23 ~ NW Corner Dock & Pear Streets 39 ~ NW Corner Spruce & Dock Streets

 

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#39 ~ NW Corner Spruce & Dock Streets | Social Context

Comprised of two properties, the former Naylor's Hotel (Taylor Sketch Plate #39) has a long running history of use, adaptation and preservation; providing us with a veritable timeline of Philadelphian history enclosed in brick and stone. Miraculously the site is preserved today and can be found at 127-129 Spruce Street. The name given to it today is the "A man full of Troubles Tavern." Isolated from its former surroundings that were demolished in the early 1960s, it stands defiantly in the face of wholesale urban modernization, such as the Society Hill Towers looming in the background.

Architecturally, the structure is an example of vernacular colonial/pre-revolutionary construction. Built in 1760, the structure has a typical mid 18th century brick façade, a stone foundation and wooden shingle roof. You can notice a slight break between the two properties, the building on the right being the tavern while the one on the left being Paschal House. Michael Sisk, the owner of the Paschal House bought the adjacent east-facing property in 1760, demolished it and built the present day structure. Upon purchase by the Knauer Foundation for Historic Preservation in 1962, several restorative attempts were made to the tavern: refurbishment of the windows specified to their original 1760 design, brickwork treatment, trim renovation and the installation of a reconstructed period balcony in 1994.

The history of the building’s setting is as long as the history of the city’s development. The area around the site has been chronicled since the inception of William Penn’s Philadelphia. The site sat near the tidal basin of the Dock Creek which existed before being filled with earth and garbage in the years between 1757 and 1784. It is even recorded that pre-Philadelphia native peoples used the area around the site as a place to gather whortleberries, an industry that was drowned out by the expanding development of the dock. In the 17th century, the area was a place of vice where clandestine operations were conducted in caves dug in the ground. Evidence of an earlier structure near the creek can be seen in the presence of a drainage ditch in its basement which was used for disposing waste into the creek. Even though the earlier site was demolished in 1760 and replaced with the current set of houses, the remains of the ditch and refuse left behind survived.

As a tavern, the site became one of the many places where the common people of Philadelphia would gather to discuss life, business, gossip and politics. It could even be said this tiny edifice had some small contribution to what would become the sentiment for the American Revolution. How the site endured through the changing city cannot be explained. Like most Philadelphia properties, it was not owned by the elite who could clamber for preservation and have the financial stability to perhaps ward off the developers; the site’s survival was just by pure chance. The site changed hands many times in the 19th century and for the most part remained as a tavern. In 1796, the tavern joined the other 20% of the city’s taverns run by widows. the former wife of Thomas Wilkins, Ms Martha Smallwood, ran the property until 1826. Due to harsh economic times around the Civil War, the property was subjected to sheriff sales and debt reconsolidation. There were only a few changes that came upon the property, two most visible being the installation of a small lean-to structure on its eastward flank, this curious structure is seen in most 19th century depictions, including the Taylor sketches; and the erection of wooden lattice work on the top of the Paschal House which were used for drying laundry- a common addition on to houses given the high density and thus lack of open drying lines.

As the site entered the modern age, its use as a tavern gave way to a multitude of other uses. In the first half of the twentieth century, it was used as a provisions store, confectionary, hairdresser and at its most decrepit state, a chicken market. By 1962 with site was in shambles and iron canopies weighing down its structural integrity, the city was about to move in and declare it condemned; that is when the Knauer Foundation stepped in and saved the site from the similar fate the surrounding buildings faced as the Society Hill Towers were constructed.