The river was little more than a stream aggrandized, rarely more than thirty feet across and seldom more than ankle or shin deep. If Washington had chosen this river to throw a silver dollar a cross he would hardly have strained himself. It did not properly become the Schuylkill until it entered Berks County.
The river flowed unambitously; lacking rapids, only marked here and there by lethargic swells that passed for white water. It turned indecisively upon itself, here and there as if indeterminate of direction or purpose. It never formed actual ox bows. That would require definite conviction. But always it flowed in the same direction; down, down, forever down.
The rocks along its banks and bottom were discolored in varying shades of rust orange as though acquiring some taint from the land itself. As though the mine shafts sunk deep within it had ruptured something vital and it had bled out over the land. Or as the though the land, as well as everything else, had passed its purpose. Was but now only the decaying wreck of what once was, with little present and no future.
The word Schuylkill is an Indian word of indeterminate origin. The few enlightened (not that many) though embittered (almost all of them) citizens of the county would tell you it meant hole; or more poetically, the place of poo.
The river flowed, skirted, along the borders of the city limits of the county seat. A city named after the man who settled there. He had won a contract when Washington was president to provide masts for the ships of the navy dismasted in a storm. He came this far from Philadelphia to find pine trees that were sixty feet or taller. There were none left down that way. He was to float the logs downstream. To look at the river now you would say ‘damn, it must have been some deeper then’. Now you couldn’t float down it in an inner tube without banging your butt all the way.
By all accounts John Potts was an arrogant, opinionated, verbally abusive man. By turns tyrannical and cowardly. After awhile the Indians could not take it anymore and they killed his ass. Unfortunately they killed his entire family as well. But it was perhaps by then too late the attitude had become the mainstay of the county. A good deal of the people there are as hollow and black inside as the dark, abandoned coal mines left behind. The best among them indeterminately cowed.
And through and by all this the river flowed. And the river flowed forever and ever down.