Even locals are surprised to hear these little known historical facts about Manayunk. Read on to learn the hidden secrets of this quaint Philadelphia neighborhood.
Marchiano’s Bakery has some famous clientele. In addition to having some of the best tomato pie in Philly, their fans include Frank Sinatra, The Temptations, The Four Tops, and even Alyson Hannigan of How I Met Your Mother fame. Philadelphia 76ers’ Marc Jackson is not only a fan of the location, but worked at Marchiano’s as a teen and even had owner Frank Marchiano stand up in his wedding. The next time you’re in, check out the photographs of numerous celebrity patrons hanging behind their counter.
Manayunk was once a city. Beginning in 1840, this neighborhood was its own entity rather than a section of Philadelphia as it is today. The area was absorbed back into Philadelphia after 14 years due to the Act of Consolidation in 1854, as the city hoped to bring in much-needed tax revenues by including the booming Manayunk businesses within city limits. The city also sought to provide infrastructure and law enforcement for Manayunk, which was struggling to execute these, and by dissolving governmental structure and bringing municipal authorities the city was able to improve the quality of life for residents and businesses. However, Manayunk has retained its individuality as a self-contained area of Philly ever since.
Famous Movie Scenes: M Night Shyamalan is known for filming many of his movies in Philadelphia, and his film Unbreakable was filmed in Manayunk’s Pretzel Park. A scene with Bruce Willis is shown here, with St. Josaphat’s Church and Silverwood St as a backdrop.
The Loring Construction Building History – This Main Street location was formerly the Empress Theater. It opened in 1914 as a mixed-use vaudeville/motion picture theater, providing local mill workers with an “escape” to movies and shows. The theater seated 1,500 people and was rumored to have hosted the acts of the 3 Stooges.
The Manayunk Canal was the first canal ever began in the United States, (although not the first to be completed due budget issues and complications experienced with the turbulent waters of the Schuylkill River). It was entirely hand-dug by immigrant workers. And the “towpath”, as the locals refer to the Manayunk section of the Schuylkill River Trail? Its name refers to the mules that towed boats along the canal…long before the invention of automobiles.
Cresson St was the original commercial district in Manayunk. While today Cresson is home to primarily residential houses and only a few small businesses, in the early 1800s Main St was the offices of the bankers and mill owners, and Cresson St was where the locals shopped and dined. Shown here is how Cresson looked prior to the railroad tracks being raised in 1931.
Street Names – Many of the street names in Manayunk are named after either the type of Mill that was located nearest, (Cotton Street is a great example), or after a Mill owner or prominent Manayunk family. John Towers was a pioneer of Manayunk and one of its earliest inhabitants. The Levering family was one of the first 3 families to settle in Manayunk, and built the first house on Green Lane – and streets Levering, Leverington, Jacob, and Washington Street were named in homage of their clan, (Washington Levering lost his street when it was renamed Umbria St, paying homage to the immigrant Italians who had settled in that area of Manayunk). Lyceum was named as the location of the “lyceum movement” in Manayunk in the mid 1800s. An alternative to a 4-year university that was popular in mid-19th century Northeastern cities, lyceums were a place of adult education that featured lectures, dramatic performances, class instructions, and debates.
While the industrial era of Manayunk as the “Manchester of America” is long past, there is one champion – GJ Littlewood and Sons Textile Mill, which has been in operation continuously for over 130 years. In their 5th generation of ownership and still going strong, they have even been commemorated with a dedicated mural here in Manayunk.
The rest of those Murals lining Main St? The subject of each is either a current or former Manayunk resident, or someone who was influential on Manayunk’s development. Mat Tomezsko told us that this painting, Catfish, is his favorite of his mural work in Manayunk, and was inspired by a photograph from the first canal day.
Famed author Edgar Allen Poe loved fishing in Manayunk, and was quoted as calling it “one of the real Edens of the land”, and “the most beautiful”.
So if you’re a Yunker, this gives you even more reason to love your Philadelphia neighborhood. And if you’ve never been, we hope this gives you reason to visit this beautiful & historic gem.
What Is Chew Philly Food Tours? We offer food tours of the Manayunk and Chestnut Hill neighborhoods of Philadelphia, featuring the best local eats paired with historical and cultural facts on Philly’s most delicious neighborhood. Learn more history, and taste Manayunk’s best food on our Authentic Philly Food Tour, (sign up for our email list to receive an exclusive subscriber discount!)