• Learn about the conditions that led to Frank Furness' most incredible masterworks, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts seen here, on Wednesday.
      Learn about the conditions that led to Frank Furness' most incredible masterworks, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts seen here, on Wednesday.

From Above: Manayunk and Venice Island, 1926

For this installment of From Above, we head upriver to Manayunk for a look at what this manufacturing enclave looked like 90 years ago.

This is the first summer that Philadelphians get to enjoy the delights of a reborn Venice Island. That sliver in the river, separated from mainland Manayunk by a narrow canal, is home to a new recreation and performing arts center, sprayground, athletic facilities, and parking lot, all sitting on top of a 4 million gallon stormwater retention basin. But it’s only in recent years that Venice Island has been a zone of recreation. Before all of that, there was industry.

In this view from December of 1926 we see what Manayunk's origins as a dense village where houses hugged the hills and industry lined the river. There, in the foreground, is the Schuylkill River and Venice Island. The island's southern reaches (bottom right) were thick with a pile of mill buildings used by Imperial Woolen Company at the time (and Economy Mills before that). By the 1930s Manayunk’s prowess as a textile hub had waned, but much of mill fabric still remained.

Look up from the island and you will notice the still-familiar sight: the towering St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, rung by a cemetery. The church is facing what was the then-new Manayunk Park, now officially Pretzel Park. Follow the same blocks across the frame to the left and you’ll see the complexes for St. Josaphat’s and St. Mary’s (two of Manayunk’s Catholic “ethnic” parishes) and in between Ebenezer Methodist Episcopal Church – significant neighborhood landmarks punctuating the tight residential fabric. Way at the top of the frame you can just make out Gorgas Park and Roxborough High School.

What’s missing from this view? The elevated rail lines, which didn’t become elevated until a few short years later.

    • Schuylkill River, Manayunk, December 1926 | (Image 7050) Aero Service Corp., courtesy of Aerial Viewpoint, Spring, TX
      Schuylkill River, Manayunk, December 1926 | (Image 7050) Aero Service Corp., courtesy of Aerial Viewpoint, Spring, TX

Click to zoom in for a closer look around. What do you see?

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This image is part of the Free Library’s Print and Picture Collection, and is used by PlanPhilly/Eyes on the Street with the express permission of Aerial Viewpoint, which owns these aerial images. For reproductions contact Aerial Viewpoint. 

To learn more background about these aerial photographs, head over here.

About the author

Ashley Hahn, Contributor

Ashley Hahn is an independent writer with a background in historic preservation and city planning. She started Eyes on the Street for PlanPhilly in 2011 and was PlanPhilly's managing editor from 2015-2017. Ashley has lived in 12 zip codes that she can think of, including neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and New York. She is a Philadelphian by choice.

Contact Ashley via email or find her on twitter: @ashleyjhahn.


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