One of my most desired places to visit and ride the local rail trails since I started using the TrailLink app has been the Northwest Philadelphia neighborhood of Manayunk. I had been planning to get there for a few months…it’s moderately far and with the shortening days it always seemed to get too late. Then I had to fetch my stepson home from UARTS in Center City for the Thanksgiving weekend so I left early enough to see some of the town and hit 3 trails—the Manayunk Bridge Trail, the Cynwyd Heritage Trail on the other side of the river (the two connect seamlessly) and the Schuykill River Trail along the canal. If you have or get the TraiLink app you will find all of these trails on there with all the information you could want or need. TrailLink has connected me with so many rail trails I wouldn’t have known existed, so it comes highly recommend for enhancing your trail riding life.
Manayunk, the Small Town
The town name derives from the Lenape word, “Manaiung,” their word for river, meaning ‘a place to drink.’ But the contemporary name came later after town residents changed it from “Flat Rock,” the name used in the early 19th century.
Manayunk itself has been a major draw for me. I research and photograph small towns like this for my fine art photography work, a practice I began in graduate school. When I found the Manayunk Bridge Trail in the TrailLink app I couldn’t wait to get there. I’ve always had a love for these places with their 19th century houses and buildings, and defunct hulking factories…and Pennsylvania has a different look than New Jersey. I’ve already had experience with Bethlehem, PA, working on a project based on my Dad’s memory there where he attended Lehigh University some 75 years ago. Like Bethlehem and other small towns, Manayunk sprang up around the local industry—paper and textiles—and the remaining factory structure is a reminder of that past. But these places are now transforming into entertainment destinations and that’s certainly the case here. Even though technically a neighborhood of Philadelphia, Manayunk has a small town look and feel all its own. It’s very picturesque, sitting on the sloping banks of the Schuykill River with its row houses, historic church steeples and dynamic yet cozy Main street…a great place to visit, shop, hang and ride the rail trails.
The Manayunk Bridge was built by the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad and completed in 1918. It served the Schuykill Branch of that railroad, continuing under the PRR’s successor, Conrail, after 1976. It became the Cynwyd Line under SEPTA, the regional transport authority, until that service was cut back to the Cynwyd Station across the river in 1986. That left the bridge unused for almost 3 decades until its restoration and subsequent grand reopening as a rail-trail in 2015. This was a significant event that connected the two other local trails, the Cynwyd Heritage Trail and the Schuykill River Trail. Again, these can be found in the TrailLink app.
The Manayunk Bridge trail is exceedingly short, running only about a half mile, but it is a major addition to the rail trails in the Philadelphia area because of its aforementioned connections. The Manayunk side officially ends at Dupont Street but you can ride along the old right of way a little farther parallel to High Street (pictured at right), ending in a parking lot at Canton Street. You can see the right of way continuing up into the distance. A plan is currently in the works (approved, just waiting for the funding, of course) to continue it up to where the old Ivy Ridge Station was. You can see a brief description of the project here from the engineering firm’s website; and a nice PDF slide deck of the over all proposed plan by the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association. It includes the bridge’s history, community input and project details and renderings.
It will be really great for the community and all us rail trail riders when the project comes to its full fruition. It already provides a vital interconnected alternative transportation route and economic stimulus in the form of outside visitors like me who go there for entertainment, to explore the history and most importantly, to ride the rail trails.
“Manayunk, Philadelphia.” Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Manayunk,_Philadelphia. Accessed 7-8 Dec. 2019.
“Manayunk Bridge Trail, Philadelphia.” TrailLink, www.traillink.com/trail/manayunk-bridge-trail. Accessed 8 Dec. 2019.