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The Phoenix

Mythology & Phoenixville

The Phoenix holds an exalted place in the myths of many of the great world cultures.


The Egyptians called it the Bennu and depicted it as a heron with brilliant plumage and a feathered crest on its head. The Greeks called it by the name we use today; Phoenix, which means red, the color most associated with fire and with the sun and described it as resembling something between an eagle and a peacock. Both the Egyptians and the Greeks believed that this fabulous bird lived in Heilopolis, The City of the Sun, and that at the end of its very long life – 500 to 1500 years – it builds its own pyre from incense and precious woods and is consumed in sacred fire. Out of the ashes springs the new phoenix thus symbolizing resurrection and renewal.


In China and Korea the Feng-huang was associated with the Empress and occupied the high position of ruler of the kingdom of birds. It was frequently paired with a dragon, the symbol of the Emperor, and was held to personify beauty and mercy. The double phoenix represents the male and female principle, feng being the male and huang the female. For centuries it has been a favorite motif of artists and artisans throughout East Asia who have used it to decorate every conceivable object. It most closely resembles an especially colorful bird of paradise with long, flowing tail feathers and a slender neck.



In 1813, Lewis Wernwag, the owner of the first iron company built on the confluence of the French Creek and the Schuylkill River – known at the time as the French Creek Works – was looking at his furnaces one evening from a nearby hillside and saw a Phoenix in the flames. This vision inspired him to rename his company Phoenix Works. When the community that grew up around the iron works became incorporated in 1849 the name Phoenixville was a natural choice for the new borough.


This name has especial symbolic relevance for the borough today. With the closing of Phoenix Iron and Steel in the early nineteen eighties the town lost its principal industry, and subsequently went through a twenty-year period of stagnation and decline. Since the turn of the new century Phoenixville has been enjoying a rebirth; with the opening of new shops and restaurants, a visitor’s center in the old Foundry Building, the continued renovation of the Colonial Theatre, the renewal of Bridge Street, and much more. Like its mythic namesake it is truly rising from its own ashes.

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