From the very beginning, the Delaware River brought life to this area. The first known inhabitants were the Lenni Lenape tribe who claim this as ancestral territory. They encountered the first Europeans in the region as early as 1524. These early settlers, followed by waves of immigrants, sailed up the river to build their fortunes here. Generations of fishermen and shipbuilders found work on the river and along its shores. Philadelphia became a thriving port as sailing ships, then steamships, then oil tankers, came and went over the centuries. With the coming of the industrial age, they prospered as the river and its tributaries powered mills and factories. Centuries of commerce and industry took their toll on the Delaware as the river became an open sewer and a breeding ground for disease.
In 1972, the Clean Water Act spurred a cleanup of the river. Now fish have returned, greenways are planned to line the shores and the RiverFRONT has become a vibrant place to live, work and play. The river continues to play a vital role here, providing most of the city’s drinking water and supporting trade and commerce.