Fishtown Two Site

fish2-mapThe Fishtown Two Site was located in the Kensington “Fishtown” section of Philadelphia and encompassed an approximately 1.35-acre parcel of land bounded by Montgomery Avenue (west), Delaware Avenue (south), and Berks Street (east). Properties fronting onto Montgomery and Berks Streets delineate the northern boundary of Block 2.

At the start of the excavation, the site consisted of bare ground beneath the I-95 viaduct and grass-covered land to the south of the highway between Berks Street and Montgomery Avenue. With the exception of an abandoned trailer at the corner of Berks Street and Delaware Avenue, the space encompassing the Fishtown Two site was open and level. Prior to the construction of I-95, much of the site area consisted of undeveloped backyard and interior block space.

Site History Summary

Urban development on the Fishtown Two site did not really begin until the late colonial era, and even then, the area remained fairly rural. At the time, it formed the southwest corner of a large block bounded by the streets now known as Girard Avenue, Montgomery Avenue, Susquehanna Avenue, and Richmond Street. Fishermen and shipwrights occupied houses scattered along Richmond and Montgomery, while much of what became the Berks and Wildey Street properties was part of a nearly 2-acre plot of land owned by Philadelphia tailor Jacob Maag.

From the 1820s through the 1840s, the block saw a period of greater development, with most of the remaining large tracts of land being subdivided and Berks Street opened between Richmond and Wildey Streets. On the southwest side of the block, land that local fisherman Michael Collar had acquired at the beginning of the nineteenth century was divided among his children. On the northeast side, Philadelphia merchant Manuel Eyre sold off the land that Jacob Maag (and later, his daughter) had owned. In the center of the Richmond Street side of the block, fisherman Christian Faunce purchased a parcel of land and constructed four houses on the site, likely one for each of his sons, whose descendants occupied them well into the twentieth century.

A large majority of the residents during this time continued to be involved in maritime trades—with fishing and shipbuilding families such as the Faunces, Collars, Potes, Janneys, Rowens, and Bennets populating much of the block—but there was some occupational diversity. Numerous glassworkers employed at nearby glasshouses, such as Union Glass Works or Dyottville, also lived on the block, while other residents operated businesses essential to any neighborhood at the time: groceries, shoe stores, tobacco shops, and a succession of bakers.

After the Civil War, heavy industry moved into the area and the demographics of the block changed, with more of the inhabitants being employed in factories, iron foundries, and mills—though the shipbuilding industries and, to a lesser extent, the fishing industry remained active. The houses along Richmond Street were demolished around 1924, when Richmond Street was widened into Delaware Avenue. Over the next several decades, a majority of the homes on Berks Street and Montgomery Avenue fell victim to expanding industry.

What Did the Archaeological Excavation Reveal?

Excavations revealed that intact archaeological deposits and features were well-preserved just beneath the surface across nearly the entire site. Identified archaeological resources include nineteenth-century house (and other building) foundations, subsurface features (barrel, brick, and wood-lined privies, refuse pits, etc.), and expansive sections of undisturbed historic ground surface (yard deposits). The completion of excavation units at the Fishtown Two Site resulted in the recovery of two separate Native American artifact assemblages, each containing debitage (stone tool making debris), various flaked stone tools, fire-cracked rock (FCR), and groundstone tools (grooved axes, hammerstones). One hearth feature consisting of FCR (carbon-14 dated to 3500 B.C.) and one concentration of argillite blades was identified. It is probable that the cluster of bifacial blades is part of a disturbed cache or stockpile.