The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Scuttling along the Schuylkill River trail in Philadelphia, my extensive shot list included the two bridges pictured above. The smaller one, which passes under the larger specimen, is called the West River Drive Bridge, and the larger one above is the Spring Garden Bridge.

I found this section, which adjoins the Philadelphia Museum of Art, quite visually intriguing. It might have been the hunger and thirst, however. I had left HQ in Astoria before dark, boarded an Amtrak and travelled to Philadelphia where I encountered a quite warm morning, and started getting busy by about 8 a.m. The last drops of my Gatorade bottle were swallowed by 10.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Regardless, a fellow suffers for his art. This heavily oxidized span over the Schuylkill River is – as mentioned above – the West River Drive Bridge and it’s one year older than I am, having been built in 1966. West River Drive has subsequently been renamed as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive but the bridge is still identified by its original name.

The West River Drive Bridge is 701.1 feet long, and 36.1 feet wide, constructed of steel girder and concrete, and it’s supported by two piers. It carries local traffic.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Above it is the Spring Garden Street Bridge, which carries highway bound traffic over first railroad tracks, then the Schuylkill River, and then Schuylkill Expressway. This is the 4th bridge to stand at this spot, with the first one being an all wooden 1812 giant called “The Colossus” which burned away in 1838.

I found the interplay between the two structures – as mentioned above – very interesting visually.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the things which caught my eye was the presence of big chunks of lumber and driftwood that had managed to jam themselves into the arrangement. This was still a part of the Philadelphia section of Schuylkill River Trail, incidentally. The River itself flows all the way down from Pottsville in the north, eventually joining into the Delaware River to the south. The trail, apparently, will one day stretch from the Delaware River in Philadelphia to Pottsville.

I was continually reminded of the central role that Philadelphia played in the formation of this country, from a civil engineering point of view, on this walk. Of course, when the Erie Canal opened in 1817, the East Coast crown of mercantile and financial dominance was seized by NYC and the slow decline in “importance” of both Boston and Philadelphia began. This is something that didn’t really become apparent until the decades after the Civil War, of course. If you were taking bets in 1800 on which one of the three would end up becoming the dominar “best in class” on the East Coast, NYC would have been a long shot.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They really must get some crazy floods moving through here during storms and springtime thaws to deposit huge logs like those onto the bridges. Wow.

My ambitious shot list began to look more and more impossible by this particular moment, and all I could think about was finding a place to sit down for an hour and eat a meal while drinking gallons of water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Saying that, the shot list had one more Schuylkill River destination on it – the Fairmount Water Works – that I needed to handle. They’ve got a 19th century dam/fish ladder here, and there was no damn way I’d miss that, lords and ladies.

More next week, from Philadelphia, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 29, 2022 at 11:00 am

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