphia: The City Park Association, 1924.
4. Saffron, Inga. "A fine park now, and even better later - the Schuylkill parks' present, promise." Philadelphia Inquirer. 25 Jun. 2004: E01.

Original photo: "CPA1146 - East bank of the Schuylkill from Chestnut Street Bridge." 1928. City Parks Association Photographs. Temple University Libraries, Urban Archives. 1 May 2010. http://digital.library.temple.edu/u?/p15037coll5,208.

1 comment:

David G said...

Just wanted to say how much I've been enjoying this then and now posts since I stumbled upon them via Brownstoner. Thank you, and keep up this great and interesting work.