Philadelphia islands

There’s a fascinating chapter in the history of Philadelphia concerning islands in the Delaware river. Smith and Windmill Islands were smack in the middle of the Delaware, I think a bit south of the Ben Franklin Bridge.


The islands were removed in the late 19th century apparently so larger ships would have an easier time navigating the river. Since their removal there’s also been a lingering desire in tiny quarters to bring islands back to the water. They’ve got an interesting history:


The first record of the islands dates back to 1683, when two muddy mounds in the middle of the Delaware were first described. By the middle of the 18th Century, an octagonal Windmill was built on the northern end. Over the years, deposits from the river made the islands grow larger, fusing the two mounds into a single hunk of land. Wharves and a few little structures soon dotted the islands, and use of the island reached a point that a bridge was considered in 1820 that was ultimately never built.

In the mid 19th century, the islands were serving multiple functions. One section of Windmill Island became a well-known low-class pleasure spot, another section was a coal yard, and other areas were access points for multiple ferry companies (ferries were a little more popular back then). Smith Island was home to the appropriately-named Smith’s Hotel. Famous Philadelphian Jacob Ridgeway owned a couple of parcels there, as did the Pennsylvania and Reading Railroads. There were even people who owned the sand bars that were only exposed when the river was at low tide.

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