Visible Layers of the Schuylkill Navigation

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Visible Layers of the Schuylkill Navigation: Industry, Urbanization, Pollution, Abandonment, Repurpose

presented by Sandy Sorlien

The Schuylkill Navigation system, often known (misleadingly) as the Schuylkill Canal, once tamed our river for 108 miles. Millions of tons of anthracite shipped from the coal region helped grow Philadelphia and enriched the Philadelphia-based Schuylkill Navigation Company. Built by hand starting in 1816, the Schuylkill Navigation predated the famous Erie Canal, but is little known outside its own canal towns. (We need a song.) In Philadelphia, the short Manayunk Canal is today a popular site, but what about our other canal? The Fairmount Canal is beautifully portrayed, if somewhat incidentally, at the edge of countless 19th century renderings of the iconic Fairmount Water Works. But the canal, having come to represent obsolete technology and shameful pollution, was unceremoniously buried in 1956 for the Schuylkill Expressway. A 1962 plan for another expressway proposed burying the Manayunk Canal too, yet it survived as a historic district. It has intact lock structures at both ends, unique among the Navigation’s 27 canals. Why were these outcomes so different, and why do these places matter? Over the last ten years, Sandy Sorlien explored the woods and back yards of five Pennsylvania counties and photographed nearly every remnant of the Navigation, some quite buried but others saved. In this presentation she will share images and maps, and discuss the layered history of this influential waterway.

Sandy Sorlien is the author of Inland: The Abandoned Canals of the Schuylkill Navigation, published by George F. Thompson in 2022. Sandy taught photography at the University of the Arts, Moore College of Art & Design, Philadelphia University, and other schools. She received three Fellowships in Photography from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and two Fellowships from the Charles E. Peterson Fund of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia for Inland. Since 2013, Sandy has contracted as an Educator and Environmental Photographer at the Fairmount Water Works. Sandy's next photography project is about the Schuylkill Water Gap.


$15 | General Admission

$10 | Alliance Member 

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