The Philadelphia area was once honeycombed with creeks, springs, marshes and ponds. For good reasons at the time, these waterways were piped underground into combined sewers where raw sewage, rain water runoff and spring water mixed together.
In the Matthias Baldwin Park neighborhood, Minnow Run flowed from two springs, one located southeast of Bush Hill (17th and Spring Garden Streets)* and the second spring southwest of Bush Hill. The southeast branch flowed south down 15th Street to Callowhill Street and then diagonally crossed Logan Square at 18th Street. From there it ran to 19th and Cherry where it joined the southwest branch of Minnow Run. At 19th & Cherry, three tributaries emptied into it: one that began at Broad and Arch, the second from Market Street and Centre Square (City Hall) and the third from 16th Street and Market Street. Minnow Run now emboldened ran a circuitous route, up to 21st and Market and then curving west to 21st and Arch where it entered the Schuylkill River via a wide bay.
Of special interest to the Friends of M. Baldwin Park is the flow of the southwest branch of Minnow Run which began its journey flowing south down 18th Street before crossing to the west side of 19th Street, perhaps running through Matthias Baldwin Park before plunging down hill toward Vine Street and then to 19th and Cherry where it united with its southeast branch. Keep in mind that most of these streets did not exist so the creek's exact route is approximate.
A second creek came from a spring near Eastern State Penitentiary on Fairmount Avenue. A 1833 watercolor held by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania clearly shows a creek with ducks in it. This creek ran south down 20th Street to the Callowhill Cut near the Barnes Museum. It turned westward entering the Schuylkill River "not far from the true east and west line of Callowhill Street."
It is the same creek that Sharon White refers to in Vanished Gardens when she wrote that a walk down the hill from Springettsbury Manor House (21st and Hamilton Streets)** led to a stream in a small valley. A watercolor shows a lively creek with people fishing, paddling small boats and sitting on a raft.
This second creek had that most popular of names: Anonymous. It appears under the Anonymous section in a 1879 list of piped creeks, which states: "The following streams, which formerly existed or now exist in Philadelphia, are not known to have had names, although laid down on nearly all maps."
What a lovely place Philadelphia must have been with fresh water bubbling up everywhere from underground springs: water, clear, cold refreshing and necessary to man and beast.
For more information, click on www.phillyh2o.org a website created by Adam Levine, Historical Consultant to the Philadelphia Water Department.
* Bush Hill, the estate of Andrew Hamilton, lawyer to William Penn.
** Springettsbury Manor House, the estate of Thomas Penn, son of William Penn.
Adam Levine, Historical Consultant to the Philadelphia Water Department is the creator of an invaluable website that includes a transcription of an 1879 article on city creeks from the Philadelphia Public Ledger :
History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884, by J. Thomas Scharf and Thompson Westcott, Publisher: L.H. Everts, 1884. V.1, p.549.
Vanished Gardens, by Sharon White Published 2008.
authored by Sandra Owens 4/2018
"Eastern Penitentiary of Pennsylvania Near Philadelphia," 1833 drawn by George Lehman. Courtesy of HSP.
Detail from lower left corner below
The future Baldwin Park is between the two runs on either side of Bush Hill and between Bush Hill and the Callowhill Cut.
Detail from 1796 map here.
Springettsbury, detail. From Gilbert Fox and John Joseph Holland,
"View of the City of Philadelphia," c1795
Image courtesy of The Library Company of Philadelphia