Can a Revolutionary War Fort Stop a Casino?

Page219_1Forget the red-bellied turtles. Could a long-razed Revolutionary War fort stop the SugarHouse casino from rising on the river?

That's a question raised by today's column.

I have no idea, but I'm a sucker for history -- particularly history skipped by the historians working for the casino's contractor.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will meeting Jan. 18 with those who have a formal stake in the matter. The casino will take orders from the Corps and the Pa. Historical and Museum Commission.

Meanwhile, the group I blithely call The History Boys today have been packing a Web site with details about British Redoubt No. 1, which Torben Jenk says was located by the Delaware, about 600 feet from where Laurel and Canal used to meet. That would place it about 480 from Laurel and Frankford, which is an intersection that exists in three dimensions.

What I loved about Jenk, a self-taught historian, is that he kept calling and emailing me as he dug deeper into the accounts from the day, the maps buried in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Our first conversation required more than an hour straight of typing as I raced to take down every word. How do you spell Cheval-de-frise?  (An angled spike buried in the ground or river bottom)

He's British-born, a builder who concentrates on restoring old properties and studying the industrial history of his neighborhood, Kensington. I pulled his wedding announcement from the New York Times -- his father was among the Danes that helped rescue most of that country's 8,000 Jews and secret them to Sweden.

Given the space crunch of the column, I couldn't mention some of the other history hobbyists who helped Jenk and me.

Hat tip to Hal Schirmer, Ken Milano, Rich Remer, John Connor. Also, Kellie Patrick Gates, a former Inky scribe has been covering this for Plan Philly with a fury.

Michael Fitzgerald
Posted 01/10/2008 01:20:09 PM

Its really great that people have the passion and make the effort to investigate, study and save our history. And thanks for a great article! I thank you. Philly thanks you. History thanks you.

Posted 01/10/2008 02:17:19 PM

I hope something can be done to commemorate, restore or even incorporate. We need to know history to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again - from arbitrarily drawing borders to religious zealots and the destruction they incite. Paul Burke Author - Journey Home

Ken Milano
Posted 01/10/2008 03:00:32 PM

Thanks for taking an interest in the British Fort Dan, Kensington has always been shafted by the professional historians...I think it was Nathaniel Burt (Perrenial Philadelphians) that once said, "Proper Philadelphians never go north of Vine Street," and given the anemic history of academic scholarship on Kensington's history, the academics do not appear to have ventured up this way either (except for folks like Philip Scranton) hence the need for your "History Boys," as no one else is watching out!

Torben Jenk
Posted 01/10/2008 03:34:37 PM

The archeologists at SugarHouse "cannot comment" and those with oversight didn't respond. Dan Rubin listened to our concerns, spent days reviewing the evidence and did his job professionally; reporting and sharing this forgotten history of Philadelphia. Thank you.

daniel rubin
Posted 01/10/2008 04:02:44 PM

anything to the rumor they discovered a giant crop circle on the site?

Daniel Hunter
Posted 01/10/2008 07:29:57 PM

Thanks Daniel for tracking this story when nobody else from the Inquirer/Daily News seemed to be tracking this. Right on. That website folks are working on is amazing! Thanks Hal Schirmer, Ken Milano, Rich Remer, John Connor, and Torben Jenk. (Feel free to get in touch, too, with me at Casino-Free Philadelphia:

Posted 01/10/2008 10:41:11 PM

Are you kidding me? People need to get a life. I'm not a fan of gambling at all. In fact when I go to AC the only thing I do is either have a few drinks or eat. People need to realize that this is entertainment and a city that wants tourism needs entertainment. The neighborhoods will be fine. And if you don't like it then sell now...I'll buy and invest and make my money off the riverfront idiots.

Posted 01/10/2008 10:47:43 PM

Also..just want to add the fact that we have industrial building on this location in the past and none of the nature or historical aspects were brought up..interesting that now that we want something that can have a positive effect on the whole city....we're stuck again with a few naysayers who will prevent this city from realizing its potential....again..don't like to gamble...but more entertainment in this city is needed!

Posted 01/11/2008 07:27:34 AM

a bunch of stupid idiotic whiteys trying to stop 5000 jobs in a blighted city, with a diminishing tax base, so that they can selfishly live near to a contaminated river... get a life... move to montgomery county and enjoy the prestine suburbs with your kind.

Michael Fitzgerald
Posted 01/11/2008 11:06:51 AM

In response to It75 and iggy: If you think Philadelphia is a blighted city now just wait. Here in Connecticut we have two casinos, 15 minutes apart, which offer 60 different restaurants and over 12 various "entertainment venues." If you allow SugarHouse and Foxwoods to be built they’ll ultimately destroy the entire restaurant and entertainment culture of Philadelphia because of their "one-stop-shop" convenience. All of that money as well as every other dollar spent within your city will now go to the casinos. As for 5000 jobs? Ever try to support a family on minimum wage? You have tens of thousands of people supported by the shipping industry that are threatened by these monsters. Your city is healthy because it’s a community - a community of families. Take away their livelihood and Philadelphia will be a ghost town. The strength of Philadelphia is its history. Save it and promote it.

Independence Seaport Museum
Posted 01/11/2008 11:33:21 AM

Just an FYI for those interested in learning more about the Revolutionary War underwater defense system called chevaux-de-frise mentioned in Daniel Rubin's article. Independence Seaport Museum recently acquired a cheval-de-frise, pulled from the depths of the Delaware River at Sunoco Logistics’ Fort Mifflin Terminal in November. This rare Revolutionary War artifact is in excellent condition due to being submerged in the anaerobic environment of mud and water at the bottom of the river for more than 200 years. It is currently undergoing conservation and will soon be on display in the Museum on Penn's Landing, 211 S. Columbus Blvd. & Walnut St. You can read more about the cheval-de-frise, designed to skewer the hulls of passing British ships, and see photographs of it at Also, reporter Edward Colimore wrote an informative story about its discovery and recovery in "The Philadelphia Inquirer" that ran on the front page of the newspaper on November 15. You can read it at Enjoy!

Posted 01/12/2008 05:05:05 AM

When Ed (Benedict) gets into it, start the dealing. Pun intended.

Torben Jenk
Posted 01/12/2008 09:44:12 AM

Response to lt75. Yes, I also encourage archeology and interpretation of the 18th, 19th and 20th century industrial history of the SugarHouse site. My concern for finding the British Fort comes from the realization that the first SugarHouse archeology report by A.D. Marble (Oct. 2007) used no information prior to the 1797 map by John Hills—ignoring everything before then, including the Native American settlements and the Revolutionary War. Despite providing evidence of the British Fort to A.D. Marble in mid-December, their Dec. 28 report discounted the possibility or need to look for remains. Isn't that what archeology is for, to reveal long lost artifacts that help to explain our history? That same Dec 28 report found a Native American settlement but not a well-documented fort which survived for almost fifty years (1777 until just before 1830). Did you know that the Point Pleasant Brass & Iron Foundry started on the SugarHouse site in 1809, three decades before the original sugar house in 1838? I set up the website 'Workshop of the World' which shares the histories of over 150 industries in Philadelphia. Hundreds of additional historical industrial surveys are being prepared by volunteer members of the Oliver Evans Chapter - Society for Industrial Archeology. In the early 1700s, a few hundred feet south of the SugarHouse site, near the mouth of the Cohocksink Creek, Thomas Masters built a Tide Mill and Distillery. Thomas Masters was Mayor of Philadelphia in 1708. Farther up the Cohocksink (at the southwest corner of Germantown and Girard Avenues), that same Thomas Masters bought the "Governor's Mill" from William Penn who wrote to James Logan in 1701 "Get my two mills finished and make the most of these for my profit." Thomas Masters wife is equally interesting and inventive. John F. Watson wrote "We have on record some ‘fond dreams of hope’ of good Mrs. Sybilla Masters (wife of Thomas) who went out to England in 1711-12 to make her fortune abroad by the patent and sale of her ‘Tuscarora Rice,’ so called. It was her preparation from our Indian corn, made into something like our hominy, and which she strongly recommended as a food peculiarly adapted for the relief and recovery of consumptive and sickly persons. After she had procured the patent, her husband set up a water mill and suitable works near Philadelphia, to make it in quantities for sale." English patent No 401, the first to any person in the American colonies, was granted November 25th, 1715, "to Thomas Masters, of Pensilvania, Planter, his Exectrs, Admrs, and Assignes, of the sole Use and Benefit of A New Invencon found out by Sybilla, his wife, for Cleaning and Curing the Indian Corn Growing in the severall Colonies in America within England, Wales, and Town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, and the Colonies in America." Long ignored by historians and the public, these rich histories of industry in Philadelphia share the creative struggles and triumphs that earned Philadelphia the title of "Workshop of the World" and provided the resources to build so many of Philadelphia's finest buildings. Why does the preservation community just advocate to save the grand civic structures and the homes of the industrialists, not the industrial buildings where thousands of other Philadelphians spent their working lives? A mile north of SugarHouse stands the one surviving building of Cramp's Shipyard, the Machine & Turret House. That cathedral-like space was just one of countless Cramp buildings which employed as many as 18,000 Philadelphians during WW II. It is now threatened with demolition for new ramps to I-95. Only by revealing the full range of Philadelphia's history—political, social, military and industrial—can we learn to preserve and protect the story of the founding, development and evolution of this incredibly diverse country.

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