Although Manayunk is known today for its hip restaurants, shops, and bike race up the “wall,” it’s also home to one of the earliest Industrial Revolution sites in Philadelphia.
Its canal was finished in 1818 as part of a system built to bring coal from Schuylkill County down river to Philadelphia. This Schuylkill Navigation System was a 108-mile series of dams, locks, slackwater, and canal segments, with the section through Manayunk not only creating a navigable waterway, but also carrying water to drive the water wheels and turbines used for textile manufacturing. This availability of water power led Manayunk into the industrial era, with Philadelphia eventually becoming one of the major American industrial cities of the 19th century.
Today, a 2 mile walk along the canal from Lock Street to Flat Rock Dam takes you past these 19th century warehouses.
Signs along the way include lots of vintage photos.
Venice Island, located between the canal and the river, was home to several mills, whose workers accessed them by small bridges over the canal.
A bridge over the canal at Fountain Street was home to the “Schuylkill Rangers,” a group of thieves that robbed canal boats by jumping down on them as they passed underneath.
Canals had a short life, with the cheaper railroad bringing an end to the canal era. The Manayunk towpath was eventually covered by the railway, and today’s towpath has been reestablished for recreation on the opposite side.
The last factories in Manayunk closed in the 1970s, and today have been converted to shops and condos. Small houses that once housed workers still line the back streets.
Some of our favorite Manayunk dining stops:
The cutest café with the best outdoor dining area is Artesano. Combination ironworks, plant store, and cafe, the outdoor seating in the shadow of the 1918 Pennsylvania Railroad Bridge is one of our favorite spots for coffee and soup.
Pop tarts and edible gardens from Crust Bakery. Along with the adorable and tasty treats, this woman-owned, vegan bakery has a social conscience. Their goal is “to find the balance between offering an affordable and quality product to you, while also providing a living wage and supportive work environment to our wonderful staff.”
Safa Persian Tea House. The friendly staff custom blends all sorts of exotic tea flavors and serves Persian small bites in their cafe/plant store. Plus, they make yummy rose/saffron milkshakes!
In addition to the food and history, Manayunk is a great jumping off place for hiking/biking adventures.
The Schuylkill River Trail: with a few on-road sections, this trail takes you either along the Schuylkill River back into Center City, past the Art Museum down to South Street (Enjoying the River Along The Schuylkill Banks Trail) or all the way to Valley Forge and the Audubon house (Delicious and Rancid: Audubon’s “Birds of America”). The section through Manayunk is along the canal towpath.
Cynwyd Heritage Trail: for great views over Manayunk, or cemetery explorations at West Laurel Hill (c. 1869), this former Pennsylvania Railroad bridge (now pedestrian only) crosses the river and continues 1.8 miles along the rail trail. Great explanatory signs detailing local history.
Make a loop by connecting through West Laurel Hill Cemetery to the Pencoyd Iron Works (recently renovated to include a hotel, condos and restaurants). Stone markers and road stencils direct you through the cemetery. Then head back to Manayunk over the Pencoyd Bridge (pedestrian) and back up Main Street. The loop is about 4 miles. A waterfront lunch at the fast casual Landing Kitchen (or fancy Lark) in the old ironworks is fun.
Make sure to check out all the stained glass windows in the West Laurel Hill mausoleums as you walk through the cemetery. Note: there is a small on road section between Pencoyd and West Laurel Hill.