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Schuylkill River

Schuylkill River
The Schuylkill River, looking south toward the skyline of Philadelphia, through which the river flows.
Name origin: “hidden, or skulking creek” in Dutch
Country United States
State Pennsylvania
Counties Philadelphia, Montgomery, Chester, Berks, Schuylkill
 - left Little Schuylkill River, Perkiomen Creek
 - right Tulpehocken Creek, French Creek
Cities Philadelphia, Norristown, Pottstown, Reading
Source East Branch Schuylkill River
 - location Tuscarora, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, USA
 - elevation 1,540 ft (469 m)
 - coordinates
Secondary source West Branch Schuylkill River
 - location Minersville, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, USA
 - elevation 1,140 ft (347 m)
 - coordinates
Source confluence
 - location Schuylkill Haven, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, USA
 - elevation 520 ft (158 m)
 - coordinates
Mouth Delaware River
 - location Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
 - elevation 0 ft (0 m)
 - coordinates
Length 135 mi (217 km)
Basin 2,000 sq mi (5,180 km2)
Discharge for Philadelphia
 - average 4,650 cu ft/s (132 m3/s)
 - max 40,300 cu ft/s (1,141 m3/s)
 - min 995 cu ft/s (28 m3/s)
Discharge elsewhere (average)
 - Berne 1,120 cu ft/s (32 m3/s)
Schuylkill River watershed

The Schuylkill River ( ,[1] locally [2]) is a river in Pennsylvania that William Penn chose in 1682 as one bank of the confluence upon which he founded the planned city of Philadelphia on lands purchased from the native Delaware nation. It is a designated Pennsylvania Scenic River, and its whole length was once part of the Delaware people's southern territories. Its upper end rises in what are called the richest anthracite coal fields in the world.

The river is about 135 miles (217 km) long.[3] Its watershed of about 2,000 sq mi (5,180 km2) lies entirely within the state of Pennsylvania. The source of its eastern branch is in the Poconos offshoot of the Appalachian Mountains at Tuscarora Springs, near Tamaqua in Schuylkill County. The West Branch starts near Minersville and joins the eastern branch at the town of Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania. It then combines with the Little Schuylkill River downstream in the town of Port Clinton, Pennsylvania. The Tulpehocken Creek joins it at the western edge of Reading. Wissahickon Creek joins it in northwest Philadelphia. Other major tributaries include: Maiden Creek, Manatawny Creek, French Creek, and Perkiomen Creek. The Schuylkill joins the Delaware River, of which it is the largest tributary, at the site of the former Philadelphia Navy Yard, now the Philadelphia Naval Business Center, just northeast of Philadelphia International Airport.


  • Major towns 1
  • Name 2
  • History 3
    • Pollution 3.1
  • Transportation and recreation 4
    • Transportation 4.1
    • Recreation 4.2
  • In popular culture 5
    • Television 5.1
    • Literature 5.2
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Major towns


The Lenape or Delaware Indians were the original inhabitants of the area around this river, which they called Tool-pay Hanna (Turtle River) or Tool-pay Hok Ing (Turtle Place).

The river was discovered by European explorers from the Netherlands, Sweden, and England. It was through historical documents called various names, including Manayunk, Manajungh, Manaiunk, and Lenni Bikbi. The Swedish explorer called it Menejackse kill or alternately Skiar kill or the Linde River.[4][5] The headwaters of the river, up near Reading, was later called "Tulpehocken" by the English.[6]

The river was later given the Dutch name Schuylkill (pronounced ). As kill means "creek" and schuylen (now spelled schuilen) means "to hide, skulk" or "to take refuge, shelter",[7] one explanation given for this name is that it translates to "hidden river", "skulking river" or "sheltered creek"[8] and refers to the river's confluence with the Delaware River at League Island, which was nearly hidden by dense vegetation. Another explanation is that the name properly translates to "hideout creek".

The bulk of the Unami Lenape actually lived along the Schuylkill River and not, as their namesake denotes, the Delaware River, which the Lenape called Len-api Hanna or "People-Like-Me River."


The Lenape had settlements on the river, including Nittabakonck (place where heroes reside), a village on the east bank just south of the confluence of the Wissahickon Creek, and the Passyunk site, on the west bank where the Schuylkill meets the Delaware River.[4][9]

Thomas Paine tried in vain to interest the citizens in funding an iron bridge over this river, before abandoning "pontifical works" on account of the French Revolution.

Patriot paper maker Frederick Bicking owned a fishery on the river prior to the Revolution.

The Strawberry Mansion Bridge over the river at dusk.
The Fairmount Water Works on the Schuylkill River were once the source of Philadelphia's water supply and are now an attraction in Fairmount Park.


Restoration of the river has been funded by money left for that purpose in Benjamin Franklin's will.[10]

The river is known to have been on fire more than once throughout history, for example in November 1892 when the surface film of oil that had leaked from nearby oil works at Point Breeze, Philadelphia, was ignited by a match tossed carelessly from a boat, with fatal results.[11]

Silt and coal dust from upstream industries, particularly coal mining and washing operations in the headwaters, led to extensive silting of the river through the early 20th century. The river was shallow and filled with extensive black silt bars. By the early 20th century, upstream coal operations contributed over 3 million tons of silt annually to the river.[12] In 1948, led by then governor James H. Duff, a massive cleanup effort began. Twenty three impounding basins were excavated along the river, to receive dredged silt. The 1945 Desilting Act helped begin this cleanup task.[13]

Transportation and recreation


The Schuylkill River valley was an important thoroughfare in the eras of canals and railroads. The river itself, the Schuylkill Canal, the Reading Railroad, and the Pennsylvania Railroad were vital shipping conduits from the mid-19th century through the mid-20th century.

Rail freight still uses many of the same valley rights-of-way that the 19th-century railroads used. Passenger and commuter rail service is more limited. Today, the old rail bed rights-of-way along the river between Philadelphia and Norristown contain SEPTA's Manayunk/Norristown Line (former Reading Railroad right-of-way) and the Schuylkill River Trail (former Pennsylvania Railroad right-of-way).

There are efforts to extend both rail and trail farther upriver than they currently reach. The Schuylkill River Trail continues upriver from Norristown to Mont Clare, and designers plan to connect it to sections above Pottstown. SEPTA Regional Rail service currently does not go farther upriver than Norristown. Visions of resuming commuter rail service farther up the Schuylkill valley ("Schuylkill Valley Metro") have yet to become reality.

The Pennsylvania Route 61 continues along the main river valley to Schuylkill Haven, then follows the east branch to Pottsville. U.S. Route 209 continues along the east branch of the river to its head in Tuscarora. In Philadelphia, Kelly Drive (formerly East River Drive), and Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive (formerly West River Drive) flank the river.


The Schuylkill River Trail,[14] which generally follows the river bank, is a multi-use trail for walking, jogging, bicycling, rollerblading, and other outdoor activities. The trail presently runs from Philadelphia, through Manayunk to the village of Mont Clare, the latter of which are the locations of the last two remaining watered stretches of the Schuylkill Canal. There is also a section of trail starting at Pottstown and running upriver toward Reading. Plans are under way to complete the trail from the Delaware River to Reading.

The Schuylkill River is very popular with water sports enthusiasts. The Dad Vail Regatta, an annual rowing competition, is held on the river near Boathouse Row, as is the annual BAYADA Home Health Care Regatta, featuring disabled rowers from all over the continent, and in autumn the annual Head of the Schuylkill Regatta takes place in Philadelphia. Also, the Stotesbury Cup Regatta, the biggest high school regatta in the world, takes place there.

In popular culture


In the "Thunder Gun Express" episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Frank Reynolds, played by Danny DeVito steals a tourist ferry and travels down the Schuylkill River, noting that it's "the depository of all the unsolved crimes and murders in Philadelphia."

In several episodes of Cold Case one or another of the Cold Case squad mentions finding "a floater in the Schuylkill."


The angler, artist, and author Ron P. Swegman has made the Schuylkill River a focal point of two essay collections, Philadelphia on the Fly and Small Fry: The Lure of the Little. Both books describe the experience of fly fishing along the Philadelphia County stretch of the river in the twenty-first century.

Beth Kephart published a series of poetic ruminations about the river in Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia's Schuylkill River in 2007.

The river plays an important part of Jerry Spinelli's young-adult fiction novel Maniac Magee. The titular character's parents died before the main timeline of the story when their commuter train plunged into the Schuylkill, and much of the main story takes place in the fictional town of Two Mills, which is based on Spinelli's home town of Norristown, Pennsylvania, also located on the Schuylkill near Philadelphia.

Jules Verne's novel, Robur the Conqueror, starts out in Philadelphia on the banks of the Schuylkill River.

The river is also the setting of the fictional estate White Acre in Elizabeth Gilbert's 2013 novel The Signature of All Things. Gilbert chose an actual mansion, the Hamilton house, nestled on the west side of the Schuylkill River in the Woodlands Cemetery, near 40th Street and Woodland Avenue, on which to base White Acre.[15]

See also


  1. ^ Oxford Dictionary: definition of Schuylkill River (American English)
  2. ^
  3. ^ U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map, accessed April 1, 2011
  4. ^ a b Scharf, Thomas (1884). History of Philadelphia: 1609 - 1834. L. H. Everts & Co. 
  5. ^ Nickels, Thom (June 2001). Manayunk. Arcadia Publishing. 
  6. ^  
  7. ^ Hexham, Henry; Manly, Daniel (1675). A copious English and Netherdutch Dictionary. Leers. p. 965. 
  8. ^ Oldschool, Oliver (1809). The Portfolio. p. 520. 
  10. ^ "The Last Will and Testament of Benjamin Franklin". Retrieved 2008-05-31. 
  11. ^ "The River Set On Fire – One Life Lost, Two Men Badly Burned, & One Vessel Damaged". The New York Times. 1892-11-02. Retrieved 2008-05-31. 
  12. ^ Carl Kelemen (17 Feb 2006). "Feature - Desilting Basin Finds New Life as Wildlife Habitat, Educational Sanctuary". / Retrieved 8 Feb 2015. 
  13. ^ Bill Wolf (9 Jul 1949). "They're Cleaning up Pennsylvania's Foulest River" (PDF). The Saturday Evening Post. Retrieved 8 Feb 2015. 
  14. ^ "The Schuylkill River Trail". Schuylkill River Trail Association. 2009. Retrieved 1 October 2012. 
  15. ^

External links

  • U.S. Geological Survey: PA stream gaging stations
  • Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service: Schuylkill River at Philadelphia
  • Schuylkill Watershed Conservation Plan
  • Delaware River Basin Commission Schuylkill River Maps
  • Schuylkill River Heritage Area
  • Pennsylvania Scenic Rivers website
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