Digest>Archives> October 1997

The Old Sparks Shot Tower


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Pennsylvania's Shot Tower.
Photo by: Nancy M. Bowman of Millersville, MD

Few who walk or drive by this huge piece of American history miss this striking 142 foot structure in the Queen Village area of Philadelphia, PA. But what they fail to realize is the historic significance of the structure.

That has now changed, thanks to an historical marker installed at the 189 year old tower by the Pennsylvania Historical Commission.

The tower was built by two business partners to produce hunting shot, which up until that time had been primarily manufacturered in Europe. The height of the tower was necessary to produce the shot. Molten lead was poured through different sized sleeves at the top of the tower into vats of cold water placed at the base of the tower. The gravity turned the lead into spheres as it fell down the tower's length, finally landing in vats of cold water, where it would harden.

During the War of 1812, one of the owners of the tower was unhappy with the shot industry's contribution to war and he sold his share of the business to his partner Thomas Sparks.

The Sparks family in turn operated the business for three generations until the decline of the industry at the turn of the century.

In 1913, the tower and other buildings of the company were taken over by the Philadelphia Playgrounds Association, which has operated the area ever since.

Being the oldest surviving shot tower in the United States (with only three others surviving) it also has its folklore. Built on an old burial site, tales have been told about the "Green Lady" of the tower. This mythical green spirit only shows herself from the top of the tower on Halloween night. She supposedly watches the children on that night to make sure they behave themselves.

It is hoped that someday the tower will be open for the public to tour.

This story appeared in the October 1997 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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