Buried Treasures

Ex­cav­a­tions dur­ing I-95 pro­jects have un­earthed start­ling rel­ics of the city’s past. Last week, some were dis­played for the pub­lic.

(left) Jes­sica Ros­ado, 16, Alys­is Santana, 16, De­lio Rondon, 16, and Je­sus Perez, 17, look at a book de­scrib­ing the dif­fer­ent dig sites along I-95 at the PennDOT ar­che­olo­gic­al ex­hib­it in Kens­ing­ton High School, Tues­day, Novem­ber 15, 2011. All four are from Mr. Lodge’s Afric­an Amer­ic­an His­troy class at Kens­ing­ton High School. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

Most folks are aware that Phil­adelphia is a his­tor­ic city.

Tour­ists flock to the City of Broth­erly Love to see In­de­pend­ence Hall, the Betsy Ross House and all the his­tor­ic sites in the Old City neigh­bor­hood, every day.

But a re­cent one-night-only present­a­tion, called Be­fore and Be­low I-95: Ar­chae­olo­gic­al and His­tor­ic­al Dis­cov­er­ies 2011, high­lighted something that a lot of folks prob­ably don’t know. Some of the old­est rem­nants of the area’s past aren’t in Cen­ter City, but ac­tu­ally are hid­den un­der our feet along the shores of the Delaware River.

ldquo;Old City gets the at­ten­tion, but in terms of ar­chae­olo­gic­al pre­ser­va­tion, this is of a mag­nitude lar­ger than any­thing down­town,” said Doug Mooney, re­fer­ring to areas un­der I-95 along the river.

Mooney is seni­or ar­chae­olo­gist for the URS Corp. The com­pany has been con­trac­ted by the Pennsylvania De­part­ment of Trans­port­a­tion to handle the ar­chae­olo­gic­al work be­ing done in the areas where PennDOT will be tack­ling the on­go­ing I-95 Re­vive pro­ject.

Last week, Mooney, along with rep­res­ent­at­ives from URS and the Cent­ral Delaware Ad­vocacy Group, presen­ted a col­lec­tion of ar­ti­facts they have un­earthed in the past year. The ex­hib­it was presen­ted on Nov. 15 at the Kens­ing­ton High School for the Cre­at­ive and Per­form­ing Arts on Front Street in Kens­ing­ton.

It was the second ar­ti­fact present­a­tion or­gan­ized by URS and the ad­vocacy group since the start of the I-95 pro­ject. The ar­ray of items was dis­covered dur­ing ex­cav­a­tions for both I-95 Re­vive and an in­ter­change pro­ject at Gir­ard Av­en­ue.

In the high school gym, the dis­play of things from the past en­com­passed dishes, glass bottles, del­ic­ate por­cel­ain dolls, even tooth­brushes — to note just a few.

“What we have here is less than one-tenth of one per­cent of what we’ve found,” said Mooney. “And we still have sev­er­al years of ex­cav­at­ing to go.”

For the present­a­tion, Mooney se­lec­ted items that Phil­adelphi­ans would have used when the city was still known as the “Work­shop of the World,” as well as items that Nat­ive Amer­ic­an tribes may have left be­hind when they moved on from their set­tle­ments.

Mooney gave cred­it to PennDOT for al­low­ing URS to find and study ar­ti­facts dur­ing ex­cav­a­tion for the high­way work.

Too of­ten, es­pe­cially in urb­an areas with a rich his­tory like Phil­adelphia’s, de­vel­op­ment can des­troy ar­ti­facts if pre­cau­tions aren’t taken, he ex­plained.

“They start and stop and nobody ever learns what was found or what happened there,” he said, re­fer­ring to con­struc­tion pro­jects. “But in this com­munity, this is the loc­al his­tory … their loc­al his­tory.”

Dur­ing the ex­hib­i­tion at the school, Mooney chat­ted with res­id­ents about the his­tory of the area, in­clud­ing the Ara­mingo canal — a 160-year-old man­made canal that once flowed un­der Ara­mingo Av­en­ue — and some ex­amples of early glass­mak­ing from the Dyot­teville plant, loc­ated near the former site of the Cramp Shipyard. The find in­cluded a pair of eye­glasses, per­haps rank­ing up there among the old­est spec­tacles ever found in Amer­ica, Mooney said.

ldquo;The people who lived here, throughout all these time peri­ods, have left their mark on the land­scape,” he said.

The spec­tacles in ques­tion were found near the in­ter­sec­tion of Shack­amax­on and Wildey streets and are known as “riv­et” spec­tacles — two lenses con­nec­ted in the middle by a steel riv­et, the ar­chae­olo­gist ex­plained.

As a res­ult of some in­vest­ig­a­tion, Mooney said, the spec­tacles likely date to a peri­od from about 1650 to 1700.

“I about fell out of my chair when I heard that the first time,” Mooney said with a laugh. “And we are find­ing boxes of this stuff every day. Our lab is over­whelmed with this kind of stuff.”

Last year, a sim­il­ar present­a­tion of ar­ti­facts at­trac­ted more than 300 people. Mooney thought last week’s ses­sion had a strong turnout as well.

A good deal of the people who stopped by for an up-close look at rel­ics of the city’s past seemed rather im­pressed.

“I’m go­ing to go dig in my base­ment when I get home,” said Lynn Shain, who lives on the 2300 block of Susque­hanna St. “With new people mov­ing in­to the neigh­bor­hood every day, I’m get­ting more and more in­ter­ested in the his­tory of my neigh­bor­hood.”

Donna Di­Fiore Stich­er, of the 1700 block of Mascher St., said she learned a lot from the present­a­tion. In fact, it gave her a deep­er ap­pre­ci­ation of her house and her fam­ily ties there, go­ing back to 1808.

ldquo;We’ve lived here all our lives and it’s really in­ter­est­ing to see this area’s his­tory,” she said. ••

Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­man@bsmphilly.com 

You can reach at hmitman@bsmphilly.com.

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