Sparks Shot Tower
Posted by: chstress53
N 39° 56.086 W 075° 08.740
18S E 487554 N 4420527
Quick Description: t looks like a smoke stack with a lid on top, but it's really America's first shot tower built in 1808. Shot towers revolutionized the making of musket balls and other solid projectiles based on the principle that molten lead will form perfect round balls when poured from a high place.
Location: Pennsylvania, United States
Date Posted: 11/26/2005 9:02:25 PM
Waymark Code: WM45W
Until this discovery, gun shot was made by pouring the lead into wooden molds. Plumber Thomas Sparks and a partner created a 142-foot-high brick tower with a 30-foot circumference at its base tapering to 15 feet at the top. It stands along the Delaware River waterfront at Carpenter Street in South Philly and is easily seen from Route I-95.
When Sparks Shot Tower was built between Front Street and Second Street, on Carpenter, the surrounding working class neighborhood was known as Southwark. The people were mostly immigrants. Many of their descendants still live in the area and showed up at this historic marker dedication to tell their many stories. Mayor Rendell, councilman Frank DeCicco and Janet Klein of the state Historic and Museum Commission, among other dignitaries performed the ceremonies.
This tower, with its small umbrella-like cap at the top provided the ammunition shot for two wars, as the molten lead was poured through a screen at the top. The molten lead droplets would cool into round shot before striking the water pool at the bottom. The pool would complete the cooling and cushion the fall so that the shot would remain perfectly round.
During peaceful periods, the tower and its attached building were a center of neighborhood functions. Ten-cent dances, basketball, and movies were shown when you gathered at the “shot.”
Built by Thomas Sparks and John Bishop to make bird shot for hunters, because of embargoes against importation of ammunition during President Thomas Jefferson, it became a necessity when the war of 1812 opened. Bishop, a Quaker holding the peaceful tenets of his faith, sold his share to Sparks for $15,000. It was used again during the Civil War. The Sparks Shot Tower was undoubted one of the first to be built on American soil, though on in Virginia claims to be a year older. [That would be the one near Harpers Ferry, I believe.]
The Shot Tower center hosts Little League games, basketball leagues, a summer day camp and other community activities. It is hoped to make a museum in the base of the tower and to keep the center open more than it is now.
The molten lead was poured through a mesh with different sized holes for different sizes of shot. The balls fell into a large container of water. The tower produced tons of ammunition during the War of 1812 and the Civil War. Four generations of the Sparks family kept the tower in operation until 1903. The tower is now part of a city playground with a recreation center at the base. It's a prime example of Philadelphia's reputation for superb brickwork
Historical Purpose: Hunters (for bird shot)
Open to the public: Yes