"Birds eye view of Manayunk, Wissahickon, Roxborough from West Laurell Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia PA (1907). Drawn by T. M. Fowler." LOC
© Sara Jane Elk, Workshop of
the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990).
village of Manayunk rapidly emerged during the 1820s and
30s, completely transforming a quiet bank of the
Schuylkill River. Named for a Native-American word, or
sound, alleged to mean “where we go to
drink,” Manayunk is roughly bounded by Ridge Avenue
and the mouth of Wissahickon Creek on the south, Pechin
Street on the east, Fountain Street on the north and the
Schuylkill River on the west, and includes the Flat Rock
Dam and the Manayunk Canal. Manayunk survives to relate
an important chapter in the story of the industrial
revolution in America and its the physical and historical
character of is unique to Philadelphia.
Above the early port city of Philadelphia to the northwest and twelve miles upstream along the Schuylkill River is Roxborough, one of the twelve original townships of William Penn's Philadelphia County. Rising away from the coastal plain of the port, along the East Coast Fall Line, Roxborough occupies a part of an ancient plateau long since carved apart by rivers and streams. Bounded by the narrow flood plain of the Schuylkill River and the deep ravine of the Wissahickon Creek, early settlers here, as had others along this fall line from Lowell, Massachusetts to Richmond, Virginia, found a landscape as conducive to industry as it was to farming.
Those purchasing land tracks from William Penn at the end of the seventeenth century consisted predominantly of Quakers and Germans who established millseats along the Wissahickon or cleared the uplands for farms. 1 On the eve of the Revolution, the Wissahickon millers had established one of the most important flour centers in the mid-Atlantic region. 2 Ridge Road, now Ridge Avenue, appropriately named for its path along the 300 foot ridge line between the Wissahickon and the Schuylkill, served as the thoroughfare for the traffic of grain and other raw material transported from the rural counties to the west for process in the mills along the Wissahickon. Other early roads developed to connect the mills to the Ridge Road, or in case of the Nathan Levering, to provide a route from his plantation on the Schuylkill up to the ridge, connecting him with the community of Leverington. 3 Improvements to the Ridge Road in 1812 finished the route to Philadelphia, creating the Ridge Turnpike, and resulting in the only route along the Schuylkill River to Philadelphia.
Early nucleated settlement had occurred in two regions of the township by the early nineteenth century. Nicholas Rittenhouse, whose forefather began making paper on the Wissahickon in 1960, carried on the papermaking tradition, housed his papermakers in an enclave known as Rittenhousetown near his mill along Monoshone Creek (Paper Mill Run), a tributary of the Wissahickon to the east of the ridge. 4 The other settlement, Leverington, was situated along Ridge Road near the present intersection of Ridge Avenue and Leverington Avenue. Nathan Levering, one of the largest landholders in the township, had built the Leverington Inn and leased the cluster of dwelling houses that stood along the ridge to many of the early craft and tradesmen. The small village served the emerging commercial needs of the vicinity and of the travelers delivering goods to Wissahickon millers. 5
The land between the ridge and the Schuylkill River remained relatively unsettled until 1819 when improvements to the river by the Schuylkill Navigation Company helped spur the industrial revolution in Philadelphia. The portion of the township which would eventually hold the mills of Manayunk was largely purchased by Wigard Levering in 1691. He and his descendants had acquired significant holdings in Roxborough, establishing seats on both sides of the Schuylkill and along the ridge. 6 As active tradesmen and farmers, they also leased their property for farming and dwelling. In the 1820s Nathan Levering was well established on the ridge and by the 1830s, Perigrine (Perry) Levering, as a carpenter and contractor, was posed to develop his land and to build the worker housing needed to support the waves of immigrants arriving to toil in the mills. 7
On the eve of the industrial storm which was to form the village of Manayunk, the population of Roxborough Township had steadily grown to reach 1,682 in 1820. The character of the inhabitants consisted of the wealthy millers and landholders, and of the craftsmen, laborers and farmers. In the vicinity of Manayunk, settlement was considerably sparse.
Charles V. Hagner, the second to establish a mill along the canal and a chronicler of the early days of industrial Manayunk, recalled
“When the Navigation Company commenced operations at Flat Rock there were but eleven houses in the whole distance from Righter's Ferry to Flat Rock bridge, as follows: Samuel Levering's farm-house on what is now called Sherr's Lane; next, proceeding upwards, Waldreth's house, half-way up the hill, back of the German Reformed church; two small stone houses between the road and canal, occupied by Benjamin and Michael Tibben, who carried on the shad fishery on the island; Anthony Levering's farm-house on Green Lane; the Stritzel house at the head of Church Street, and their house at the foot of Church Street (torn down when the turnpike road was made); Benjamin Levering’s farm-house opposite where the road crosses the canal; a one-story house nearly opposite and below the canal; John Tibben's house at the foot of Hipple's Lane, and the cottage on Rush’s estate. The whole population about sixty souls.” 8
As the construction of the Flat Rock Dam and the Manayunk Canal, with its upper and lower locks, neared completion, the Schuylkill Navigation Company began advertising the sale of waterpower. When the dam was finished in 1819, it backed up the river for four miles and provided a fall of twenty-six feet, providing for the first time the power to turn waterwheels on this portion of the Schuylkill River. 9 Captain John Towers was the earliest purchaser of water power along the two mile long canal, constructing a stone mill for cotton manufacturing near the present Green Lane bridge. Charles Hagner followed the next year, in a mill where he “commenced making oil and grinding drugs...and shortly thereafter added a fulling mill.” 10 He built downstream from Tower’s mill. After a somewhat slow start for the navigation company, sales began to increase. According to Hagner,
“Captain Tower and myself stood alone at Flat Rock for one year after I built. When on the 5th of September, 1821, William J. Brooke purchased the third power, sold 50 inches, and built a small mill adjoining Captain Towers, for making flock of woollen rags; the lower part he rented to William Rowland for grinding saws, and an upper story to Thomas B. Darrach for making hat bodies. He was immediately followed on the 14th of the same month by James Elliot, who purchased the fourth power, 100 inches, and built a mill next below Mr. Brooke’s.” 11
By 1828, ten mills stood along the canal and plans for the construction of six more were reported. 12 While the earliest mills mentioned by Hagner manufactured a variety of products, the later wave of construction would advanced the number and size of textile mills, particularly of mechanized textile manufacturing. The situation along the canal in Manayunk provided a location away from the established textile regions of Philadelphia, thereby allowing the cotton manufacturers to more easily construct mills equipped with “labor-saving devices,” predominantly the spinning throstle and the powerloom. 13 When Hagner added his fulling mill, he “had made by Alfred Jenks, then of Holmesburg, a number of power-looms for weaving satinets. These were the first power-looms ever used in Pennsylvania for weaving woollen goods.” 14 Away from the eyes of the handloom weavers of Kensington, the new textile mills of Manayunk initiated the industrial revolution of the Philadelphia textile industry.
Of the ten mills operating on the canal in 1828, five large cotton mills would employ half of Manayunk’s 875 residents. They included Richards, Rush and Company, with 3,000 spindles and 60 powerlooms; Mr. Rising with 2,000 spindles; Mr. Morris with more than 3,000 spindles, Mr. McDowell with 2,000 spindles and; Borie, Laguerenne and Kempton with 4,000 spindles, employing 200 hands and producing twenty yards of cotton per week. 15 When Mr. Borie boasted in 1832 that he had the largest cotton factory in Pennsylvania, Joseph Ripka, having acquired Captain Tower's and Mr. Brooke's millseats, had equal if not more to claim. With 7,176 spindles, 224 powerlooms, and 300 hands, his Silesia Manufactory, consisting of four mill buildings, was one of the largest textile enterprises in America. 16 The mill town of Manayunk had emerged from what had been a pastoral meadowland only a few years earlier.
“A flourishing and populous village has risen up suddenly and where we but lately paused to survey the simple beauties of the landscape... the eye is arrested by the less romantic operations of a manufacturing community, and the ear filled with the noise of ten thousand spindles.” 17
The growing textile production in this new mill town along the Schuylkill attracted families of immigrants from the English, Irish, and German textile regions. Already familiar with mechanized textile mills and the accompanying working conditions, this workforce could literally step from the boat to the mill. The Manayunk textile mill owners actively sought the pool of immigrant labor because it offered another commodity they especially desired, that of the unskilled hands found in the women and children. As a bonus to the owners, older boys and men experienced with the mechanics of the spinners, carders, and mules, were available for the choosing. Families crossed the Atlantic specifically for work in Manayunk and its members, often as young as age seven, entered the mill. The new mill town also drew a population of experienced workers from various American textile mills. 18
The population increased dramatically, as did the physical appearance of the Schuylkill River bank. According to Hagner, the census taken in 1827 by Mr. Vancleaf, the pastor of the German Reformed Church, found a total of 1,098 residents, consisting of 147 families with 224 men, 306 women, 282 boys, and 266 girls. Hagner made his own count in November of 1831, between Domino Road to Shurs Lane, and tabulated “317 dwellings and nearly double the population in that short period.” In November 1836 the census was taken again, this time by an assessor, who found “number of dwellings 541; white males 1420, females 1729; colored males 16, females 10—total 3175.” 19
The rapid flow of textile workers into the region had resulted in a flurry of construction, as worker housing crossed the floodplain and began to climb the hills. Manayunk had begun to attract another force of worker, as skilled tradesmen and laborers came to the village to build the houses and churches, expand the mills, improve the roads, and in 1830, lay the track for the Philadelphia, Germantown, and Norristown Railroad.
While the Schuylkill Navigation effort had spurred industrial development along this bank of the Schuylkill River and the availability of cheap labor fueled its growth, the demand for the cotton goods produced in Manayunk brought about continued expansion. Competition for lucrative markets in the southern states, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, compelled the mill owners to invest in the most advanced labor saving devices and to take advantage of their workforce. Powerlooms and spinning throstles reduced the number of skilled workmen needed to work in the mills. Unskilled women and children came very cheaply. With a lack of child labor laws and no regulation of the length of the workday, the young seven year olds labored along with their siblings and mothers for six days each week, the workday varying in length from eleven to fourteen hours.
“Although a reference to factories as ‘hell on earth’ had first been made with regard to the mills of Manchester, it applied equally well to the early mills of Manayunk. Working in a dust-filled atmosphere in overheated rooms and standing and stooping for hours, Philadelphia workers developed serious disorders and diseases. The ankles of children and young adults swelled from the hours of standing, and children complained of headaches. Serious lung diseases, a type of bronchial inflammation knows as ‘spinners phthisis,’ were common in the unventilated cotton mills of Manayunk. 20
With substandard wages, long hours, horrific working conditions, and the continued threat of replacement by a machine, the atmosphere for labor unrest was ripe in what has often been referred to as the “Manchester of America.” 21 In the years between 1830 and 1840, handloom weavers from the Kensington section of Philadelphia attempted to burn a Manayunk mill after the introduction of a special loom to weave checks, and Manayunk mill operatives organized strikes in an effort to shorten the hours in their workday. These events in the industrial village began the foundation of the American industrial class structure. The struggle of the textile workers in the mills along the canal, as Cynthia Shelton explores in her book, The Mills of Manayunk , began to shape a new industrial society in Philadelphia.
The flow of water from the Schuylkill Navigation Company canal continued to provide the power to drive the production inside the mills, while outside the windows, flat bottomed boats loaded with coal from the anthracite beds ninety-six miles upstream passed by on their journey to the steam engines of Philadelphia. The navigation company’s more prosperous years came between the 1830s and the 1840s, as tons of coal reached the lucrative Philadelphia market and began to fuel its industrial production. The introduction of the steam engine to manufacturing in Manayunk lagged behind other areas of the region because of its ready source of waterpower, although the source was not always reliable. Seasonal changes brought about a difference in waterflow. Flooding could wreck water wheels and dry spells meant the possibility of less power. In addition to these forces of nature, the mills of Manayunk relied on the navigation company for maintenance of the canal. When it failed to supply adequate water, the mills slowed or ceased production. In 1838, for example, the level of the water had dropped so low that all of the mills lay idle for three days. 22 Mill owners began to install steam engines in the 1850s to give themselves the security of continuous power. The appearance of the engine in Manayunk also enabled manufacturers to build mills not dependent on the canal, as James Kempton had done when he constructed the Blantyre Mills across the canal from his waterpowered mill in 1847. A new phase in construction of mills would follow, as the large stone structures began to follow the housing up the hills.
The years before the Civil War found the textile industry in Manayunk prosperous. Joseph Ripka's cotton manufactory, between 1840-1850, had become the largest cotton mill in the country, his four and five story mills stretching between the Green Lane bridge and the present site of Connelly Container Corporation. 23 As a member of the first generation of mill owners, his operation had remained successful. On eve of the war the next generation to reap success in the mill town had already begun to emerge. Archibald Campbell had acquired Kempton's Schuylkill Factory, a complex almost as large as Ripka’s, covering the site of the Venice Island Recreation Center. A. Campbell and Company, a sophisticated cotton manufacturer, also produced goods across the canal in the Blantyre Mills. 24 John and James Dobson, and Sevill and Charles Schofield, both cotton and wool yarn manufacturers, had each acquired their own mills and had begun to build profitable businesses. The Dobsons operated north of Ripka and the Schofields in the McFadden mill just downstream from Archibald Campbell. As these businesses prospered, the physical appearance of the buildings along the canal continued to change. Although several of the first mills were lost to fire, the balance were rebuilt and enlarged by the second generation of mill owners. Available land along the canal would soon be scarce.
Manayunk textile mills, as a part of the textile industry of Philadelphia, differed from other American textile centers, especially Lowell, primarily because they operated under family ownership rather than as corporations. This structure allowed for more flexibility in production and in the investment of profits. Philadelphia textile manufacturers generated diverse and customized goods, although Ripka, in his most prosperous time, became an exception. Several of the mill owners had come to Manayunk as English, Protestant Irish, or German immigrants with prior textile experience. As products of mills themselves, many spent years laboring beside their workers until prosperity allowed them to step inside an office. Their sons, who would later join them as masters, learned the intricate operations of textile production in the same way. With profits cycled into rebuilding, expansion, or purchase of improved power or labor saving devices, the owners had direct control of the operation of their mills.
With family or partner management, Philadelphia mill owners also enjoyed flexibility in the type of textile products to spin, weave, dye and/or print. In contrast with the Lowell mills where only one type of fabric was woven, production in the Manayunk textile mills evolved to produce highly specialized goods like tweeds, jeans, plaids, blankets, shawls, zephyrs, and cottonades, often within one mill complex. 25 The diversity of yarn and cloth in Manayunk helped guarantee consistent production. The owners of mills along the canal became adept at finding a variety of markets, securing orders for custom goods through their Center City offices or through textile agents. 26 This approach to production prepared them for the complexity of the markets during the Civil War years. As Scranton indicates, lucrative markets, the addition of steam power, and the familial ownership contributed to the growth and success of the Manayunk textile mills before, during, and after the war.
Where twenty-four firms had operated in 1850, thirty-eight were in place on the eve of the war, and more significant, eleven of the new arrivals each produced more than $50,000 in goods during the census year. The scale of manufacture was certainly rising—more workers, more firms, more value produced—yet the relationships among these increases are more significant than any of them taken individually. Between 1850 and 1860 the Manayunk work force increased by 66% (1,966 to 3,255), capital investment rose a roughly parallel 72%, and the value of output surpassed both, growing 93%. 27
This boost in industrial production and added growth in the workforce contributed to further construction of worker housing, as it continued its march up the hill. The village along the canal had grown into Philadelphia's mill town. Manayunk officially became part of the city when Philadelphia incorporated its outlying villages and townships in 1854.
In spite of technical advances in textile production and prosperity of the mills, conditions for the workers had hardly improved. Child labor laws of 1848 and 1849 had reduced the workday and raised the age of workers to thirteen, but the environment inside the mills remained much the same. Outside the mills, along the streets, the situation seemed as grim. The second issue of the Manayunk Star and Roxborough Gazette, published in February of 1859 described the physical state of Manayunk as shabby with deplorable housing for the workers and impassable, muddy roads for lack of paving. Blaming the "The men of the place," the owners of the mills, the paper prodded them for improvements. 28 Mill owners would hardly respond. Wages for their operatives remained so low that almost all the workers were kept propertyless and had no alternative but to rent the squalid tenements from their bosses or other landlords. As Scranton portrays the life of the Manayunk worker during this period, man, woman, and child had come to rely completely on his or her boss for a job, a house, an education, and a church. In contrast to the decade earlier, this dependence resulted in no relief of dangerous working conditions and substandard housing. Instead it contributed to a rather passive labor force. 29
Prior to the Civil War the southern states had provided raw cotton to Manayunk manufacturers and the Schuylkill spinners and weavers completed the economic circle by returning to them a cheap, heavy cotton fabric known as cottonades, or negro cloth. With the outbreak of the war, the cycle of supply and demand was broken. Joseph Ripka, by then producing only one product, could not survive the loss. He declared bankruptcy and closed his mills. 30 In contrast, others not only survived, but some amassed huge profits supplying the government with woven and knit war goods, the contracts calling for blankets, knitted goods, and wool fabric for uniforms and coats. From earlier experience producing a variety of blended yarns and types of weaves, many cotton manufacturers easily made the switch to wool and wool blends. In the wartime years John and James Dobson, Sevill Schofield, James Lord, Jr., and J.B. Winpenny wove blankets, Edward Holt knit underwear, and as subcontractors, Bolton Winpenny manufactured blankets and Sidney Solms and Jacob Heft made kersey, a type of heavy wool woven for uniforms. The government work more than kept the mills humming, it helped propel the region into its most lucrative years. 31
Prosperity following the war and another boom in construction during the late 1870s and through to the 1880s sent new steam powered mills climbing high enough up the hills to enjoy the view of the Schuylkill Valley. S.S. Keely, master contractor, built and rebuilt many of these stone structures, including at least two for himself. He also constructed scores of houses, fitting rows of them onto the tiers and in between rock outcroppings. 32
The manufacturers building these mills had continued the Philadelphia tradition of industrial mobility, graduating from leasing floor and power from established mill owners to set up their own factories, as Joseph Ripka had done in Charles Hagner's and Joseph McDowell's mills in 1830. In 1874, carpet yarn manufacturers Thomas and John Kenworthy, trading as T. Kenworthy and Brother, and Robert Wilde were both tenants of Mrs. Stafford in her Little Falls Mill at Church Street below Wood Street. 33 T. Kenworthy and Brother left in 1876 to built a shoddy mill and a worsted mill at the corner of Pechin Street and Shurs Lane, and Robert Wilde constructed his carpet yarn mill in 1884 at the corner of Leverington Avenue and Hamilton Street, now Wilde Street. 34 In 1880 the Wilde brothers, John and Thomas, of a different Wilde family, leased a floor from S. S. Keely's Enterprise Mill before leaving to build their three story mill in 1884 along Cresson Street at Ridge Avenue. All four of these new buildings, which appear to have been built by Keely, still survive.
Building and rebuilding continued along the canal, as mill owners added steam engines and expanded to meet their growing needs. The profits from Sevill Schofield’s wartime contracts and his continued success after the war spurred a progression of construction of new mills north of the lower lock. Between 1870 and 1890, he filled most of the available land on both sides of the canal south of the Campbell mills with four and five story stone structures. When completed his Economy Mills became the largest textile complex in Manayunk. Currently the site of Apex Alkali Products Company and G. Whitfield Richards Company, much of the complex east of the canal remains.
The Manayunk textile mills, while still producing a variety of products, had, with the exception of A. Campbell and Company, switched from cotton to a blend of cotton and wool yarns, pure wool yarns and a variety of woven goods. When Philadelphia emerged as one of the giants in carpet weaving toward the end of the nineteenth century, the mills in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, as well as John and James Dobson's enormous mills complex in East Falls to the south of Manayunk, provided a steady market for the warp and weft yarns produced in the mills in Manayunk. As textile production remained a lucrative enterprise in Philadelphia into the twentieth century, the mills continued to spin and to weave.
In contrast to a decade earlier, labor unrest had begun to affect the relationship between worker and owner. Strikes in the carpet mills of Kensington had successfully organized workers, so, when spinners at Schofield's Economy Mill struck in the mid-1880s, they began to win concessions. 35 When production at A. Campbell and Company slowed for the loss of markets, and Archibald Campbell died in 1874, the future of the mills teetered. Striking workers may have tipped the balance toward a demise. A. Campbell and Company, the last cotton mill in Manayunk, closed in 1880. 36
Children still spent their days as laborers in the late of the nineteenth century. A study of Hexamer General Surveys written between the late 1870s and the late 1880s of twenty-two Manayunk manufactories provided a list of the number of hands in various factories and textile mills. Divided into categories of men, girls, and boys, a tally of each group revealed as many children laboring as adults. Only one manufacturer, the Heft and Ogle Dexter Dye Works, employed exclusively men. 37 Thus children continued to toil in the mills of Manayunk into the early years of the next century until legislation in 1913 finally required the end to their pitiful existence. The new law provided the power to enforce earlier State bills, one passed in 1893 outlawing child labor, and the other requiring compulsory school attendance, enacted in 1895. 38
The first decades following the turn of the twentieth century were prosperous years for industrial America, especially Philadelphia, giving rise to its reputation as “Workshop of the World.” The Philadelphia industrial community produced a vast array of goods for an international market with textile production leading the rest as the strongest industry. 39 A new wave of Italian and Eastern European immigrants flooded into the city, supplying a new pool of cheap labor and arriving in time to replace the ones that now obediently sat in the classroom.
In Manayunk, another era of new construction brought on by this productivity signaled the continued success of the mill town. Robert Krook Carpet Yarn, Inc., built a new factory on Main Street (4120 Main Street) in 1912, followed by Fred Pearson, who grafted a five story brick mill onto the Robert Wilde and Sons earlier stone mill at Leverington and Wilde Streets. Up the hill, past the view of the Schuylkill River valley, the Kaufman Plush Company constructed a five-story mill complex at Pensdale and Mitchell Streets, much in the style of Pearson’s mill, while the Manayunk Plush Manufacturing Company built a three-story facility at Umbria and Lemont Street. Along the canal, the Collins and Aikman Company constructed a three-story reinforced-concrete and brick mill across from the American Wood Paper Mill. Manufacturers of plush, a velvet of cotton, linen, or wool, began appearing in numbers in Manayunk, weaving to supply a growing upholstery market. Collins and Aikman sold wool plush to the automobile industry for car interiors. 40 Finally, John Wilde and Brother, experiencing a boom in production, constructed a new mill in 1930 as part of an expansion effort.
Textile production remained the predominant industry in Manayunk up to the years surrounding the Depression years when loss of markets, labor unrest, and the relocation of companies to plants in the southern and western states began a slow erosion of the industry. By 1929 the Economy Mills and the Blantyre Mills had consolidated under the management of the Dobson and Schofield families and operated under the name of Imperial Mills. James Dobson also owned two other mills north of the Green Lane Bridge. In 1935, after weathering the depression years, the Imperial Mills were closed and sold in parcels, reflecting the seriousness of the economic times and the state of the Philadelphia textile industry. The end of the Dobson/Schofield dynasty meant the loss of work for hundreds of Manayunk residents and signaled hard times ahead for the “Manchester of America.”
“When some of the mills closed down during those bad days, Schofield’s mills stayed open. Workers there never missed a day’s pay. But when times eased a little, the millhands asked—then demanded—a raise of $6 a week. “That’s when Schofield rented Nickel Hall,” Madarano recalls. “He got up there and reminded us that all during the worst days of the Depression we had worked steady—because he took orders at just a little profit to keep the mills going. He told us he still had some of these orders from customers who stayed by him during the Depression, and he wasn’t going to raise the prices on them now. He could afford to give us $2 a week more he said. Well, when he finished talking we took a vote on it, and some few of us went for the $2 a week. But most of the men voted for the Almighty Dollar. When he saw how the vote had gone, Old Man Schofield got up and thanked those of us who voted with him. But then he announced that, from right then, all of his mills were closed. That’s what killed Manayunk: those mills never opened again.” 41
In the years following the Depression the textile mills along the canal and on the hills grew silent.
Although textile production seems to have dominated the manufacturing theme of Manayunk, an essay on its industrial history is incomplete without mention of the manufacturing interrelated to textile production and of the other mills along the canal producing paper, lumber, and chemicals. Also of considerable importance to the livelihood of Manayunk, the Pencoyd Iron Works, later absorbed by the American Bridge Company, at one time provided more jobs than a single textile mill. In addition, selective smaller industries, such as a wagon maker on Main Street, a rope walk along Markle Street and Boone Street, a sizable ice company on the canal, the Liebert and Obert Brewery on Connaroe Street, a commercial laundry on Levering Street and others all operated in Manayunk—no less important, just not considered for this writing. Each added to the diversity of the industrial neighborhood and at the same time supplied the community with a variety of goods.
Two businesses with direct ties to the Manayunk textile business and both deserving of more study are the G.J. Littlewood and Sons Albion Dye and Bleach Works still in operation at Main Street near Shurs Lane; and the William Schofield Works , a factory for the production of machinery and equipment for textile mills, whose buildings remaining on the 200 block of Krams Street. The Littlewood Dyeworks began as early as 1869 dying and bleaching cotton and wool yarns. With an office at 17 North Front Street in 1886, the company processed orders “in general for mills in all parts of the United States, but especially in Virginia and North Carolina.” 42
William Schofield, although not the only manufacturer of machinery for mills in Manayunk, represents the interrelated enterprise of machine shop that emerged to serve the mill community. 43 Begun in 1873, his manufactory produced such items as willows, pickers, reels, dusters, grinders, etc., all standard textile mill equipment. In his two properties at 219 Krams Street and across the street at 210-220 Krams Street, he produced his patented machinery into the twentieth century.
The other significant type of manufacturing in Manayunk, paper production, still remains an active industry. Papermaking began on the canal in the Samuel Eckstein Mill in c.1827, near the present intersection of Main Street and Leverington Avenue. A young supervisor for Mr. Eckstein, William Nixon, later constructed the Flat Rock Paper Mill north of Mr. Eckstein’s mill and along the Schuylkill River. This endeavor established the Nixons in the paper making business, a role the family would continue at the same location into the 1920s. Pulp may be a small constituent of blood, as William Nixon descended from papermaker Wilhelm Rittenhouse through his mother Sarah Rittenhouse Nixon.
In 1864, the American Wood Paper Company constructed a sizable waterpowered mill for the production of wood pulp to the north of and on the property line of the Flat Rock Paper Mill. Known as the Manayunk Pulp Works, Martin Nixon, then part owner of the Nixon mill, became a manager of the new plant. 44 At the time of its operation historians J. Thomas Scharf and Thompson Westcott noted that “the Flat Rock Mills, together with those of the American Wood Paper Company, adjoining them on the Canal in Manayunk, form the most extensive paper-works in the world.” 45 Although the Nixon mill no longer stands, portions of the Manayunk Pulp Works were incorporated into the plant operated by the present owner of both sites, Container Corporation of America, Inc. In their pulp mill and cardboard container factory, the company continues the historic use of the site.
By the 1880s, the upper portion of the canal had two other mills for the production of paper or milling of wood. Located along the canal just to the south of the Leverington Avenue bridge, the Manayunk Paper Mill produced “roofing paper and carpet paper” made from “rags, waste paper straw and shoddy, etc.” 46 The mill stood along the northern property line of the Samuel Eckstein mill, by then absorbed by A. Campbell's Compton Steam Mill. Neither stands.
Across the same bridge to the north, S.S. Keely had established a lumber yard and a mill to plane woodwork, window sash and raw lumber on the site of one of the first generation of mills, the Harris Sawmill.
Production of paper began on the lower section of the canal c.1828, when the McDowell Paper Mill was constructed at the present site of Connelly Container Corporation, a year after Samuel Eckstein had established his millseat. Connelly Container, another producer of paper and cardboard boxes, also occupies a Manayunk site that has had continuous use for paper production.
Although the records are scant for McDowell's business, he apparently produced paper in one part and leased the other floors to tenants also making paper or spinning cotton. 47 In 1864 McDowell sold the property to William H. Harding, the owner and publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Harding expanded the mill, intending to produce “for his different publications, and he has more recently entered into the manufacture of wood paper, having purchased for a large amount, the right from its inventors. His mills are now capable of producing 8000 pounds a day, wood and straw both being employed in its manufacture.” 48 Following Mr. Harding’s tenure in the 1880s a series of paper manufacturers, including Charles McDowell, a descendent of the original owner, occupied the mill. Connelly Container Corporation has owned the property since the 1940s, and ships its two and a half ton rolls of craft paper across the river to the site of the Pencoyd Iron Works, the present location of its box factory. 49
Industrial history has continued in Manayunk, as it does in Philadelphia, but the Manayunk manufacturers can no longer provide employment to the residents in the houses that ascend the hills, thus divorcing the community from its industry for the first time since its beginning. The canyon of mills that lined the canal have disappeared, most destroyed by abandonment, neglect and eventually by fire, leaving behind only archeological remains.
When considering the history of the American industrial revolution, the Manayunk example of innovation in transportation, settlement patterns, mechanization of production and physical development provides a significant chapter in the study. Sites representative of the span of industrial activity within the community remain to help interpret the story. In particular, many of the generation of mills built off the canal following the introduction of the steam engine in the mid-nineteenth century survive relatively intact. A tour through the streets of Manayunk will reveal a large number of them, constructed of stone and of brick, and found in small industrial pockets. A variety of industrial sites remain in Manayunk, as well, to illustrate further the complexity of Philadelphia's mill town.
1 Cynthia J. Shelton, The Mills of Manayunk, (Baltimore, 1986), p. 76.
2 Shelton, p. 77.
3 Shelton, p. 80.
4 In 1690 Wilhelm Rittenhouse established one of the first paper mills in the colonies.
5 Shelton, p. 101.
6 Shelton, p. 80.
7 Shelton, p. 94.
8 Charles V. Hagner, Early History of the Falls of the Schuylkill... etc, (Philadelphia, 1869), p. 55. The turnpike noted here refers to the Manayunk Road or Main Street, Hipple’s Lane is now Fountain Street, and Church Street was changed to Krams Street.
9 Shelton, p. 55.
10 Hagner, p. 70.
11 Hagner, p. 75.
12 B. Penrose Pictorial Philadelphia Collection: Glimpses of Philadelphia of the Past. Volume 27, Roxborough, Manayunk, Falls of Schuylkill, and a newspaper clipping “Men and Things,” Evening Bulletin , July 16, 194[?]., as cited in Mildred Goshow, “Material Relating to Mills and Mill Owners of Manayunk in the Nineteenth Century,” (unpublished manuscript at the Roxborough Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia), p. 4.
13 For an in-depth analysis of the early textile industry in Philadelphia, see Shelton, chapter 2 “Textiles and the Urban Laborer, 1787-1820,” and chapter 3 “Mechanization and Mill Production, 1820-1837.” Also Philip Scranton, Proprietary Capitalism (Philadelphia, 1983), chapter 4, “Philadelphia Textile Manufacture in The Early Republic.”
14 Hagner, p. 70.
15 Goshow, p. 4.
16 Shelton, p. 58.
17 Shelton, p. 90, quoting William Young from Samuel Hazard, ed. Register of Pennsylvania, No. 2, (January-July, 1828), p. 14.
18 Shelton, pp. 95-98.
19 Hagner, pp. 79-80.
20 Shelton, p. 70. For a thorough examination of the motives of Manayunk mill owners and the worker conditions and wages, see chapter 3, "Mechanization and Mill Production in the Urban Seaport, 1820-1837."
21 Manayunk was first compared with the English textile town during a July 4, 1828 oration presented by John Elkington during the holiday festivities in Manayunk. See Shelton, p. 55 and Goshow, p. 5.
22 Shelton, p. 72.
23 Scranton, p. 156.
24 In addition to the Blantyre Mills, a two-story building remains from the Campbell complex. It stands on the south side of Rector Street near the canal and served as a mill and an office building.
25 Scranton, pp. 52 and 246.
26 J. L. Bishop, A History of American Manufactures from 1680-1860 , Vol. 3. pp. 43-44; highlights the advantage of Archibald Campbell and Company cotton mill in contrast to the Lowell experience and is cited in Scranton, pp. 52-54.
27 Scranton, pp. 246-247.
28 Manayunk Star and Roxborough Gazette , February 12, 1859, as cited in Scranton, p. 254.
29 Scranton, pp. 251-268.
30 Scranton, p. 159.
31 Scranton. For a thorough analysis of war-time contracts among Philadelphia textile manufacturers, see chapter 8, "The Sixties: War and Prosperity", pp. 272-313.
32 Goshow, p. 120.
33 The mill still stands on the north side of Krams Street, just below Silverwood Street.
34 Hexamer General Survey, Nos. 798, 799, 1591, and 1774.
35 Scranton, pp. 382-396.
36 Scranton, pp. 382-384.
37 Hexamer General Survey, No. 1369
38 Nathaniel Burt and Wallace E. Davis, "The Iron Age," found in Philadelphia: A 300 Year History , Russel F. Weigley, ed. (New York, 1982), p. 499.
39 Burt and Davis, p. 626.
40 Interview with Larry Mason, October 26, 1989. Notes located at the Philadelphia Historical Commission, Philadelphia, PA.
41 Martin Ezra, interview with Joseph Madarano in "Small Town in the City", The Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday Magazine, (Philadelphia: April 13, 1969), p. 9.
42 Historical and Commercial Philadelphia, (New York, 1892), p. 129, as cited in Goshow, p. 123.
43 Goshow, see chapter 19, "Machine Shops and Foundries," pp. 124-128.
44 Bishop. Vol. 2, p. 496, as cited in Goshow, p. 116.
45 J. Thomas Scharf and Thompson Westcott, History of Philadelphia , (Philadelphia, 1884), p. 2238.
46 Hexamer General Survey, Nos. 1678 and 2245. The mill was surveyed first in 1882 and again in 1883.
47 Goshow, p. 89. McDowell leased the mill to papermakers, the Megaree Brothers, before they relocated to their own mill on the Wissahickon in 1844. He also rented floors to several textile mill owners before the construction of their mills: Joseph Ripka, 1929-1834; James B. Winpenny and George Moyer, 1847-1852; and David Wallace and John Preston, 1854.
48 The Biographical Encyclopaedia of Pennsylvania in the Nineteenth Century , (Philadelphia, 1874), pp. 51-52, as cited in Goshow, p. 91.
49 Interview with Thomas Connelly, October 27, 1989. Notes on file at the Philadelphia Historical Commission.
Acknowledgements: A special thank you to Frank Weer and William Lubar who provided valuable assistance in the survey work and research. Special thanks and sincere appreciation to Stuart Dixon and Jane Mork Gibson for editorial assistance. Thank you to Russell Fawley and Larry Mason, who enthusiastically shared the history of and the production in the John Wilde and Bro., Inc., carpet yarn mill complex. Thank you to Thomas Connelly for his interest and insight concerning the operation and history of Connelly Container Corporation. And to John Bowie, sincere gratitude for his thorough organization, effective whip cracking, and appropriate use of "Nasty-Grams." Without him, our effort would have failed.