Gunner’s Run Site

gunner-mapThe Gunner’s Run South Site (36Ph162) was located in the Kensington “Fishtown” section of Philadelphia and encompassed an approximately 2.2-acre parcel of land bounded by Delaware Avenue to the south, Berks Street to the west, Wildey Street to the north, and the southern terminus of Aramingo Avenue to the east.

At the start of the excavation, the site appeared as a combination of bare ground beneath the I-95 viaduct and grass-covered land to the south of the highway. The entire site area was open and featureless, with the exception of a line of small trees along the northern margins of Delaware Avenue. Prior to the construction of I-95, much of the site area consisted of undeveloped backyard and interior block space, with a segment of Susquehanna (formerly Wood) Street dividing the eastern half of the site from northwest to southeast (this section of the street was vacated and demolished prior to the construction of the highway in the early 1970s). A small segment of Hewson Street (now demolished) also extended a short distance into the site from the north, but never extended all the way to Delaware Avenue. The topography within the site was somewhat altered during landscaping related to I-95 and is now relatively flat, although ground surfaces do slope down slightly to the south and southeast in the direction of Delaware Avenue.

Site History Summary

Like much of northeastern Kensington, urban development on the Gunner’s Run South Site did not really begin until the late colonial era, and even then, the area remained fairly rural. At the time, a majority of the site formed the southeast 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 Susquehanna, while much of what became the Berks, Wildey, and Hewson 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 many of the remaining large tracts of land being subdivided and Berks Street being opened between Richmond and Wildey Streets. On the northwest side of the block, Philadelphia merchant Manuel Eyre sold off the land that Jacob Maag (and later, his daughter) had owned: some to smaller property owners like fisherman Jacob H. Faunce, and some to glass manufacturer William Bennett, who also bought up parcels of land at the corner of Richmond and Berks that had once belonged to the Baker family. Along Richmond Street and Susquehanna Avenue, more homes occupied by fishing and shipbuilding families—such as the Bakers, Hills, Broadwaters, Rices, and Bakeovens—sprang up and were interspersed with the homes of glass blowers working at the nearby Union Glass and Dyottville glasshouses. In addition to houses, the block also had taverns, shoe stores, and a bakery. In the early 1850s, the volunteer firemen of the Kensington Hose Company, several of whom lived on the block, moved their firehouse to a location on Richmond Street near Susquehanna Avenue.

After the Civil War, the area became more industrialized and the demographics of the block changed. The Kensington Hose house was replaced by Sykes & Son Nut and Bolt Works, and what remained of the Bennett land was subdivided to build row homes for workers as more of the inhabitants were being employed in factories, iron foundries, shipyards, and mills. The houses and remaining buildings 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 Hewson Street and Susquehanna Avenue were razed for the expansion of industry. The houses on the Berks Street side of the site were able to hold on into the 1960s, when they too were demolished to facilitate the construction of I-95.

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 historic house (and other building) foundations, eighteenth- through twentieth-century subsurface features (barrel, brick, and wood-lined privies, refuse pits, etc.), and expansive sections of undisturbed historic ground surface. Testing within the buried ground surface revealed a scatter of mixed historic artifacts, a concentration of gun flints and gun-flint fragments possibly associated with Revolutionary War–period military use in this vicinity, and extensive deposits of Native American artifacts dated to the Late Archaic through Late Woodland culture periods (3000 B.C.–A.D. 1600). Excavations also uncovered two partially intact Native American hearth features with associated lithic artifacts and wood charcoal dating to 2500 B.C.