Urban Planning

The Hidden River, Part One


Dividing Center City and West Philadelphia, and stretching more than 100 miles into the interior of Pennsylvania, the Schuylkill River has long been an integral part of life in the Philadelphia region. Native Americans used the river as a food and water source and called it Ganshohawanee, meaning “rushing and roaring waters.” Early European settlers later gave the river its current name, which means “Hidden River,” because of its secluded entrance near its confluence with the Delaware River. Yet, despite its proximity to Philadelphia and the Atlantic Ocean, the Schuylkill River did not develop as a highly used port during the colonial era. The Delaware River dominated that aspect of economic life in early Philadelphia. Instead, during the nineteenth century, it was mainly used to feed the city’s increasing water demands through the Fairmount Waterworks. However, as the industrial age descended upon Philadelphia, the Schuylkill emerged as a key component to the city’s economy. Technological innovations in production and transportation allowed people and companies to expand into previously underutilized areas during the industrial period. As a result, Philadelphia underwent a rapid expansion westward and northward. Thus, the Schuylkill’s location made it a highly attractive location for expanding businesses. In 1912, the Penn-Lippincott Publishing Company hired renowned local architect Mahlon Dickinson to design its new production facility (pictured above) along the Schuylkill at the corner of 25th Street and Locust Street. Locating the new plant along the river promised an ample supply of water for generating steam-based power and placed it within close proximity to Center City and the local rail yards. It should be no surprise that Penn-Lippincott was among the first wave of corporations to develop the Schuylkill River within Philadelphia’s borders. The company was founded in 1792 when two local bookstall operators, Jacob Johnson and Benjamin Warner began publishing small texts. By the mid-nineteenth century, Penn-Lippincott had grown into one of largest publishers in the English-speaking world. Its presence, along with that of the Curtis Publishing Company, helped make Philadelphia the hub of the nation’s publishing industry, a status the city held until well into the twentieth century.


The new factory (along with the monotype facility, pictured at left) drew workers to the edge of the Schuylkill. The numbers of families living in the Rittenhouse and Fitler Square neighborhoods rapidly increased. In these vibrant communities workers walked to work and, along with their families, often used the river and its banks as a source of recreation.

In keeping with the growth of the local community, the factory became both a neighborhood and city landmark. A renovation in the 1980s converted the factory into a loft-style apartment building. Now, the factory houses many students and young professionals, thereby continuing its legacy as a central part of life along the Hidden River.