Jersey’s Industrial, Natural History Being Unearthed

Fri September 11, 2009 - Northeast Edition
Eli Segall




TRENTON, N.J. (AP) Most people know Trenton was where George Washington led his troops after crossing the Delaware River, routing British-led forces and reviving the downtrodden Continental forces.

But many don’t know that in colonial times, in what is now downtown, the city had a steel furnace and a fast-flowing stream. And officials say excavations at a West State Street site — squeezed between Thomas Edison State College and the Statehouse — will help showcase this industrial and natural history.

The dig site has a buried stream that once powered three nearby mills, including a paper mill built in 1827. It eventually will become a state park, which could include viewing platforms, guided tours and “live’’ archaeological work, and project officials hope to start construction next year.

The park would not be alone in trying to lure more visitors to the state capital: It’s part of an estimated $87 million project that would overhaul Trenton’s recreational scene.

Known as Capital City State Park, the full project could take more than 20 years to complete. It would bring open space, pedestrian pathways and, officials hope, a surge of spending to the city. It will be paid for in part by corporate tax collections earmarked for park construction and bond money approved for several open space projects.

“We’re certainly hopeful this plays a part in Trenton’s rebirth, for sure,’’ said project leader John Watson, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The project would bring a host of new leisure opportunities to Trenton. For example, parts of Route 29, which snakes along the Delaware River, would turn into a tree-lined, pedestrian-friendly boulevard.

But the main history-focused area will be on West State Street, next to the Statehouse. Excavations — which started last summer — recently resumed there after a months-long winter break.

The stream that once flowed there, known as Petty’s Run, used to run aboveground to the Delaware. However, it was encased in a stone-lined, brick-roofed culvert by the late 1870s, and the culvert is now a Trenton city storm drain.

Hunter Research, an archaeological firm based across the street from the site, is leading the dig where hundreds of artifacts have been recovered. It has collected about a dozen boxes and several large plastic bags full of items, including some that were recently on display: a bone toothbrush handle, a glass whiskey flask and a white ceramic chunk of a chamber pot.

Still, company president Richard Hunter said the most important part of the dig is learning about the steel furnace that once stood there. The steel was produced by layering charcoal and iron bars, and heating them for 10 days in a furnace stack.

Used for saw blades, clocks and other products, the steel was shipped from the port of Lamberton, roughly a mile away.

Hunter said the furnace was one of five in the colonies in 1750. The others were in Philadelphia, Boston and Connecticut, but none of those locations appear to have any physical remains.