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.****
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.”
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.
*Courier Times, Bucks Cnty— phillyBurbs.com
*** Dock Street, From the Evening Bulletin, January 27, 1919, BY PENN (WILLIAM PERRINE).
To receive e-mail notification of Intertwined Love’s posts, type your e-mail address in the SUBSCRIPTION BOX in the upper right hand corner of the site page. Confirm your request in the wordpress e-mail you will receive, and your notifications will begin. Your e-mail address will not be published.
Have you commented on this post in the comment box below? I also welcome any corrections of my material. Your e-mail address will not be published.