The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

mute granite

with 4 comments


– photo by Mitch Waxman

A pre dawn Amtrak ride, some 90 minutes in length, had delivered a scuttling horror – familiar to NYC – to the banks of the Schuylkill River in the city of Philadelphia. America’s consolation prize didn’t disappoint, and a humble narrator had spent a very productive morning and early afternoon photographing the bridges spanning the banks of the Schuylkill and working through an extensive shot list. My last stop along the Schuylkill River Trail is pictured above – the Fairmount Water Works.

This operation was designed in 1812 and principally installed between 1812 and 1815, with work continuing at the site until 1872. Fairmount was Philadelphia’s second attempt at creating a municipal water delivery system. It was operational until 1909, and included a nearby three million gallon reservoir contained in a monumental earthwork, which the Philadelphia Museum of Art now sits atop (looming in the top left background). All of the Neo Classical styling you see is purely facade.

After 1909, the site became the home of the Philadelphia Aquarium (until 1962), and later housed an indoor swimming pool (until 1973). These days, there’s an educational operation there called the “Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center,” and a fancy pants restaurant.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What really drew my interests here, however, is the Fairmount Dam. A tidal River, much like the East River back home in NYC, the Schuylkill experiences a mix of brackish and fresh water. The Fairmount Dam, completed in 1822, raises the level of the fresh water flowing down to Philly all the way from distant Pottsville and rural Pennsylvania to the north. Above the dam it’s fresh water, below – brackish.

The spill way creates a basin, referred to as the “Schuylkill Pond” by the cheesesteak eaters, which seems to have drawn large numbers of collegiate rowers to its placidity over the centuries. That line of structures on the horizon in the shot above form up “Boathouse Row.” Its seems that local universities including Drexel, Penn, and La Salle have rowing teams based here, and the basin is the setting for multiple rowing regattas.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Simple engineering like this spillway dam is something which I bring up during superfund conversations about my beloved Newtown Creek all the time. Our problem on Newtown Creek is ultimately about “flow” and quickening the pace of water flowing through the channel. I like any solution to this problem which doesn’t require pumps or “adding” energy into the system via mechanical means. This dam functions purely on gravity, and also serves as a fish ladder for critters returning form the sea to lay clutches of eggs upriver.

This was the last entry on my shot list for the Schuylkill River, and it was long past time for a meal and a whole lot of liquid. I was hungry, and thirsty.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One clambered over the artificial hill that the Philadelphia Museum of Art squats upon. Yes, these are “those” steps. The ones from the Rocky movies. Dun dun dun, dun dun dun, dun dan dun de dun

I’m told that the cheesesteak eaters get all livid if you refer to this area as the “Rocky Steps.” Once again, I will state plainly – I’m from Brooklyn and shit talking Philly is just ingrained in me. I also don’t get upset when cinematic references are made about my own – far superior – City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While watching tourists discover that running up these steps is actually quite the athletic endeavor, a humble narrator was busily scrolling through a Google map describing eateries and restaurants nearby.

Eastern State Penitentiary was just a few blocks away, and a long line of bars and restaurants which seemed to be open were described as being just across the street from the decommissioned prison.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The camera was converted over from landscape to handheld modality, the tripod tied up to my bag, and a general policing around my person accomplished. One set off to the presumptive northeast, in search of sustenance and refueling.

More tomorrow, 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

May 2, 2022 at 11:00 am

4 Responses

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  1. You going to publish your selfie at the top of the Rocky Steps? C’mon, puleeze.

    georgetheatheist . . . dundundun, dundadun

    May 2, 2022 at 11:33 am

  2. Enjoying your photos & your diary.. Makes me want to jump the next train to -Blank-ville. & explore


    May 3, 2022 at 8:20 am

  3. Great scenes and discussion. Very interesting!


    May 3, 2022 at 1:39 pm

  4. […] started off with a visit to Philadelphia’s Schuykill River and downtown area. Back home in Queens, Dutch Kills and its collapsing bulkhead received one of what would end up […]

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