Before And After Dyottville

Dyott Glass Works 1831

Dyott Glass Works 1831

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, two dozen curious souls stood along a chain-link fence in a light snowfall, peering down into the dark earth and back into time. They were drawn to this site to catch a glimpse of long-lost textile and glass works whose origins date to colonial times, until recently sealed beneath the macadam and freight tracks of Beach Street on the industrial edge of Kensington.

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s $450 million project to reconstruct Interstate 95 and adjacent roadways includes changes to the layout of Beach Street and nearby Richmond Street. Thanks to Section 106 of the National Preservation Act, which requires that sites disturbed by federally-funded construction be surveyed in order to determine any cultural or archaeological significance, a detailed investigation of existing records and old maps was conducted. The study revealed that a succession of industries have occupied this location, beginning in 1774. Test pits dug through layers of asphalt, Belgian block, railroad track, and soil confirmed the presence of brick floors and stone foundations of early industrial buildings.

URS senior archaeologist Doug Mooney describes work at Dyottville

URS senior archaeologist Doug Mooney describes work at Dyottville

Beginning in November of last year, a quarter acre of the wide intersection of Beach Street and Richmond Street was methodically uncovered and excavated. What was found were foundations built upon foundations, spanning three different periods of time. And, beneath those, remnants of Lenape encampments stretching back perhaps twelve hundred years.

Rather than a permanent Indian settlement, the evidence indicates a series of overlapping campsites. This location along the tidal Delaware River would have provided ample opportunity to hunt various game–turtles, fish, and muskrat among them. Recovered stone points vary in size depending on their depth, ranging from large ones found at deeper strata which would have been used to tip spears, to shallower smaller arrow heads. Fragments of pottery have also been unearthed, as well as stones used for weighing down the corners of fishing nets.

The earliest stone foundations uncovered belong to buildings constructed between 1774 and 1816 for a calico printing works owned by John Hewson, a distant relative by marriage of Martha Washington. Hewson’s son John Jr. began glass-making at this location, an industry for which it would be known for the next hundred years.

Former Dyott glass works as seen from Richmond St bridge over Aramingo Canal, circa 1875

Former Dyott glass works as seen from Richmond St bridge over Aramingo Canal, circa 1875

In the 1830s Englishman Thomas W. Dyott bought what had become the Kensington Glass Works, expanded production and founded a worker’s village based on strict Methodist principles. Three hundred employees were housed in what became known as Dyottville. Gambling and alcohol were forbidden; attendance at the company chapel mandatory. Dyott’s enterprises, including a private bank which circulated its own currency, failed with the financial panic of 1837.

Glass-making at the site did not end there, however. Later owner Lehigh Coal and Navigation built a massive anthracite coal depot nearby, but leased the glass works to various partnerships. Production of glass finally ceased in about 1923.

Evidence of these chapters in the site’s history have been borne out in the unearthing of large-scale masonry ruins, and of a myriad glass fragments. A hundred years of cast-off broken glassware surround the buried floors and walls of the glass works. At the archaeological site, small avalanches of stunning multi-colored glass spill from the vertically cut banks of dark, moist soil. As if the seemingly endless variety of original colored glass weren’t enough, occasional brilliant rainbow-hued pieces that have been colored by the gradual infusion of groundwater-borne minerals have been found here too.

Dyottville site | Photo: Torben Jenk

Dyottville site | Photo: Torben Jenk

The irony is that this place, for all its beauty and historical significance, is not destined to be saved. Section 106 stipulates that a site be excavated and cataloged, its artifacts collected, and then left to the designs of the highway engineers. Consultant to PennDOT, URS senior archaeologist Doug Mooney will remain on site when construction gets under way, watching in the event that anything more of significance is unearthed. Plans call for new utility trenches to traverse the site, some as deep as 14 feet below grade. Finally, as part of the I-95 reconstruction, a stormwater-mitigating rain garden will be built atop the northern portion of the site.

Only that small section of Dyottville closest to what was Gunners Run–that is the section that ended up beneath city streets–has been revealed by this excavation. Much more lies beneath an adjacent brownfield industrial site that’s awaiting redevelopment. Unearthed foundations and tunnels run up to the property line, then apparently continue below ground on the other side of the property fence. After leading the recent tour of the site, URS’s Mooney looked wistfully across the fence and admitted that he and his team of archaeologists would love to see more of Dyottville, a wish that’s outside the scope of his project. Unless the adjacent property owner is willing to foot the bill for archaeological study–an unlikely prospect–the remainder of Dyottville will not see the light of day any time soon.

About the author

Mike Szilagyi was born in the Logan neighborhood of Philadelphia, and raised in both Logan and what was the far edge of suburbia near Valley Forge. He found himself deeply intrigued by both the built landscape and by the natural “lay of the land.” Where things really get interesting is the fluid, intricate, multi-layered interface between the two.

Send a message!



Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

 

Recent Posts
<em>A Million Faces</em> Celebrates The Photography Of John Mosley

A Million Faces Celebrates The Photography Of John Mosley

September 30, 2016  |  Vantage

Philadelphia photojournalist John Mosley captured positive, empowering images of African American culture in the years between segregation and the Civil Rights Movement. A retrospective honoring his work is now on view at the Woodmere Museum in Chestnut Hill. Michael Bixler has the review. > more

Preservation Alliance Calls Out Toll Bros’. Obscurantism; Toll Bros. Call Out Alliance’s Obstructionism

Preservation Alliance Calls Out Toll Bros’. Obscurantism; Toll Bros. Call Out Alliance’s Obstructionism

September 29, 2016  |  Morning Blend

Lawyers spar over Jewelers’ Row case, PMA Asian Collection returning Sunday, and Penn Treaty Park getting some TLC > more

Germantown Neighbors Wary But Hopeful Over Plans For Abandoned St. Francis Of Assisi

Germantown Neighbors Wary But Hopeful Over Plans For Abandoned St. Francis Of Assisi

September 29, 2016  |  News

St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Germantown has suffered theft, fire and blight since it closed in the summer of 2012, transforming a 113-year-old neighborhood anchor into a pressure point of crime and neglect. But redemption may be close at hand. John Henry Scott has the story. > more

PennDOT Announces Plan To Unclog Schuylkill Expressway

PennDOT Announces Plan To Unclog Schuylkill Expressway

September 28, 2016  |  Morning Blend

Alleviating the daily traffic troubles of I-76, an ode to the SEPTA token, Northeast district plans commence, and Five-Below commits to Center City > more

Developers Continue To Distrust Central Delaware Master Plan

Developers Continue To Distrust Central Delaware Master Plan

September 27, 2016  |  Morning Blend

The imperative of collaboration in reaching a critical mass on the Delaware, proposed regional rail power plant draws residents’ ire, L&I releases more data sets, and Walnut Lane Bridge reopens > more

The Crisis On Jewelers Row: Mayor Kenney We Need You

The Crisis On Jewelers Row: Mayor Kenney We Need You

September 27, 2016  |  Soapbox

The tools are in hand to stop Toll Brothers' tower (and get it built somewhere else), architectural historian and preservation professor Aaron Wunsch argues. Can Jim Kenney deliver? > more