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Archeologist to Oversee New Jersey Building Site for Signs of 19th Century Artifacts

Tue November 23, 2021 - Northeast Edition
Paterson Press

This architectural rendering shows how the Argus Mill building will look after its conversion into apartments.
This architectural rendering shows how the Argus Mill building will look after its conversion into apartments.

The construction of a new, $26 million affordable housing complex in Paterson, N.J., will be monitored by an archeologist as part of a tentative agreement to guard against the destruction of artifacts from the 1800s, the Paterson Press reported Nov. 20.

The building site is at the old Argus Mill, near the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park.

At present, most of the location in question is covered by an asphalt parking lot at the corner of Van Houten and Mill streets. But experts believe that beneath the lot's surface loom the remains of mill workers' homes from the start of the city's Dublin neighborhood in the 1830s.

In addition, the foundation of a house where the Colt family lived almost 200 years ago may lay buried beneath the asphalt. Their Paterson gun mill produced the legendary Colt .45 revolvers.

At one point, state historic preservation officials also were concerned about the new development's impact on Native American artifacts and required the builder to seek the blessings of the Delaware and Shawnee tribes before proceeding. The Delaware tribe had no objections, while the Shawnee declined to comment on the issue, according to public documents.

City, Developer Agree to Construction Plan

Municipal and state officials recently signed off on an agreement that details the archeological monitoring that will take place during the construction. The primary builder, WinnDevelopment, from Boston, has said it will provide the archeologist and historic heritage consultants to monitor the site, the Press reported.

"WinnDevelopment has done a great deal of work on historic properties in the Northeast during the past four decades now and respects the need to be sensitive in these situations," said company spokesperson Ed Cafasso. "We have the expertise ready in the unlikely event anything of historical value is encountered during excavation. The work will follow very specific soil monitoring procedures set forth by the state for these kinds of circumstances."

The project is part of Mayor Andre Sayegh's hopes for revitalizing Paterson through development near the Great Falls, a 77-ft.-high waterfall on the Passaic River in the heart of the city. The restoration plan also includes a new visitor center at the national park and the reconstruction of historic Hinchliffe Stadium.

Renovations already have begun on the still-standing Argus Mill building, which will be converted into six apartments, Cafasso said.

Meanwhile, four construction excavators were seen earlier in November in the parking lot next to the Argus Mill site. Following final approval to start that project, the heavy equipment will swing into action on the building of a new six-story structure that will include a two-level parking deck, 68 apartments and space for programs and services run by the Paterson-based Grandparents Resource Center. Some of the units will be set aside for grandparents who are raising their children's children.

Among the various funding sources for the project are tax credits from New Jersey's Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) and the state's Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (NJHMFA).

"Argus Mill's comprehensive redevelopment will preserve and honor the historic and cultural significance of the properties while ensuring the site remains an integral part of the community for years to come," said Melanie Walker, executive director of NJHMFA.

Experts Disagree on Potential Historic Value

The Press noted that, in many ways, the Argus projects illustrate the double-edged nature of Paterson's historic legacy. The mayor and other officials have touted the Argus site's connection to the Great Falls historic district. But at the same time, historic preservation concerns have resulted in behind-the-scenes disagreements over how the project should proceed.

In July, consultants hired by the developers, Public Archeology Laboratory (PAL) of Pawtucket, R.I., issued a 43-page report that said there was "low potential" for "meaningful archeological contexts" at the would-be construction site.

But the following month, New Jersey's deputy state historic preservation officer, Katherine Marcopul, responded to the consultant's findings with a different conclusion, saying the Argus development site had "high potential for the presence of historic-period archeological resources."

Since then, the state, city and developer have been working on a monitoring plan for the tasks to be performed by an archeologist provided by the developers' PAL consultants.

The Paterson news source reported that according to the agreed-upon procedure, the on-site archeologist will scrape shovels, check soil samples by hand, and take high-resolution digital photographs in the search for artifacts. The agreement also outlines what should happen if there are any unanticipated discoveries, like human remains.

The archeologist at the Argus Mill location will be directed to "conduct the monitoring and recordation fieldwork in such a way as to minimize interruptions to the contractor's work."

The arrangement goes on to state, "All recovered cultural materials will be brought to PAL's laboratory facility in Pawtucket, R.I., for processing and analyses. These activities will include cleaning, identification and cataloging of any recovered cultural materials; the analysis of spatial distributions of cultural materials; and artifact photography of diagnostic or representative artifact types."

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