Schuylkill River

One of the romances of Fairmount Park is attached to the little stone cottage, with overhanging roof, down by the Schuylkill River bank, where tradition says that the Irish poet, Tom Moore, briefly dwelt when he visited Philadelphia in the summer of 1804. This cottage tradition may be a myth, but the poet when here composed an ode to the cottage and to the Schuylkill, which is as attractive as the bewitching river scene itself. The famous ballad begins :

“I knew by the smoke that so gracefully curled Above the green elms that a cottage was near, And I said, `If there’s peace to be found in the world, A heart that was humble might hope for it here.’ ”

Tom Moore’s letters written at that time generally showed dislike for much that he saw on his American journey, but he seems to have found better things at Philadelphia, and was delighted with the Quaker hospitality. His ode to the Schuylkill shows that its beauties impressed him, and gives evidence of his regard for the people :

“Alone by the Schuylkill, a wanderer roved, And bright were its flowery banks to his eye ; But far, very far, were the friends that he loved, And he gazed on its flowery banks with a sigh.

“The stranger is gone—but he will not forget, When at home he shall talk of the toil he has known, To tell with a sigh what endearments he met, As he stray’d by the wave of the Schuylkill alone !”

The Schuylkill River is the chief tributary of the Delaware, an Allegheny Mountain stream about one ndred and twenty miles long, coming out of the Pennsylvania anthracite coal-fields, and falling into the Delaware at League Island in such a lowland region that its mouth is scarcely discernible. In fact, the early Dutch explorers of the Delaware passed the place repeatedly and never discovered it ; and when the stream above was afterwards found by going overland, and traced down to its mouth, they appropriately called it the Schuylkill, meaning the ” hidden river.” The Indian name was the ” Ganshowe-hanne,” or the ” roaring stream,” on account of its many rapids. The lowest of these, which gave the name of the “Falls” to a Philadelphia suburb, was obliterated by the backwater from the Fairmount water-works dam. The river valley is populous, rich in manufactures and agriculture, and, as it winds through ridge after ridge of the Allegheny foothills, displays magnificent scenery. Both banks are lined with railways, which bring the anthracite coal from the mines down to tidewater.

Journeying up the Schuylkill, we pass the flourishing manufacturing towns of Conshohocken and Norristown and come into the region of the ” Pennsylvania Dutch,” where the inhabitants, who are mostly of Teutonic origin, speak a curious dialect, compounded of German, Dutch, English and some Indian words, yet not fully understood by any of those races. These industrious people are chiefly farmers and handicraftsmen, and they make up much of the population of eastern Pennsylvania, while their “sauerkraut ” and ” scrapple ” have become staple foods in the State. Twenty-four miles above Philadelphia, alongside a little creek and almost under the great Black Rock, a towering sandstone ridge, was the noted Valley Forge, the place of encampment of Washington’s tattered and disheartened army when the defeats at Brandywine and Germantown and the loss of Philadelphia made his prospects so dismal in the winter of 1777-78, one of the severest seasons ever experienced in America. The encampment is preserved as a national relic, the entrenchments being restored by a patriotic association, with the little farmhouse beside the deep and rugged hollow, near the mouth of the creek, which was Washing-ton’s headquarters. Phoenixville and Pottstown are passed, and Birdsboro’, all places of busy and prosperous iron manufacture, and then the river valley leads us into the gorge of the South Mountain.