The impetus for the growth of industrial river towns was the construction of the Schuylkill Canal by the Schuylkill Navigation Company (1816–1824) that made the river passable by sizeable cargo boats and also made it possible to divert water to power mills along its course. Northwest Philadelphia's Manayunk preserves a portion of the canal as well as numerous early mill buildings along its route. Industry located along the highway of the river because it brought together the raw materials of the Industrial Revolution—iron ore, timber for charcoal, and later anthracite coal, in turn attracting iron foundries that led to other manufacturing.
The great bend of the river north of Philadelphia was consolidated as the borough of Conshohocken in 1850. Ignoring the differences of grade between the river plain and the plateau above, its promoters imposed a mile-long grid city on the hillside with Washington Street parallel to the waterfront and Lafayette Street running up the hill to the town center. Like Manayunk, mills occupied the waterfront and houses are on the terraces interspersed with a few monumental churches whose spires dot the hillside and provide an index of the Scots, Irish, and English residents. A clear index of the working populace can be seen in their churches: Presbyterians were the first to arrive in 1846; St. Matthew's Roman Catholic Church (219 Fayette Street) was founded in 1850; and Methodists followed in 1856. Of the immense mills, the largest was Alan Wood's Schuylkill Iron Works. Wood's house “Woodmont” ( MO14), on the opposite bank of the Schuylkill, had a view of the mill via a tunnel cut through the screen of trees.
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