Winter Whiteout 2015

 

Whoa. Man and nature come together at the spillway of the lower Robeson dam. Wissahickon Creek tumbles its final fall here en route to the Schuylkill River, a couple hundred yards downstream | Photo: Bradley Maule

Man and nature come together in this wintry display at the spillway of the lower Robeson dam, once part of a mill complex dating to the 1690s. The stone arch bridge carrying SEPTA’s R6 Manayunk/Norristown Line stands just above. Wissahickon Creek tumbles its final fall here en route to the Schuylkill River, a couple hundred yards downstream | Photo: Bradley Maule

Last week’s single-digit overnight temperatures—and subzero daytime wind chills—are a big reason Philadelphia’s had its coldest February (so far) since 1979. The mercury nudged above 32ºF only long enough to grow the gargantuan icicle under the Columbia Railroad Bridge large enough for its transformation into an amazing ice goddess named Shiva.

Don Harrison's Shiva, before and after | Photos: Bradley Maule (top photo Tue. 2/17, bottom photo Wed. 2/18)

Don Harrison’s Shiva, before and after | Photos: Bradley Maule (top photo Tue. 2/17, bottom photo Wed. 2/18)

The ice sculptor Don Harrison created the overnight sensation, working through the wee hours of Wednesday till sunup, when Shiva was complete. I had to do a double-take when I saw the sculpture, because only 12 hours earlier, sundown Tuesday, I took an unknowing “before” picture of what was then just an unusually large icicle. I was there because all week long, I’d been shooting photos of the Schuylkill River frozen over, and on this especially cold and clear day, the light was gorgeous on the Columbia and Strawberry Mansion Bridges.

The latter is a little tricky to photograph from the west bank of the river, as there’s a lot of bankside brush and invasive plants like Japanese knotweed. Knotweed is easy to stomp through, though (you can kick it right over), so I ambled down the bank to the river’s edge. Not much for ice fishing, I didn’t come prepared with a proper auger to test the ice’s thickness, but I couldn’t resist taking at least a few steps out onto the frozen Schuylkill. And at this location, Peters Island forms a narrow back channel that surely must be more frozen than the wider whole. I made it out about 10-12 feet before thinking better of continuing. Rather, I came home and tried to rouse up some friends with ropes and life preservers to try again from the same spot on Saturday morning.

This idea didn’t pan out either, so my gal and I came down from the mountain to witness the whiteout, following the lower Wissahickon Creek to its confluence with the Schuylkill River, then following that through Fairmount Park down to the dam and the Water Works. At the Fairmount Dam the sheet of ice gave way to the raging manmade waterfall, the ice sheet resuming below the spillway. But above and below the dam, aside from areas of swift current where the geese and seagulls convened, the Schuylkill was frozen completely over, and Saturday’s blizzard conditions rendered it both completely beautiful and damningly inviting.

At the low end of Boathouse Row just above the dam, a small channel parallel to Waterworks Drive forms a small island made from the decades of sedimentation backup from the dam. Some day, that island might have an Olin-designed footbridge and boardwalk as part of the larger Philadelphia Museum of Art expansion. Until it does, to see the views it affords—of Boathouse Row, of the Water Works, of the skyline, of the river itself—one must somehow get across that back channel. Short of a pair of summertime hip waders, gauging thickness of the ice seems the best bet. I found just the spot on Saturday and scratched my ice hiking itch to get a nice new look at Boathouse Row in the snow.

The photos here survey the seven miles between Ten Box (where Forbidden Drive meets Lincoln Drive in the Wissahickon Valley) and the Fairmount Water Works, all taken in Saturday’s snowstorm.

About the author

Bradley Maule is co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and the creator of Philly Skyline. He's a native of Tyrone, Pennsylvania, and he's hung his hat in Shippensburg, Germantown, G-Ho, Fishtown, Portland OR, Brewerytown, and now Mt. Airy. He just can't get into Twitter, but he's way into Instagram @mauleofamerica.



3 Comments


  1. Beautiful pictures Bradley, thank you very much.

  2. Winter wonderland indeed. Thanks for braving the weather to get these shots.

  3. Lovely. Brave to walk on the ice!

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts

“Star Doors” Take Center Stage In A City Of Rows

December 13, 2018  |  Vantage

Like the human eye, exterior doors can be a portal into the soul of a row house. Ashley Hahn drops in with the backstory on “star doors,” a singular piece of Philadelphia charm > more

Sixty Years Of Holiday Cheer At Wanamaker's

Sixty Years Of Holiday Cheer At Wanamaker’s

December 12, 2018  |  Last Light

Patrick Glennon gives us a look at the origins of a holiday tradition at the Wanamaker Building > more

City Archives Opens New HQ In Northern Liberties

City Archives Opens New HQ In Northern Liberties

December 6, 2018  |  Buzz

New digs in NoLibs for the Philadelphia City Archives. Michael Bixler has the details > more

Give a Gift, Get a Gift: 2018 Fund Drive Perks Are Here

Give a Gift, Get a Gift: 2018 Fund Drive Perks Are Here

December 6, 2018  |  Uncategorized, Vantage

Our annual fund drive is in full swing and this year's perks are better than ever, so have a look. Not to mention: all donations will be matched dollar for dollar by NewsMatch! > more

Architecture Trips The Light Fantastic in <em>Philly After Dark</em>

Architecture Trips The Light Fantastic in Philly After Dark

December 4, 2018  |  News

The Athenaeum of Philadelphia shines a light on local architecture at night with their illuminating exhibition, "Philly After Dark." Greg Prichard has this review > more

#GivingNEWSDay Is Here!

#GivingNEWSDay Is Here!

November 27, 2018  |  News

Double your donation to Hidden City today and help us get to the next level of journalism > more