Archaeologist stresses the importance of preserving Petty’s Run dig site

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Richard Hunter, a Trenton-based archaeologist, joined the Trenton Historical Society and Trenton Museum Society at the Ellarslie Mansion in Cadwalader Park yesterday to discuss the importance of preserving the archeological site of Petty’s Run. 

The Petty’s Run archaeological site, located on West State Street adjacent to the State House (in background) in Trenton on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 [Credit: Martin Griff/The Times]

“This is a site of national significance as a colonial, industrial, archaeological property,” Hunter said. “It also has a broader regional significance.” 

In the Colonial era, Petty’s Run, a natural stream, flowed through downtown Trenton between the Statehouse and the Old Barracks to the Delaware River. Over time, the stream was channelized and subsequently covered and buried. Petty’s Run remained out of sight and out of mind until the late 20th century. 

When crews began preparations to expand the Thomas Edison State College campus in 1996, they discovered something monumental. 

First thought to be part of the Harrow/Yard plating mill that dates back to the mid-to-late 1700s, the remains have been reinterpreted as part of Trenton’s first cotton mill. 

In 2008 and 2009, further investigation found traces of an even earlier building which archeologists believe to be a plating mill and Trenton Steel Works. 

Weapons and steel were found to be produced there for the Continental Army during the American Revolution, as well as artifacts of stone tools used by Native Americans. 

The county and the state Department of Environmental Protection will spend an estimated $1.6 million during the next 10 years restoring, running and maintaining the site. Last year, a state committee voted to bury the findings and stop plans for an $87 million state park that would run from the Statehouse to the Delaware River. 

However, through the help of local legislators and preservationists, the site was found to be a valuable historic resource that has the potential to draw tourists to the area. 

“It appears that the site actually has quite the promising future in store as a preserve displayed and interpreted, historic property,” Hunter said. “There are many, many people to thank for this change in direction here.” 

Hunter said the park will allow for a new and unique item to add to the list of historic resources within the Capital Complex, and it will be a supplement to the Old Barracks. 

Hunter further explained that the park will add educational resources to students statewide. 

“You can learn outside in a very tangible way,” he said. 

Capital State Park’s design is set to be complete by the end of this year, Hunter said. The bid will go out in the spring, and construction is expected to begin summer 2012. 

Author: Samantha Costa | Source: The Times [November 14, 2011]

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