"Falling Waters: The Legacy of the Schuylkill Navigation" (Reception)

Thursday December 29, 2016 - 5:30 to 7 a.m.

Join us for
"Falling Waters: The Legacy of the Schuylkill Navigation"
A Culture & Conversation Exhibit by Sandy Sorlien

View the art and hear from photographer Sandy Sorlien. Registration is required, as space is limited. Refreshments will be served.

About the Exhibit: No human endeavor has had a greater influence on the Schuylkill River than its 19th century network of dams. Yet residents of Southeastern Pennsylvania today may know little about the Schuylkill Navigation, as most of its infrastructure is gone. There were once 32 dams, 46 miles of slackwater pools, 62 miles of canals, and 120 locks.

Constructed from 1816-1828 to tame the wild river, the privately-owned system extended 108 miles from Fairmount to Port Carbon. Thus began a long period of human dominance of the river for our own purposes: transportation, commerce, power, and recreation. Anthracite coal, other raw materials, and finished goods were carried on barges over this system, literally fueling the Industrial Revolution in the Schuylkill Valley. It brought numerous factory boom towns like Norristown, Conshohocken, and Manayunk. Unfortunately, with this development came heavy pollution of Philadelphia’s drinking water source. Finally in 1947-51, our state and federal government accomplished a massive cleanup, the Schuylkill River Project, dredging coal silt from the river and largely restoring its flow.

Most of the infrastructure of the Schuylkill Navigation was demolished. But there are four remaining navigation dams, two desilting dams, two watered canals, one working lock, and numerous dam abutments, lock ruins, canal traces, and silt impoundment basins. Some remnants are buried or overgrown or blocked by railways. In 2013, photographer Sandy Sorlien began looking for them.

At the 200th anniversary of the Schuylkill Navigation, this exhibition represents the first three years of Sandy’s ongoing quest to photograph all 32 dam sites on her native river.

“Falling Waters” will be on display at the Fairmount Water Works from September 15 – December 31, 2016.

Registration is required, as space is limited.

Sponsored by Fairmount Water Works


  • Fairmount Water Works
  • 640 Water Works Drive
  • Philadelphia, PA

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