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300-Year-Old Well Discovered Under Fulton Street

By Julie Shapiro | April 18, 2011 6:26pm | Updated on April 19, 2011 6:23am

By Julie Shapiro

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

LOWER MANHATTAN — Workers installing new utilities on Fulton Street last month made a surprising discovery: A 300-year-old well that may have belonged to one of the city's early mayors.

The busy block of Fulton Street between Pearl and Cliff streets was once part of a sprawling farm that belonged to Stephanus van Cortlandt, the city's first native-born mayor. The well was built either before van Cortlandt died in 1700 or shortly afterward, said Alyssa Loorya, the archaeologist working on the site.

"Considering the amount of work that has occurred throughout lower Manhattan, it is remarkable that something from the 18th century, and possibly the 17th century, has survived," Loorya said.

Workers digging up Fulton Street uncovered the well last month about 10 feet beneath the street, under a 3-foot-tall stone wall. Even back in the 18th century, the water drawn from the well would not have been fresh enough to drink, so it was likely used for an industrial purpose, Loorya said.

The discovery of the sandstone well, which is about 5 feet in diameter, was first reported by the New York Times.

While excavating the well, Loorya found many artifacts dating back to the time it was built, including a piece of glazed Rhenish stoneware and a teapot lid. The most unusual object found on the site was a yellow ceramic bird's head, which Loorya believes once belonged to a toy or a whistle.

At the beginning of April, Loorya packed up all the excavated material and brought it back to the Brooklyn headquarters of her company, Chrysalis Archaeological Consultants.

Once the artifacts have been cleaned and restored, they may go on display, a spokesman for the city Department of Design and Construction said.

This isn't the first time archaeological artifacts have emerged from the dirt beneath Fulton Street. In February 2010, workers uncovered a 19th-century foundation wall that was once part of a print shop, Loorya said. She found hundreds of small glass ink bottles there, along with some discarded machinery.

The city has been reconstructing Fulton Street since 2007, to install a new water main and upgrade utilities.