The typical American consumes more than 3,000 pounds of sugar in a lifetime. A ton and a half of sugar is difficult to picture, but think of it this way: That's like consuming almost two million Skittles.
Philadelphia has been doing its share to contribute to that consumption since the 1760s, when small refineries in Kensington and the surrounding area began production. By 1860, there were 11 refineries in the city, with the Pennsylvania Sugar Refining Co. standing out as the most successful.
Known in the neighborhood as the Sugar House, this long-standing refinery operated until 1984. It was the city's last independent producer in the early 20th century, but it became the Pennsylvania Division of the National Sugar Refining Co. in 1942.
The company's story began with John Hilgert, a Bavarian immigrant who built a small factory at Fifth and Girard in 1868 to refine molasses. His son Charles moved the refinery to the foot of Shackamaxon Street in 1881, where, despite multiple owners, legal problems, and short periods of disuse, it remained for more than a century before closing.
During the first half of the 20th century, the Sugar House had expanded dramatically, going from employing 40 men in the 1880s to having more than 1,500 men and women working there by the 1950s. During World War II, Sugar House produced 408,000 tons of refined sugar.
Today, as the home of the SugarHouse Casino, the refinery serves as an example of urban reuse: an industrial waterfront structure repurposed for a service-driven economy. But this is not the first time the site has been repurposed.
According to the Kensington History Project, the space "had a spermaceti whale oil works built atop an 18th-century shipyard, built atop a British Revolutionary War fort, built atop Native Indian implements." From 2008 to 2010, an archaeological dig - part of a federally mandated historical review of the site - turned up hundreds of Native American artifacts. Some of the items dated from long before the Lenni Lenape occupied the area, including an arrowhead circa 1,500 BCE.
Though the digs did not verify the remains of sites like British Redoubt No. 1, a loyalist fort during the Revolution, and Bachelor's Hall, an 18th-century gentlemen's club, a large amount of evidence points to their once existing on the site.