Fricks Lock Village Historical Site

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About Fricks Lock Village

Fricks Lock Village, located at 503-508 Lower Fricks Lock Road, Pottstown, is a hamlet consisting of buildings dating to the 1700s. The section of the Schuylkill Canal through Fricks Lock Village was located about 100 feet north of the 1757 farmhouse. The double lock was located about 250 feet west of the farmhouse. The canal contributed to the growth of Fricks Lock Village, as it did with all its stopover points and trading locations. (For a more detailed description, read the short history below and see the wikipedia page.)

The East Coventry Township Historical Commission - Fricks Lock Volunteer Committee and Exelon host Fricks Lock Village Tours on an ongoing basis. Tours will be held at 10:00 a.m., 11:15 a.m., and 12:30 p.m. on each date. 

2024 Tour Dates:

May 04 and 18

June 08 and 22

July 13 and 27

August 10 and 24

September 14 and 28

October 12 and 26

History of Fricks Lock Village

(Excerpt from Simone Jaffe Collins-Frens Fricks Locks Village Historic Park Feasibility Study, dated October 2001)

Before European settlement, the lands of Fricks Lock Village were rolling hills covered primarily with mature woodlands of white and black oak, hickory and chestnut trees. The level lands were mainly floodplain areas extending along the Schuylkill River. The Schuylkill River was reported as having an abundant supply of herring, sturgeon and shad. The Lenni Lenape Indians of the Delaware tribe inhabited the region and trapped beaver along the river for their pelts as a valuable trading product. The advent of change in land use can be attributed to King Charles II of England awarding the lands of the future Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to William Penn in 1682.

The lands of Fricks Lock Village were additions to the neighboring Grumbacher farm in land grant parcels and land purchases of 1749 and 1764. The original 117 acres of the Grumbacher farm consisted of a long narrow parcel located to the southeast of the two parcels that contained the village area. The lands were primarily agricultural, served by the river and the wagon road (theorized as the Old Schuylkill Road alignments). Historical records indicated that farmsteads usually kept a portion of their property as woodlot. Historic tax records indicate the extent of lands, buildings and livestock of the property.

The first known building in the Frick Lock Village district was the 1757 farmhouse built by the Grumbacher-Engel household on the 119-acre parcel, purchased in 1749. Presumably a barn and outbuildings were also constructed at this time. Access to this residence was presumably from the Old Schuylkill Road via a primitive dirt road eventually becoming the alignment of Fricks Lock Road.

John Frick married Catherine Grumbacher in 1781 and shortly thereafter they moved to the Gruambacher property. Through marriage and bequeathment upon the death of Catharina Grumbacher-Engel, John Frick acquired the lands of the future Village. John Frick died in 1822, three years before the canal system was completed and open to travel.

The Schuylkill Navigation Company was chartered in 1815 following the March 8th authorization by the Pennsylvania Legislature to “incorporate a company to make a lock navigation on the river Schuylkill”. Roads were rough and primitive during this era and open river navigation was plagued by falls, shallow areas, and fishermen’s weirs. The Schuylkill River navigation canal was originally intended to bring anthracite coal from the deposits above Pottsville into Philadelphia.

After a ten-year construction period, the navigation system was completed for approximately 110 miles and at a cost of about three million dollars. The entire system was composed of 63 miles of canals with 34 dams and 109 locks. The section of canal through Fricks Lock Village was located about 100 feet north of the 1757 farmhouse. The double lock was located about 250 feet west of the farmhouse. The canal contributed to the growth of Fricks Lock Village as it did with all its stopover points and trading locations.

John Frick’s heirs chose to sell his lands at a public auction in the spring of 1826. Jacob Frick, the eldest son, purchased a portion of those lands that contained the village district. Upon his death in 1852, the village district was divided among different heirs. Over the next hundred years, the immediate area of the Village had minor “improvements” added, mostly associated with the owner’s farming operations.

In 1832, the depth and width of the canals were increased to accommodate larger boats. (The original canal dimensions had not been followed per specifications.) The new supply of coal enabled more industrial operations along the river. The coal cost seven dollars a ton and was the cheapest fuel available. Canal boats could carry up to 80 tons of coals. The locks in Fricks Lock were an important stopping place in the areas. The village hosted a “convenience” store that stayed open 24 hours a day to supply the needs of the boatmen. Passengers on packet boats stopped in Fricks Lock to go ashore for dinner or stay overnight for a stagecoach connection. The Village became an important trade center. In 1849, a covered toll bridge, the Lawrenceville Bridge, was the area’s first dry crossing of the river. This improved connection (competing with the ferry service) to Montgomery County increased the trading opportunities and growth associated with the canal and the Village.

In the 1880s, the Pennsylvania Railroad located a station in Fricks Lock and the US government established a Fricks Lock post office in the 1890s.

The canal was drained and closed permanently sometime in the mid 1920s. Improved railroad service, better roadways and trolley systems contributed to the demise of the canal by providing faster, smoother and more efficient transportation services. Without the vitality of the canal stopover/trading function, the importance of Fricks Lock Village changed to isolated farming activities.

In 1969 and 1970, PECO obtained the separate parcels that encompassed the current Fricks Lock Village area as part of their property acquisition under federal regulations for nuclear generating stations. At the time of property acquisition, most of the buildings were boarded up and vacated. The federal regulations governing the operations of a nuclear generating station exclude certain uses (including residential) within a 2,500 foot radius of the nuclear facility. The recombination of parcels under single ownership, along with restrictions on possible residential use and desirable land use, has contributed significantly to preserving the integrity of the Fricks Lock historic area. Its isolation from major roadway and new development affords the potential to present a highly unique example of an extant canal-era village in context with the agricultural activities of the Schuylkill River corridor's past history.

An agreement between Constellation Energy Generation, LLC and the Township allows the village to be opened for escorted public access. Constellation completed the rehabilitation or stabilization of the buildings within the village and the Township Historical Commission is helping people re-discover the local heritage that began nearly two centuries ago by providing educational guided tours. 

Important Documents

Attached Document or FileFricks_Lock_Report_101510(1).pdf Historical and Architectural Survey of Frick's Lock Village, 2010
Attached Document or File1987_Milner_Report(1).pdf Architectural and Historical Documentation of the Village, 1987
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