Remer Site

remer-mapThe Remer Site was located at the former 1026 Shackamaxon Street property, now part of the PennDOT right-of-way along the southbound side of the roadway.

At the time of excavation, the site consisted of a narrow empty lot, approximately 20 feet wide, situated between an I-95 bridge abutment and the standing 1028 Shackamaxon Street structure.   Disturbance from the construction of the I-95 bridge abutment had eliminated approximately 90% of the backyard.  The undisturbed excavation area was no greater than 4 feet wide, narrowing to 3 feet wide north to south.

Site History Summary

This domestic home site, located at 1026 Shackamaxon Street in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, is named for the family that occupied this property in the late 1700s and early 1800s.  The first member of the family to reside on the site was Matthew Remer (circa 1758–1804).  Matthew’s father Godfrey immigrated to Philadelphia from Germany in the early 1750s and eventually settled in the village of Kensington, as this area was known at the time.  Godfrey was a butcher by profession and built a house for his growing family on Shackamaxon Street, near the corner of Richmond Street (this property is now underneath I-95).

In 1778, Godfrey purchased an adjoining property—which included the current 1026 parcel—for the newly married Matthew, who moved into a frame house already constructed on the site. A ship carpenter by trade, Matthew served during the Revolutionary War in a militia artillery regiment raised from the men living along the Kensington waterfront.  During the war, his most notable contribution to history occurred on the eve of George Washington’s famed crossing of the Delaware River to attack Hessian forces in Trenton, New Jersey.  As men and equipment were being assembled for that assault, Matthew Remer was one of six men who were handpicked to inspect and repair the boats that would carry Washington and his troops, across the ice-choked river.

After Matthew’s death in 1804, the home was passed to his widow Sarah, and then their children upon her death in the 1820s. By the late 1830s, Matthew and Sarah’s daughter Elizabeth Conver Strawn had become the sole owner of the property after buying out her siblings. Upon her death in 1853, she divided the property and the four houses that had been erected upon it by this time among her four daughters, with Eliza Conver receiving the frame house on the current 1026 parcel. Eliza resided in the house at 1026 for brief durations from the 1850s through the 1870s, but usually rented it out to a number of tenants, which including a policeman, a comb maker, a cigar maker, and a poultry seller.

In 1879, Eliza returned to the house with her son John C. Smith, who was employed as a wood turner. John married Theresa Bierker, and together they may have operated a funeral home for a time as a side business. When Eliza died in 1898, John and Theresa bought out the other heirs, moved the frame house to the rear of the property, and constructed a two-story brick home in the front. The Smiths continued to reside at 1026 Shackamaxon with their daughters Bertha and Gertrude into the 1920s, when John and Theresa died.

In 1928, Gertrude sold the house to Francis and Helen Matthews, who in turn rented it to Catherine Mulholland and her son, and then to the family of Helen Matthew’s brother, Martin Watt. Francis Matthews’ mother, Anna Matthews, and nephew, Philip Mallon, resided in the rear dwelling until Anna’s death in 1935. Philip subsequently moved into the main dwelling and was replaced by boarder John Davis.

In 1940, the Matthews sold the house to Bernard and Bessie Betlejewski, who used it as a rental property for nine years before selling it to Edward and Catherine Herlihy, the final owners of the house before it was seized under eminent domain for the construction of I-95.

What Did the Archaeological Excavation Reveal?

Initial machine excavation revealed that approximately 90% of the 19.5-x-154-foot property had been destroyed by the construction of the adjacent concrete highway abutment.  All that remained of the once intact backyard was a narrow strip of ground, about 3–4 feet wide, along the northern property boundary.  Within this undisturbed strip of backyard, archaeologists found a total of 67 historic features associated with the use and development of the Remer property.  They also found an intact historic ground surface that preserved nearly 250 artifacts made and used by Native American peoples between approximately 1200 and 500 B.C.

Of the historic features excavated, 37 were post holes associated with former outbuildings or fences, 20 were trash pits and other types of unknown pits, and 10 were square wood-lined boxes and barrel privies or outhouses.  These barrel and box privies contained large amounts of household trash related to several successive generations of the extended Remer family.

The artifacts from many of the features on the Remer family property date from around the time of the Revolutionary War through the mid-1800s.  Most of the ceramic and glass artifacts consist of vessels used in dining, food preparation, and storage.  The colorful assortment of hand-painted tea saucers made in England in the years after the war highlight the significance of the tea ceremony as part of social custom.  The ribbed pocket flasks and case bottles may have been used on the dining table, although these vessels were designed as a means to transport beverages on sea voyages or on long journeys overland.  A bone domino provides a look at leisure activities and entertainments during this time period.  Thin horn frames from a pair of rivet spectacles make up one of the most unique objects found at the Remer Site.  Experts believe that these may be the oldest pair of eyeglasses ever found in the United States.