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Decorated Metal Ring

Cypress Street Collection


The Cypress Street Collection features objects from the site of the first Philadelphia Almshouse which was located at 310 Cypress Street, and was in operation from 1732 to 1767. The Almshouse was created to provide a place for the poor and infirm of Philadelphia. In 1767, the Almshouse was moved to a different part of the city and re-named “The Bettering House.”


The artifacts in this collection were excavated in two parts. The first excavation was conducted by archaeologist Dr. John Cotter in the 1970s, focusing on the basement and privy of the Almshouse. The second excavation was conducted by former Temple anthropology graduate student, Mara Katkins, in 2006, which devoted further attention to the Almshouse privy.  

The Almshouse was dedicated to serving the poor and the homeless. Objects found on the site include everyday items like chamber pots, dishes, smoking pipes, and many other miscellaneous items. Many items are evidence of work that was given to the inmates, such as sewing, leatherworking, and even recycling. There are also items associated with an infirmary to care for the sick and elderly, such as Lice combs, a human tooth, glass medicine vials and ointment pots.


An interesting component of the collection is the initialed redware pots that were found. Most things were communal property, owned by the institution, so the personal markings are a surprising find. Did the inmates initial them to try to reserve them for themselves, or vandalize them out of frustration? 


There is also teaware, porcelain and scratch blue stoneware. These are nicer items than many of the almshouse inmates could afford to own, but perhaps they were remnants of their past lives or donated by wealthy patrons. There is evidence also that tea and chocolate were purchased for the inmates, which seems to indicate that the residents took part in the “tea ceremony”, possibly to get them to engage in rituals for “respectable citizens”.


These items, whether common objects or more unusual finds, give us a window into the life of the residents of the Almshouse.



To learn more, explore our exhibits featuring the Cyprus Street collection


Asylum Seekers at the Almshouse on Cypress

Learn more about the purpose and people of the Philadelphia Almshouse

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Penn's Plagues

Learn more about epidemics and disease control throughout Philadelphia's history

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