Images of “by-gone days:” Visualizing the Manayunk of yesteryear

Oftentimes, history can seem like an accumulation of paper trails, a collection of stories told through the letters, diaries, and other written records that our ancestors leave behind.  However, graphic materials are also compelling historical artifacts, as I’m continually reminded while working on rights and reproductions orders at HSP.  Within our rich and diverse collections, HSP houses over 300,000 graphic items and these materials, whether they be photographs, watercolors, lithographs, maps, or other media, are a valued part of the historical record and often integral to the stories that our patrons aspire to tell.

Manayunk circa 1840 (Bb 862 M312)

A few months ago, I received a request for historic images of Manayunk for a documentary about Samuel Hughes, a Welshman who immigrated to Philadelphia in 1837 and settled on a dairy farm in Manayunk.  While searching our collections, I found this oil and watercolor in one of our graphics collections and was immediately captivated.  Painted by an unknown artist sometime around 1840, this image, with its lush, green landscape and open farmland, was so far removed from my own vision of present-day Manayunk that it prompted me to search for more information about Manayunk’s progression from rural farmland to metropolitan hub.

 

Title page of "Early History of Roxborough and Manayunk" (Am .3724)

Among the varied resources concerning Manayunk in our collections, my favorite is a hand-written volume by Horatio Gates Jones, Jr. entitled “Early History of Roxborough and Manayunk, 1855.”  A former corresponding secretary for HSP, Mr. Jones wrote the volume for the entertainment of his family and friends and aimed to take readers back to “by-gone days-when this whole country was a wilderness” (Jones p. 3).  With charm and wit (not to mention impeccable handwriting!), Mr. Jones gives a lively account of the settlement of a small tract of land bordered by the Schuylkill River to the west  and Germantown, or “the German Township” as it was then known, to the northeast (p. 4).  Initially part of Roxborough, the area that became Manayunk was settled, beginning in the 1680s, by such families as the Leverings, Rittenhouses, and Gorgas, whose legacies persist in Manayunk’s street names.  Interestingly, the expansion of these families and the area itself went hand-in-hand in these early years.  Indeed, according to Jones’ account, the central thoroughfare into Manayunk, Green Lane, owes its existence to the efforts of the Levering family to seek “a free egress and regress” between the tracts of land that Wigard Levering and his sons Jacob and William claimed along the Schuylkill River (p. 20).

Railroad Bridge over the Wissahickon, Near Manayunk, circa 1834 (Bb 7 R131)

As late as 1817, the population of present-day Manayunk hovered around 60 inhabitants, but the construction of a canal and dam to regulate the Schuylkill, along with the establishment of Manayunk’s first mill in the 1820s, helped the area blossom into a manufacturing hub that drew comparisons to Manchester, England.  Still considered part of Roxborough, the expanding mill town was known by the name of its dam, “Flat Rock,” but rapid population growth brought a push for a proper name.  In 1824, the names “Udoravia,” “Hydoravia,” and “Bridgewater” all came under consideration, but it was “Manaiung,” the Native American word for river, that ultimately provided inspiration for the name “Manayunk” (p. 24).    On June 11, 1840, Manayunk officially incorporated as a borough, completing its transformation from, in Jones’ words, a “once quiet and retired valley” to a miniature town that finally became part of the extended city of Philadelphia in 1854.  

Jones' account of the naming of "Manayunk" (Am .3724)

The more I read about the early history of Manayunk, the more I came to appreciate this painting and the other images in our collections as snapshots of a moment time that perfectly capture Manayunk’s development from a stretch of open farmland along the Schuylkill River to a budding industrial center.  Explore HSP’s Digital Library (http://digitallibrary.hsp.org/) for more great graphic materials that complement and enhance our understanding of the past – you never know what visual history you’ll uncover.

Rights and Reproductions, or “R&R” for those in the know

William Penn, chalk portrait by Francis Place

Since starting at HSP in July as the new Rights and Reproductions Associate, I’ve handled lots of orders for digital reproductions of HSP materials and permission to distribute these materials in books, exhibitions, and other media.  Processing R&R orders provides a great front row seat to HSP’s unique and diverse materials, not to mention the cool ways in which patrons are using our historical artifacts.  While some materials are perennial favorites with patrons (Francis Place’s chalk portrait of William Penn is especially popular among textbook publishers), here’s a snapshot of MY favorite (and sometimes less well-known) R&R materials from the past two months:    

Not long after I began working at HSP, I received a request from Christie’s New York for a copy of a watercolor of Harriton House by William L. Breton.  Built in 1704 by a Welsh Quaker, Harriton is located in Lower Merion and is best known as the home of Charles Thomson, “the Sam Adams of Philadelphia.”  A Philadelphia merchant, Thomson became the first and only Secretary to the Continental Congresses and, in April 1789, traveled to Mount Vernon to inform George Washington that he had been elected the first President of the United States.  Over 200 years later, a carved mahogany side chair belonging to Charles Thomson was featured in Christie’s September auction of American furniture, folk art, and decorative arts and the watercolor of Harriton House was used as an illustration in the auction catalog.

Charles Thomson's Residence Harriton in Lower Merion

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania is perhaps best known for its colonial and early American history holdings, but we also have many collections of compelling twentieth-century materials.

WPA poster of William Penn House

 

One of my favorites is the Work Projects Administration posters collection, which includes over 900 examples of works by Federal Art Project artists from the 1940s. While the Work Projects Administration was a federal program, it spawned many state and local subsidiaries, among them the Pennsylvania Art Program.  Accordingly, while the subjects and styles of the artworks in the poster collection are diverse, many are also specific to Philadelphia and feature such local landmarks as the Philadelphia Zoo and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

"Defense Steel" by Horatio C. Forjohn

The color and style of these woodblock prints notably contrasts with the charcoal shades of more well-known WPA artworks like Horatio Forjohn’s “Defense Steel,” which will be published in a forthcoming volume on industrial art.

 
 
 

Sometimes the best history is personal history and two recent reproductions requests follow that mantra.  The first order was for a digital copy of Thomas C. Simpson’s personal cashbook; a nineteenth-century merchant, Mr. Simpson emigrated from Northern Ireland to Norristown and the cashbook has helped his modern-day descendants in England unravel a piece of family history.  “Family” was also the watchword for a young bride and groom, who ordered a copy of Samuel Carpenter and Hannah Hardiman’s 1684 marriage certificate from HSP’s Isaac Cooper Jones collection of marriage certificates.  Descendants of Samuel and Hannah, the couple plans to display the certificate at their wedding and have their relatives sign it, just as the Carpenter and Hardiman families did in 1684.  It is these connections between past and present that make working at HSP so rewarding and make R&R a great opportunity to share our collections with patrons far and wide.

Marriage certificate of Samuel Carpenter and Hannah Hardiman

Interested in purchasing high-quality digital scans of HSP materials? Contact us at rnr@hsp.org or visit http://www.hsp.org/node/2032 for more information on our Rights and Reproductions service.  You can also view already-digitized materials online in HSP’s Digital Library.