Mentor: Professor Catherine Riihimaki
Waterways in the Greater Philadelphia area have been impacted by human use and development throughout history. As early as 1700, numerous mills manufacturing paper, textiles, grains, and many other products bordered local waterways. Mill Creek is a 10.4 km tributary to the Schuylkill River. Its path goes through Montgomery County, PA, beginning near Villanova University and running behind Bryn Mawr College. The creek, named for the approximately twenty mills that once adorned its banks, undoubtedly looked very different in the past than it does today. This summer, I will study Mill Creek to determine how damming the creek in various places to run mills has impacted the creek as we see it today, and whether or not there remains any evidence that these reservoirs once existed.
Using historic maps, air photos, and old topographic maps, I will create a geographic information system (GIS) database documenting various structures built on the creek through time. Of the six manmade dams that were recorded along the creek in the late 1700s, at least one is still functional, holding back the water that forms Dove Lake. This dam was built in 1873 and powered at least two mills directly downstream, while a natural falls nearby kept another couple of mills running. Through observation of the creek and the surrounding landscape, I will look for sedimentological and morphological evidence that reservoirs and dams once controlled the flow along large portions of the creek and assess whether or not any long lasting effects are still being felt by the creek today. In particular, I will compare basin characteristics, floodplain area, and patterns of erosion with regional precipitation and discharge trends to discern how development has impacted the stream’s processes.
My research on Mill Creek and how it has changed through time will give insight into local history, helping to explain the features of the creek as they are today. It will also provide valuable information important for assessing the environmental impacts of local building, paving and developing. On a larger scale, my research will provide insight as to how waterways change through time and the impact that humans have on these changes.