Hope Farm/Richmond Hall Site

hope-mapThe Hope Farm/Richmond Hall Site was located along the western edge of the adjacent Port Richmond/Conrail Rail Yard. Improvements to I-95 in this portion of the project involved shifting the alignment of Richmond Street to the east of its present location, to a parallel alignment located in the rail yard. This relocated section of Richmond Street extends roughly from Cumberland Street in the south to Ann Street in the north – a distance of approximately 3,600 ft. / 1,100 meters. However, the study area included only a portion of this larger area, and encompassed a Right-of-Way (ROW) within the Rail Yard measuring approximately 100 feet wide by 440 feet in length (ca. 1.0 acres), and extending from Cumberland Street, in the south, to Sergeant Street in the north.

Site conditions prior to the start of archaeological investigations were characterized by asphalt pavement over Belgian Block across the eastern two-thirds of the project site, and extending 450 feet north from Cumberland Street. The only above ground structures within this space consisted of an approximately 4.0-foot high concrete railroad freight platform (ca. 1950) located at the southwest corner of the study area. Sections of the study area were densely overgrown with trees and weeds, most notably around the freight platform and along the western margins of the site adjacent to extant Richmond Street. North of the paved area, the dense overgrown conditions extended across the entire project site alignment continuing the entire length of the project right-of-way alignment to Cambria Street.

Site History Summary

Throughout the historic period lands contained within the study area had escaped intensive development, and consequently have never experienced the kinds of ground disturbances that characterize most urban environments, and neighboring sections of Philadelphia. Situated atop a low, Late Pleistocene-age terrace adjacent to the Delaware River, this area from the mid-17th through early 19th centuries consisted of open meadow or agricultural grounds contained within the expansive rural estates of Swedish and English colonists. In the mid-19th century the project area became part of the Reading Railroad’s massive Port Richmond Coal Yard along the Delaware waterfront, and was buried beneath several feet of fill and active rail sidings. While the train track had been removed from this property prior to excavation, the project area remained devoid of development and conditions within the site had not changed appreciatively in the past 100 or more years.

During the 17th century, lands along the west bank of the Delaware River were first settled by Europeans and became incorporated into the colony of New Sweden. By the 1650s lands encompassing the present study area had been broken out into distinct land grants, were cleared, and were being actively farmed by members of the Cock, Rambo, and Nelson families among others. These individuals regularly interacted with groups of the local Lenni Lenape tribe, who continued to inhabit the vicinity.

After 1664, this area was transferred to English control, and gradually the early Swedish colonists were bought out and replaced by British settlers looking to establish large rural estates along the shores of the Delaware River. In or around 1709, English planter Anthony Palmer moved from Barbados to the Philadelphia region, purchased the land containing the study area, and established a country home which he named “Hope Farm”. Palmer eventually enlarged his land holdings to nearly 700 total acres and built an estate for himself and his family on the terrace overlooking the river, approximately 200-250 feet east of the current study area. The estate consisted of the main house and several outbuildings, and included at least three enslaved Africans to help work the land and keep house. Between his arrival and death, in 1749, Palmer served for more than 40 years as a provincial councilor for Pennsylvania, and in 1747 became governor of the colony.

Palmer resided at Hope Farm for some 25 years before selling the property and moving a short distance to the south to Thomas Fairman’s former estate in what is now the neighborhood of Kensington. Sometime around 1729, Hope Farm was purchased by English immigrant William Ball. Ball either enlarged Palmer’s existing manor house or built a new one entirely, and changed the name of the estate to “Richmond Hall” (the surrounding modern neighborhood – Port Richmond – derived its name from Ball’s estate). Ball remained in residence here until his death, in 1740, when the estate passed to his son, William Ball, Jr. After the son’s death, in 1810, the property remained in the family until 1821, after which the legal disposition of the land seems to have been tied up in ongoing court battles for some time.

In 1837, at least a portion of the former Ball estate was sold to the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad for the construction of their massive Port Richmond Coal Terminal complex, though it is not clear if this initial purchase extended south to include the study area. Historic maps from the 1840s show a handful of non-railroad related buildings in the general vicinity of the study area, including “McQuaid’s Tavern”, along the north side of Cumberland Street, and a Steam Boiler Factory to the north of the former Richmond Hall house location. By and large, however, maps from the mid-19th century period seem to indicate that the land encompassing the excavation area remained undeveloped, if not completely vacant.
Sometime between 1867 and 1875, lands containing the study area were incorporated into the Reading Railroad Port Richmond Coal Terminal. At this time the area was likely filled in with several feet of fill to accommodate the laying of track. Within this sprawling complex, this location seems to have played a somewhat peripheral role, and was never a part of the main arterial track lines that brought thousands of tons of coal to the riverfront wharves every day. Though a number of small buildings were constructed in this area over successive decades, available map information suggests that these primarily served as weigh stations and freight platforms, or fulfilled other secondary railroad related functions. The use of this terminal for coal shipments declined after World War II, and eventually most rail lines through the property fell into disuse and were removed. Under Conrail’s ownership of this property, beginning in 1976, areas in the vicinity of the study area were vacated and allowed to become overgrown. Today no active rail lines traverse this portion of the former Port Richmond Terminal property.

What did the Archaeological Excavation Reveal?

Archaeological investigation of the Hope Farm/Richmond Hall Site resulted in the identification of a single archaeological site containing both historic and prehistoric components. This site, designated the Hope Farm-Richmond Hall Site after the names of the earliest historic period estates in this location, covers the entire current study area (ca. 1.0 acres) and extends outside of these boundaries in all directions.

Archaeological excavation resulted in the recovery of some 3,598 prehistoric artifacts. It was further determined that the Hope Farm-Richmond Hall Site Native American component was contained primarily within a buried, primarily intact plowed ground surface (Ap-horizon), although a smaller number of artifacts were also found in the upper portion of the underlying, intact E-horizon. The prehistoric component was represented by an assemblage of lithic and ceramic artifacts, as well as fire-cracked rock clusters. The artifacts consisted primarily of fire-cracked rock and debitage of various materials. Triangular and stemmed projectile points were recovered, point types used throughout much of prehistory but as an assemblage they suggest occupation between the Middle Archaic and Early Woodland periods (ca. 5,500 B.C. – 100 A.D.). Ceramic sherds, clay pipe fragments, and a gorget indicate Woodland period occupation (ca. 1,200 B.C. – 1550 A.D.). The ceramic artifacts were found in widely scattered locations and are not classifiable by type. Two steatite fragments were identified in adjacent test units. Steatite is relatively rare in the Delaware River drainage and is currently reported at only 15 sites. Since the material is often associated with Orient fishtail points, the two steatite artifacts may indicate the presence of a Transitional Archaic occupation (ca. 1,800 B.C. – 1,200 B.C.). Tools other than points included utilized flakes, bifaces and biface fragments, hammerstones, an adze, and a chopper. The relatively low artifact density and wide temporal range of the diagnostics suggest that the site is the product of multiple short-term occupations.

Historic artifact deposits within the site form what appears to be an expansive and light scatter of debris contained within the plowed ground surface. These artifacts were largely represented by small and fragmentary ceramic and glass domestic refuse, smaller quantities of architectural debris such as window glass and nails (predominantly machine-cut), and personal/military items, such as eight (8) gunflint fragments (French) and two (2) musket balls. Potentially diagnostic ceramic sherds are represented by redwares (unglazed, Staffordshire, black and brown glazed, trailed-slip decorated) and whitewares (undecorated, blue and black-transfer, lusterware), with significantly smaller quantities of pearlware (undecorated, polychrome), creamware (undecorated), tin-glazed, and stoneware. Identifiable bottle glass is predominantly machine-made. There was one area represented by a concentration of significantly higher artifact densities consisting of a relatively larger quantity of architectural material including window pane glass and nails (rose head). Historic structures identified consisted of a twentieth century loading dock platform, a probable 19th century wood plank railroad platform and drainage ditches or utility trenches related to the function of a railroad depot.