Standing in a cleared out square amongst a sea of bookshelves at Port Richmond Books, Kensington native and history buff Kenneth Milano uses his old-school wooden pointer and overhead projector to highlight the route of the Nativists who rampaged the streets of today’s Fishtown in 1844. What originated as an exploration into his family’s past quickly morphed into an extensive compiled history of his native neighborhood.
Born and raised on York Street in Kensington, Milano graduated from Temple University’s history department in 1995 with a concentration in local Philadelphia history. After scratching the surface of Kensington’s past after being assigned to construct a family history for his senior thesis, Milano has now spent over 20 years compiling research and writing books about the history of the Kensington area of Philadelphia.
“It’s a very interesting area—it’s old,” Says Milano about the neighborhood he still calls home, “we go back to the 1730’s and for every period, there’s a story.”
Milano’s books cover every topic of Kensington’s history from the historical burial grounds of the neighborhood to the background of the Kensington Soup Society, whose headquarters now stands as a historic property on the 1000 block of Crease Street. He has also created the “Encyclopedia Kensingtoniana,” an ever growing reference site for his findings about the history of Fishtown and Kensington that can be found at his website www.kennethwmilano.com.
Between the years 2007 to 2011, Milano worked as a columnist for the Fishtown Star, producing an extensive history column for a total of 284 weeks.
“I can do my research and string it along in the column. The column made me work, so I could do six books in six years.” Says Milano.
Unfortunately for Milano, the area he was working in was seemingly unchartered territory, leaving him to research primary sources such as property deeds, ancient maps and administration papers for his writings.
“The difficult thing about doing Kensington history is that no one ever really worked on the area so I don’t have a whole cannon of work I can draw from.” Says Milano.
Milano shares his knowledge to those who are interested in their family’s history and wish to explore history their own way.
“People look forward to Ken’s history of the neighborhood,” says Greg Gillespie, owner of Port Richmond Books and friend of Milano, “it is real and easy and accessible, a great tribute to this neighborhood.”
Blushing from the praise, Milano humbly replies, “it keeps me out of the taproom.”
Milano will be celebrating the release of his newest book “The Philadelphia Nativist Riots” this Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at St. Michael’s church on 1445 N. Second Street.