32 Dams: The Legacy of the Schuylkill Navigation System
These images represent the early stages of a long-term project. I'm in the process of photographing all 32 dam sites of the 19th century Schuylkill Navigation System. The dams created slackwater pools, and canals and locks linked the pools. At the completion of the system in 1825, the Schuylkill River was tamed from Port Carbon to Fairmount, 108 miles. Barges began to bring coal down from the mountains, literally fueling the Industrial Revolution throughout the watershed. Thus, the dams led directly to the pollution of the river, which was and still is the drinking water supply of Philadelphia and several other cities.
The river's recovery began with the Schuylkill Project of 1947-51, when most of the dams were demolished by the government. Coal silt that had piled up behind them was dredged, impounded in new basins, and recycled. The river was finally able to clean itself, a huge step toward healing the ecosystem two decades before the Clean Water Act. Today, four of the original navigation dams remain; some are pictured here. At other sites there are only abutments or lock remnants overtaken by vines and graffiti. As the expanding Schuylkill River Trail increasingly leads us along previously inaccessible sections of the riverbank, more of these dam sites may be commemorated, cleaned up, even partially restored. For now, I want to capture the mystery of their abandonment.
Snowfall, Flat Rock Dam #31 and Head of Manayunk Reach
Lock Remains at site of Blue Mountain Dam #16, reflecting in Kernsville Desilting Dam Pool
Late in Day, Manayunk Canal, Venice Island Stormwater Tank, Schuylkill River & Schuylkill Expressway
Fishway 2009, Flat Rock Dam 1819
Ballfield at site of Hummels Dam #15, Port Clinton
Sluice House Gears, Lock 68 at Flat Rock Dam #31
After Storm, Fairmount Dam #32
Remains, Plymouth Dam #30, West Conshohocken
View, Lock 68 Sluice House at Flat Rock Dam #31
Fishing, Fairmount Dam #32
Mallards Feeding in Duckweed, Silt Island created by Fairmount Dam #32
Manayunk Canal Embankment and Flat Rock Dam #31
Native Channel Catfish under US 1, site of "Falls of the Schuylkill" drowned by Fairmount Dam pool.
Lighted Floodplain of Flat Rock Pool, River Road Philadelphia looking over to River Road Lower Merion
Snowy Floodplain of Flat Rock Pool, River Road Philadelphia looking over to River Road Lower Merion
Future Ivy Ridge Trail, Pennsylvania Railroad and Manayunk Bridge
Erosion Control and Mystery Steps, Site of Plymouth Dam #30
Below Kernsville Desilting Dam, Hamburg
Datestone, Pawling's Dam #27, Valley Forge
April, Schuylkill River below Auburn Desilting Dam
All photographs ©Sandy Sorlien