Books Consulting About Contact
  TheBook TheAuthor Praise Slideshow MyPlace  

Sorlien Inland: The Abandoned Canals of the Schuylkill Navigation
by Sandy Sorlien
with a foreword by John R. Stilgoe and essays by Mike Szilagyi and Karen Young

A rare photographic river trip revealing the once-celebrated but now-hidden industrial landscapes of Pennsylvania that helped shape the nation.

The Schuylkill River flows more than 130 miles from the mountains of the Pennsylvania Coal Region to its confluence with the Delaware River. It passes through five counties—Schuylkill, Berks, Chester, Montgomery, and Philadelphia—and its valley is home to more than three million people. Yet few are aware of the hidden ruins and traces left by a pioneering 200-year-old inland waterway that opened in 1825: the Schuylkill Navigation. Some of it is literally buried in their own backyards.

Often called the Schuylkill Canal, this complex navigation system actually boasted 27 canals. The first of the anthracite-carrying routes in America, the 108-mile Navigation shadowed the Schuylkill River for nearly all its length. It once had more than 30 dams and slackwater pools, more than 100 stone locks, numerous aqueducts, and the first transportation tunnel in the nation. They were all built by hand starting in 1816.

The water pollution created by the coal industry, unregulated factory and residential waste, and obstructive dams all but destroyed the river that fed the Navigation. Clogged channels, railway competition, and repeated flood damage meant the end of a way of life for many of the towns that boomed along the canals, and only a few historians keep have kept its memory alive.

During the 1940s, as part of a massive environmental cleanup of the Schuylkill, this important and influential infrastructure was largely dismantled—but not entirely. Two short sections of the watered canal get plenty of attention: the Oakes Reach at Schuylkill Canal Park near Phoenixville and the Manayunk Canal in Philadelphia. Both are popular recreational destinations. What happened to the rest of it? Photographer Sandy Sorlien resolved to find out.

Over the course of seven years, she repeatedly traveled upriver from her home near the Manayunk Canal, bushwhacking along the riverbanks and rowing and paddling in the river itself. Armed with camera and binoculars, loppers and trekking poles, nineteenth-century maps and modern satellite imagery, and abetted by local historians and an archaeologist, she found all 61 lock sites and explored most of the canal beds. Her photographs reveal a mysterious remnant landscape, evidence of an extraordinary engineering feat that spelled its own demise.

Along with Sorlien's extraordinary color plates and insightful essays, Inland features a selection of historic images, rare historic Schuylkill Navigation Company maps, and early Philadelphia Watering Committee plans. The book also includes a foreword by renowned landscape scholar John R. Stilgoe, an essay on regional transportation history by Mike Szilagyi, former Trails Project Manager for the Schuylkill River Greenways Natural Heritage Area, and an afterword by Karen Young, Director of the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center. A sweeping new Schuylkill River map by Morgan Pfaelzer connects it all.

Inland is the first book to present contemporary photographs from a survey of the entire Schuylkill Navigation, becoming an essential resource for historians, preservationists, and communities along the Navigation, offering and a resonant visual history of a once-famous place all its own.


$45.00 U.S. (Short discount; trade discounts available for bulk sales)
192 pages with 103 color photographs by the author, 24 historic drawings, maps, plans, and photographs, and two maps = 129
11.0" x 9.0" landscape
ISBN: 978-1-938086-91-5

Published August 2022

Distributed by Casemate/IPM

Published in association with the Center for the Study of Place.

About the Author

Interview with Sorlien Hidden City (2023)

Book Events & Exhibitions:
Wednesday, November 8, 2023, time TBA
"The Vincent Canal and the Schuylkill Navigation"
Spring-Ford Area Historical Society
526 Main Street, Royersford PA

Sunday, May 21, 2023
Book Talk, Schuylkill Canal Association, Mont Clare, PA

Tuesday, April 11, 2023, 7:30 PM
"The Schuylkill Navigation Canals in Chester County"
Slide talk and book signing
The Foundry, Schuylkill River Heritage Center,
2 N. Main Street, Phoenixville, PA

February 28, 2023 at 6 PM
Book talk via Zoom
Preservation Alliance of Philadelphia

Saturday, November 12, 2022 at noon
Book Talk
Schuylkill County Historical Society, Pottsville, PA

Friday October 21, 2022 at 5pm
Inland Booksigning and Reception
Curiosity & Company, Jamestown, RI

October 12, 2022 - March 18, 2023
Inland Exhibition
Fairmount Water Works Media Gallery, Philadelphia, PA

Tuesday October 11, 2022 at 5pm
Inland Booksigning and Exhibition Opening
Fairmount Water Works, Philadelphia, PA

Book Information Sheet (pdf)



All content © GFT Publishing. All rights reserved. Cannot be reproduced without permission. Website designed by Morgan Pfaelzer.