Phoenixville, Pennsylvania - At the intersection of the Schuylkill River and French Creek, Phoenixville blends historic charm with a modern mindset. Originally known as Manavon, it adopted its current name in 1849; at the time, the town’s biggest employer was the Phoenix Iron Company, a major manufacturer of nails, rails, structural steel and weapons. Today, Phoenixville boasts an artsy, low-key vibe that attracts visitors craving a relaxing day with a creative twist.
History: Occupying the former Phoenix Iron Company Foundry building, the Schuylkill River Heritage Center offers a multimedia glimpse in to the industrial history of the Chester County and the Schuylkill River watershed. The museum shines a spotlight on the town’s iron and steel legacy with murals, artifacts, video presentations and more. Fun fact: The inside structure of the Washington Monument is made from Phoenix iron.
Its Main Street: Along Bridge Street—the town’s main drag—people find a mix of wine-tasting rooms, low-key restaurants and artsy, locally owned shops. Bridge Street is divided in the center of town by Main Street, home to boutique retail and food outlets.
Arts & Culture: Considered the cultural center of town, the Colonial Theatre opened its doors in 1903. While back then it hosted live shows and vaudeville, today the 658-seat auditorium screens new and classic movies. Film buffs recognize the marquee from the 1958 hit The Blob. On the art front, The Art Gallery at Franklin Commons displays permanent, site-specific installations, as well as traveling exhibits, while Diving Cat Studio and Gallery showcases works from 200 artists. As its name suggests, Phoenixville BYOB & Paint invites patrons to enjoy bring-your-own cocktails while expressing their creativity on canvas.
The Great Outdoors: For outdoor enthusiasts, Port Providence Paddle on the Schuylkill Canal rents kayaks, canoes and tubes. Nearby French Creek State Park encompasses 7,700 acres of forests, lakes, wetlands and fields, providing ample opportunity for hiking, biking, fishing and camping. The Schuylkill River Trail, which starts in Philadelphia and runs through Phoenixville, is popular with runners, walkers and bikers. About a mile north of town on Route 113 between Riverwalk Drive and Winding River Boulevard is Black Rock Sanctuary, consisting of 119 acres of wetlands, woodlands and meadows.
Food & Drink: Diners enjoy casual fare at pubs PJ Ryan’s and Molly Maguire’s, both of which seat guests at indoor and outdoor tables. Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant prides itself on its craft beer, complemented by an extensive menu of burgers, pizzas, salads and the like. Part music venue and part cafe, Steel City Coffee House packs its event calendar with live bands and performers. And with a stellar view of the Colonial Theatre, Artisans Gallery & Café displays and sells handmade pottery by local artists while serving up house-made food. Two regional wineries operate tasting rooms on Bridge Street: Taste pours premium estate wines from Bucks County’s Sand Castle Winery, while Black Walnut Winery hosts tastings, wine and chocolate pairings and live music. Focusing strictly on food, BYOB spots Black Lab Bistro & Bakery and Majolica serve exquisite, seasonally inspired cuisine.
Shops, Shops, Shops: For 20 years, Ellie’s Choice has been a go-to destination for gifts, clothing, candles, incense and decorative items. Romantic Jewelers specializes in fine estate pieces and antique engagement rings. Athletes stock up on footwear, running accessories and other active gear at All Kinds of Fast, while the bi-level Twisted Cog Bike Shop keeps bicyclists in the saddle with repair services and a comprehensive inventory of bikes, parts and accessories. Bridge Street Chocolates churns out interesting chocolate bark flavors, including bourbon, espresso, strawberries and cream, blueberry and wasabi.
Events & Festivals: Phoenixville celebrates First Friday every month with live music, theatrical performances, artist shows, gallery openings and plenty of community spirit. The Dogwood Parade and Festival has been a springtime tradition since the World War II era. Today, the May event spans six days and includes rides, vendors, live entertainment, a pageant and, of course, the centerpiece parade. In May and October, the Phoenixville Food Festival celebrates local cuisine. Every summer, the Colonial Theatre hosts Blobfest, a three-day horror extravaganza complete with screenings, themed competitions and a street fair. Thousands of fans come to town in September for the Phoenixville Blues Festival, a daylong celebration of music and food. It’s all things fall for October’s Pumpkinfest, and in December, the Firebird Festival shines a light on emerging artistic talent and local culture.
Getting There: Driving the 27 miles from Center City to Phoenixville takes roughly 40 minutes. Metered street parking and municipal lots are available. Public transportation from Philadelphia is not easily accessible.
Where To Stay:
- Courtyard Philadelphia Great Valley/Malvern, 280 Old Morehall Road, Malvern, (610) 993-2600, marriott.com
- The Desmond, 1 Liberty Boulevard, Malvern, (800) 575-1776, desmondgv.com
- The Mainstay Inn, 184 E. Bridge Street, (610) 933-7998, mainstayinn.net