P'unk Ave

Riverbend’s Roots

mlt july 13 1989 rb map

Riverbend and its surroundings have a rich and varied history.  In the 16th and 17th centuries, the site was used by the Lenape Native Americans, belonging to a confederation of the Algonquin Nation.  Known as the Unami Tribe, these Lenape established their summer station in the bend of the Schuylkill River that gives Riverbend its name.  The last written record of Native American activity in Riverbend’s vicinity was an encampment at Black Rocks in 1740.  

The 1682 William Penn land grant of 5,000 acres to British settler Joshua Holland included Riverbend. This was eventually transferred to Welsh Quaker Morris Llewellyn, Sr., a farmer with substantial land holdings known at the time as "Indian Fields."  Bryn Mawr, Gladwyne, and Bala Cynwyd reflect this period of Welsh influence. At this time, Spring Mill Road was said to lead to a ford and later to a ferry crossing the Schuylkill River; this served as a transport connection to Spring Mill Road on the Conshohocken side of the river.  Although remnants of the old road are still visible on Riverbend's property, access to the river was cut off by the construction of the Schuylkill Expressway in the 1950s.

Visitors are curious about the lovely dry masonry stone walls that run through Riverbend and surrounding properties.  Wall origins point back to the Civil War era in 1864, when the United States Army leased land from local farmers to establish what became known as Camp Discharge.  This camp, with a sentry house still standing at the entrance of Sentry Lane, housed soldiers released from southern prison camps before the soldiers returned to civilian life.  One way they employed their time was to construct the many stone walls around Riverbend.

undated group with riverbend sign

In the post-Civil War era of America’s Industrial Revolution, the land surrounding Riverbend caught the eye of Conshohocken’s leading steel and iron manufacturer, Alan Wood, Jr. Wood’s 300 acres known as Woodmont Farms came to include the fantastic Woodmont Estate.  In 1884, Howard Wood, the younger brother of Alan Wood, Jr., acquired the adjacent 92-acre farm that included Camp Discharge. He later added nearly 400 acres, including the future site of Riverbend.

In December of 1974, Howard’s grandchildren, Alice Grey Wood Read, Phoebe Wood Conger and Howard Wood III, fulfilled their desire to preserve some of the open space that defined so much of their family history. They set aside 26 acres in memory of their parents, thus creating Riverbend Refuge, soon to be a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The first environmental education programs began less than a year later in September, 1975. Four acres were later added to the original 26, creating the 30-acre preserve we now call Riverbend Environmental Education Center.

1985 tent boys

In the 1980's, Riverbend continued to grow structurally and programmatically. Riverbend Refuge was named Riverbend Environmental Education Center and classroom space was added to the barn. Our summer camp program was instituted and school field trip programs continued to expand. Program and funding diversification led to an increased need for office capability. From 1998 to 1999 our barn underwent a complete renovation, enabling Riverbend to better serve more children and families.

In 2004, Riverbend completed a Master Site Development Plan to guide site and habitat improvements. A momentous gift to help fund projects in this plan came from The Snider Family Foundation and changed the course of Riverbend’s future. Thus, in 2005, Riverbend’s signature building, a 1923 Sears Roebuck Catalog Barn building was named The Snider Barn in recognition of Ed Snider’s generosity.  Since that time, many significant facility and habitat-related improvements have been completed to enhance the preserve.

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Teachers trained in Aquaponics

90%

Less water than traditional agriculture

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