Dock Creek in Philadelphia, PA

 

A water treatment operator from (Green Lane) Montgomery County (PA) has been charged with dumping raw sewage into an area creek (Perkiomen Creek) for as long as five years…*

The EPA alleged in 1991 that the municipality (Penn Hills, PA) dumped raw sewage into creeks. Penn Hills pleaded guilty in 1994 to three criminal counts…*****

    I read the above “blurbs” as I was writing about Madame de Leval’s** first exploration of Philadelphia. It is a reminder that dumping sewage into creeks existed in the pre-Revolutionary years of the United States.

     As I wrote about Madame’s arrival in early Philadelphia, I realized I had to research the city situation in that time. That’s when I learned about Dock Creek.

     Once upon a time, a tidal creek flowed through the oldest part of the Philadelphia…its name was Coocaconoon *** It was originally surrounded by marshes…and culminated in a pond …that was deep and uninviting****

     This creek was an “indentation of the Delaware River,” a “spacious cove or “harbor”” Doubtless, the choice Philadelphia as a site for a city was “due to the favorable impression which this stream or creek made upon the original planners of the city,” who named it Dock Creek, with the expectation that it would “become a capacious and permanent dock.”***

     Before the Europeans came to America, the Native Americans called Dock Creek Coocaconoon. For them, it was a “convenient inlet and outlet for their canoes,” and probably its “shore at the mouth had been (their) places of rendezvous…long before white men first came up the Delaware.”

     Before William Penn took possession of Pennsylvania, the creek was familiar to Swedes and other whites…“…near it was born one Drinker, whose life lasted more than a hundred years or until after the Revolution, Franklin once saying, when asked how long people lived in Philadelphia, that he could not tell until “old Drinker” died.”***

     “William Penn “decreed that the water east of the mouth of Little Dock creek (which flowed from the pond) should be a harbor forever.” At one time, boys skated from the pond to the river. But the inconvenience of an open waterway in the city, bridges were placed over the creek.****

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      In late June, 1791, on the morning after Madame’s arrival in Philadelphia. Frenchman Louis des Isles escorted her along Third Street. As he was explaining how the streets of the city were laid out like a checkerboard, she spots the one street that contradicted that pattern. Below is the excerpt from the first draft of my novel where Louis explains about Dock Street:

    Louis began by explaining the easy street layout in the city.

     “William Penn’s simple street plan was adhered to by his successors,” Louis told Madame. “The rectangular arrangement is easily understood, allowing people to know what to expect at every turn and corner. You won’t have any difficulty following anyone’s directions. It’s impossible for strangers to go astray in this town.

      “The streets are laid out perpendicularly. The streets with names of fruit and forest trees traverse east to west streets, beginning at the Delaware. This tells you what trees were found by the settlers of this land.

     “The numbered streets go north to south, intersecting with the named streets.

     “Each block is calculated to contain one hundred houses, and is numbered accordingly. All the dwellings above High Street are marked north, while those on the other side of High Street are marked south.  ”

     Louis offered this explanation to Madame as they meandered down Third Street, where Madame was rooming. Before he completed the explanation, he saw her looking down Dock Street, as if puzzled.

     “That’s the only street that’s out of grid,” Louis said. “It took its form and name from Dock Creek., which was once a spacious cove coming in from the Delaware River. The Indians, who used it as a convenient inlet and outlet for their canoes, called it Coocaconoon. The original city planners expected it to become a capacious and permanent dock.”

     “What happened to the creek?” Madame questioned, noting the raised street which

     “It was sad,” Louis began. “Originally, some of the most prosperous early citizens built their homes there, where the soil was grassy and the water was clean. The residents used the stream as a receptacle for their household sweepings and rubbish. It wasn’t long before the trades considered the waterfront an advantage, and built their businesses there—a brewery, tanneries and lumber yards. They also discharged their refuse into the stream. It was so difficult to keep the creek cleaned, even though the property owners along its shores and slope were urged to the duty of maintaining it in orderly condition.

     “Soon the creek deteriorated and became stagnant and ill smelling, and considered a breeding source for pestilential disease. In 1784, after the American Revolution the city decided that the stream should cease to exist, and the creek was abandoned. Many conservative citizens didn’t favor the action, but it was replaced by an arched street regardless. Underneath is a sewer made from logs.”

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      Perhaps the city of Philadelphia is better off without the interruption of waterways that went as far as Chestnut Street and High Streets along Second Street. It’s a debate I won’t discuss.

     However, the loss of waterways due to the dumping raw sewage is not acceptable in today’s society. Communities across the country are fighting to prevent this from happening, even though the upgrading and installation of sewer systems is an expensive proposition.

  SOURCES:

*Courier Times, Bucks Cnty— phillyBurbs.com

** MADAME ROSALIE BACLER de la VAL: A Character Sketch

*** Dock Street, From the Evening Bulletin, January 27, 1919, BY PENN (WILLIAM PERRINE).

****http://www.phillyh2o.org/backpages/HiddenStreams_1889.htm

*****http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/pittsburgh/s_683708.html

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I invite you to visit my general writing site, www.carolyncholland.wordpress.com, and the Beanery Writers Group publication, the beanery Online Literary Magazine at www.beanerywriters.wordpress.com .

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ADDITIONAL READING:

MADAME ROSALIE BACLER de la VAL: A Character Sketch

Immigration is Negative for the USA

Immigration is Positive for the USA

Discovering Hardy Lavender

Memorial Day Readings on Military Men

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2 responses to “Dock Creek in Philadelphia, PA

  1. Barbee Hodgkins

    Have you seen any of these items? Also had a copy of a document on Winterbotham from Joe Lear, RFD # 2 Box 157, Ellsworth, Me 04605. I have not had any further correspondence with him since 1995.

    Winterbotham Document gives birthdate as 1757 and age at death as 66
    FGR compiled by Mrs. Joy May (Griffin)Mayo (Leonard Neal, RR #2, Box 92 Ellsworth ME 04605-0092 using as her source Ancient Trenton, Bangor Historical Magazine pg 106, No 14, pag [1892] Maine Genealogical Soc Special Pub lists Louis of Trenton in 1791

    Gladys Vigent interview Lamoine Beach August 1995

    Barbara Jordan had a copy of letter from Duparre as she called Louis. In talking about East Lamoine Cemetery. She said one of those buried there had been in the Boston Tea Party.

    I hired a woman who did research on France from California and she sent the following information that she found. My correspondence with her is in storage and I could get it if you are interested

    Saturday July 8th, 1843, was written in front of
    the officer of l’etat Civil, department de l’Orme, two
    local people, sieurs Louis Lorieul, owner, and Jacques
    Chtistophe Edouard Langevin, tobacco dealer, confirmed
    that Louis Jacques Pierre Delaunay Desisles, age 76,
    rentier(means retired), married in America, and presumed widower,
    born in the commune of Chailloue, Canton de Sees,
    Orne, on June 27, 1767, and residing in Alencon, rue
    de Cazault, no. 106, son of deceased Louis Michel
    Antoine Delaunay Desisles and of deceased Anne Louise
    Frainais, died in his residence, today, at 9 o’clock
    in the morning. After lecture of the text, the
    witnesses signed the document.

    “The godfather was Jacques Gabriel Philipe, sieur Des Forges, Procureur a l’Election (it could be Alencon but does look like election), Dame Marie Renault, wife of Sieur Fresnaye and father signed. Note: These people have a certain social standing. Usually the term Sieur is given to someone who is a land owner and the term Dame is a title given to the wife of an important individual (socially speaking). In addition, you will see that Marie Regnault Frainais signed (rare for a woman to know how to sign in 1767.) Louis Michel Antoine signed simply Desilles. Fresnay and Frainais are used interchangeably.”

  2. Barbee,
    Thanks for responding, and the offer of copies of the documents.
    Joe Lear died a few years ago. I have a document on the Louis des Isles history written by Winterbotham. I also have a copy of the Charles de Laittre history written by the same author, Winterbotham.
    I have not seen a copy of the Gladys Vigent interview. Nor have I heard about the letter to Barbara Jordan (is she still living?). I’d love a copy of the correspondence you had with your hired researcher. I have some of the info from Sue nee des Isles. I would love copies of any or all of the above that you wish to share.
    That Rosalie de Leval knew how to write, then, was unusual for women in the 1790s.
    Thank you very much for this neat response. I hope you are enjoying the posts on this site. It’s challenging but fun to be working on the novel.

    Carolyn C. Holland

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