Historically, rivers have been crucial to the development of permanent human settlements. From the early cities of Ancient Mesopotamia, rivers have been a crucial source of drinking water, irrigation, and means for transportation. In the mid-seventeenth century, the Delaware River brought Swedish settlers to what is today Tinicum Township. Since then, the functional role of the river has continuously evolved, as have its physical characteristics and the communities of people along its banks. A steady stream of immigrants poured through Tinicum during the nineteenth century, when ships coming up the Delaware underwent inspection at the Lazaretto Quarantine Station. In the twentieth century, the river brought industry with the opening of Westinghouse Electric Corporation plant to manufacture marine systems. Tinicum Township no longer relies directly on the river to meet everyday needs--drinking water comes from taps, roads and rails provide swift transportation, and food comes from the grocery store. Now, township officials are constructing walkways and hosting events on the riverfront in an attempt to strengthen the community.
My project attempted to document these and other developments through talking to residents about their memories, reading nineteenth century lawsuits over riverfront properties, and collecting photographs, newspaper clippings, and more. My goal was not to discover an accurate history of events along the river but rather to explore the ways in which people thought about and related to the river--what presence the river had in their lives. This process introduced me to the complicated task of conducting research when the raw material is human experience. In the future, I hope to continue working with issues involving the ways academic notions of science, history, anthropology, policy, and more play out in human lives.