John Johnstone

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Still Pictures
by John Johnstone

Main Street Manayunk (c. 1820) Flat Rock Turnpike Bridge
Flat Rock Hotel

Beginnings Of Manayunk

Current Manayunk by the year 1800 was merely a part of Roxborough Township with very few residents, those who were mostly involved with shad fisheries or farming. The only road leading to Manayunk at that time was the current Green Lane. Even by 1817, there were only 60 residents. The town started out as "Flat Rock" in 1810, when the Flat Rock Turnpike and bridge were built connecting Roxborough Township with Merion Township. The name came from an area of flat rocks observed in the Schuylkill River, near the bridge.

The Flat Rock Turnpike ran from Ridge Road in current Wissahickon along the East Bank of the Schuylkill and crossed the River at the end of Domino Lane, into Merion Township at River Road. Flat Rock Road still exists on both sides of the River. The bridge was a means for Merion travelers to easily get to Philadelphia and was also a trade route for transferring goods between townships. There was even a "Flat Rock Hotel" on the Merion side near the bridge. The hotel was demolished when the Schuylkill Expressway was built. The Turnpike eventually became the main street in Manayunk, but Main Street was later moved inland due to the canal, mills and flood conditions.

The Flat Rock Bridge was a long covered bridge with stone abutments (see photo). There were similar bridges in Conshohocken and Norristown. The bridge was built 1810 and stood until 1850, when a freshet (flood occurring from a sudden snow melt) caused the Conshohocken bridge to break free, float downstream and smash the Flat Rock Bridge, destroying it. An abutment covered with vines still exists on the Lower Merion side. The bridge was not rebuilt because another similar bridge was built 1832 at Green Lane and survived the 1850 freshet. Another bridge replaced that one in 1884. The covered bridge in Norristown survived well into the 20th century.

The Schuylkill River was also a means of travel, but often dangerous and unpredictable. Navigation was poor and cargoes were often lost. The Schuylkill Navigation Company was formed to build a canal and dam system for safe travel. With the discovery of coal as a fossil fuel in 1814, the Canal in present Manayunk was completed by 1819 as was Flat Rock Dam. By 1825, the canal/river system was complete between Pottsville, PA and Fairmount Dam, Philadelphia (close to 100 miles).

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