An Island Retreat Off the Shores of Philadelphia

By Megan M. Tue, January 22, 2019

Long ago, Philadelphians had the opportunity to escape the congestion of the city by ferrying to two islands in the middle of the Delaware River, across from what is now Penn’s Landing. These islands were known as Smith’s and Windmill Islands, and have a complicated history that resulted in their eventual destruction in the 1890s. The removal of these islands is still relevant today, as the future of the river volleys between developers and environmentalists.

You can explore the islands’ past by attending an upcoming talk on these "lost islands" by local environmental historian, Adam Levine. This lecture is presented in conjunction with the exhibition Philadelphia: The Changing City. Attendees are invited to visit the exhibition prior to the lecture to see prints and maps that illustrate these lost islands, and how planned and unplanned changes have affected Philadelphia’s landscape, its buildings, and its inhabitants. Also be sure to check out resources in our digital Map Collection and digital Print and Picture Collection. Want to see the islands disappear with your own eyes? Check out our Map Overlay Tool and see for yourself (instructions are provided below)!

Map Overlay Tool Instructions:
The Map Overlay Tool will overlay a historic map on a modern Google map. By adjusting the visibility of the historic map, you can see the islands disappear before your very eyes! To get started:

  • Click on the “About” button in the top right hand corner of the page.
  • A pop-up box will appear, and underneath the title “Tours and Walkthroughs” click on “Watch a whole island disappear,” and follow the prompts!

The Lost Islands of the Delaware River, an illustrated lecture by Adam Levine, Environmental Historian, will take place on Thursday, January 31, 6:00 p.m. in the Rare Book Department at Parkway Central Library. Register for this free event!

Bird's Eye View of Philadelphia Drawn from Nature and on Stone by J. Bachmann, ca. 1850, Rare Book Department, item AMER018501
Bird's Eye View of Philadelphia Drawn from Nature and on Stone by J. Bachmann, ca. 1850, Rare Book Department, item AMER018501
Plate of Smith's and Windmill Islands from Atlas of Philadelphia by G.H. Jones, 1874, Map Collection, item MGHJAA00018
Plate of Smith's and Windmill Islands from Atlas of Philadelphia by G.H. Jones, 1874, Map Collection, item MGHJAA00018
Article about the impending removal of Windmill and Smith's Islands, ca. 1895, Print and Picture Collection, item pdcc03256
Article about the impending removal of Windmill and Smith's Islands, ca. 1895, Print and Picture Collection, item pdcc03256

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