Sunday, November 28, 2010

New Jersey Archaeological ALERT! Petty's Run

Lt. Gov. Guadagno wants archaeological dig on [NJ] Statehouse lawn buried

Tom Hester Sr.

Angry preservationists charge she considers New Jersey historic site an ‘eyesore’

Lieut. Gov. Kim Guadagno wants the Petty’s Run archaeological site on the Statehouse grounds in Trenton that features the ruins of sections of colonial and industrial era mills dating back to the 1730s buried, her spokesman confirmed Friday evening.

Asked about the plan, which has angered historic preservationists and archaeology community activists, Sean Crisafulli told, "Yes, the lieutenant governor is working proactively with all parties involved to refill the area next to the Statehouse as soon as possible to improve the grounds."

A string or reliable sources, who asked not to be identified, said they have not learned of the plan from Guadagno nor anyone else in the Christie administration. Guadagno, can see the dig from her office window on the south side of the Statehouse. Crisafulli did not respond to other specific questions.

The dig, which sources say the lieutenant governor considers an eyesore, does have the appearance of a construction site and has been surrounded by piles of weed-covered excavating dirt in a cyclone fence since the ruins were uncovered in 2008. The site is over 30 feet in depth.

Spokespersons for Gov. Chris Christie, or the Department of Environmental Protection or Treasury could not immediately comment or be reached to provide comment on the idea amid the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

It has been learned that Richard Hunter, the archaeologist who directed the dig in 2008 has been asked to discuss a potential burial of the site before the Statehouse Joint Management Commission on Tuesday. The panel is chaired by Richard Bagger, Christie's Chief of Staff and determines moves affecting the Statehouse property.

Hunter declined to comment on the issue.

Archaeological work began on the Petty's Run site to prepare it for its role as a focal point of what was planned by the Corzine administration as Capital State Park. The $87 million four-phase park was designed to include the Statehouse grounds and provide open space as far as the banks of the nearby Delaware River. Presently, access to the river is blocked by the four lanes of heavily-traveled Route 29.

But although Wallace Roberts & Todd, a well-known nationwide architectural firm was retained to design the park, the project has all but been declared dead under the Christie administration. The state has money for the project that under law cannot be used elsewhere.

Historic preservationists are enraged at the idea of burying the site, arguing it could be turned into a historic heritage site for tourists and a learning resource for visiting students as part of an effort to redevelop Trenton. The site sits between the Statehouse and the Old Barracks Museum, New Jersey's most popular heritage tourism site.

Hunter’s archaeologists uncovered the remains of the 1730s Isaac Harrow iron and steel plating mill, which was powered by Petty’s Run, a key water source in Colonial Trenton, that still runs west and downhill across the Statehouse grounds through a 130-year-old brick tunnel and empties into the Delaware River. Remains of the mill’s furnace and the waterwheel that powered the plant and the 1820 cotton and 1876 paper mills that followed, also has been uncovered as well as the remains of a 19th century rowhouse.

The steel mill was still in operation in 1776 when Gen. George Washington and his troops crossed the ice-peppered Delaware on Christmas Day night and won a surprise victory at Trenton, which saved the Revolution. Hessian soldiers were housed in the adjacent Old Barracks at the time.
Hunter's archaeologists would have to pause in their work to explain what they were uncovering and the historic meaning to state officials and workers and passerbys.

The park plan called for the Petty’s Run site to be enclosed in glass and feature a waterwheel that would be powered by the waterway, which, in turn, would provide enough electricity to power the lighting of the site and possibly the entire park.

Critics of the idea to bury the site, including legislators, argue that, like Gov. Chris Christie's decision to halt the Hudson commuter rail tunnel project, it would cost the state a great amount of money to first protect the ruins before burial and then cover them up.

"It would cost money now and add much more money later to take it out (uncover)," Richard Patterson, director of the Old Barracks Museum, said Friday. "To me, this is a wonderful thing to have next door to the New Jersey Statehouse. You can look over from the Statehouse and see the Barracks, the New Jersey's Revolutionary war heritage, and there is New Jersey industrial beginnings right there.

"It is a very compelling location and fascinates the hell out of the public," Patterson said. "There are very few places where people can see and excavation and see a story through time. To cover it seems to me something that doesn't need to be done right now. I look at that and say that's our future. That's a very compelling aspect. If they cleaned it up, removed the spoils piles and sod the lawn up to the ledge (of the dig), it would not look like an eyesore, it would be a tremendous attraction. Put a fence around it and let it be. What's the point? I don't understand it."

In May, the Petty's run archaeological dig was cited by the state DEP [Dept. of Preservation] as one of nine efforts that best represent historic preservation in New Jersey. Now, sources say, the DEP, Hunter Research of Trenton and Wallace Roberts & Todd has been directed to determine the best method to rebury the site. WR&T management was not available to comment on Friday.

One method could be to cover the site with sand, sources say.

Patterson pointed out that the site has been popular with Revolutionary war re-enactors and visitors who come to Trenton during the annual Patriots’ Week, the last week of December.

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