Seeking a place to honor Penn's pact

John Connors is working toward the creation of a Penn Treaty Museum, where artifacts like a lithophane depicting the treaty could be housed.
John Connors is working toward the creation of a Penn Treaty Museum, where artifacts like a lithophane depicting the treaty could be housed.
Posted: June 21, 2013

TRAVEL THE WORLD, and it's hard not to trip over the many monuments and museums commemorating war and strife.

But John Connors wants to know: Where are the tributes to famous friendships?

Connors is leading the charge to create a museum near Penn Treaty Park in Fishtown to honor the peace treaty William Penn made with Native Americans there in 1682.

Although artists, politicians and preservationists have celebrated the historic pact made under a towering elm tree, it remains one of the most pivotal American moments that lacks a dedicated museum, Connors said.

Connors knew nothing about it when he first moved to Fishtown in 1976. But he soon met Etta May Pettyjohn, the former Kensington High School principal, and other community activists who taught Connors and others the area's history as they worked to expand and revitalize Penn Treaty Park.

Intrigued by the history, Connors began collecting items from the era or related to the treaty, including a box carved from the since-toppled tree that marked the treaty spot. He now has about 120 items that he keeps in an old building at Delaware and Columbia avenues, across the street from the park. He also created an online museum, penntreatymuseum.org, to chronicle the history.

But opening a brick-and-mortar museum was always a dream of Pettyjohn's, Connors said.

"It's such a nice story, it should be known by everyone," said Connors, 64, who now lives in Moorestown, N.J.

Enter PennDOT. As part of the Interstate 95 construction, the state hired archaeologists to excavate in and around the construction zone to discover and preserve items before they were lost to bulldozers and backhoes. The site was a jackpot for URS Corp., the archaeological firm that began digging in 2008.

"There have been over 500,000 objects recovered," said Steve Tull, URS Corp.'s vice president of archaeology and architectural history. That includes items as varied as Native American gorgets (necklace pendants) and atlatls (weighted spear-throwers), mid-1800s-era firefighting hoses from the Kensington Hose Co., and old furnaces and whimsical glass figurines from an old glassworks that operated there, Tull said.

Some items have exhibited at the Independence Seaport Museum, but Tull, Connors and others say the collection needs a permanent home. One possible site is the building just outside the park where Connors already stores his collection, Tull added.

They haven't begun raising money - nor even determined how much they might need.

Supporters envision a museum open to students and scholars of all ages. They hope to partner with area universities to offer historic-preservation classes.

"The goal here is to create a place where people can see these all the time, and to make sure the stories that are told and the objects stay in the neighborhood," Tull said.


On Twitter: @DanaDiFilippo

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