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18th-Century Wall Discovered Under Fulton Street

By Julie Shapiro | March 14, 2012 11:43am
Workers excavate an 18th-century wall found under Fulton Street March 12, 2012.
Workers excavate an 18th-century wall found under Fulton Street March 12, 2012.
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Chrysalis Archaeology

LOWER MANHATTAN — Workers digging beneath Fulton Street have unearthed another historic treasure this week — a stone wall that dates back to the Revolutionary War.

The 6-foot-long wall, found seven feet under the ground in front of 40 Fulton St., was likely part of an 18th-century building that may have belonged to the Van Cortlandts or the Van Tienhovens, two influential early New York families who both owned property in the area, according to Alyssa Loorya, the archaeologist who is documenting the find.

The wall was later buried in landfill when Fulton Street was extended toward the East River.

The discovery of the wall follows several major finds last year in front of 40 Fulton St., near the corner of Pearl Street, including two wells and more than 5,000 artifacts from the turn of the 19th century, from a bone toothbrush to a copper half-penny.

"It's rare to see so many [preserved] structures in one area of Lower Manhattan," Loorya said Tuesday. "Despite all the utility interference, there are these remnants that are coming together. It gives us a snapshot of what the area looked like."

Loorya first spotted a piece of the fieldstone and sandstone wall on Monday, as she monitored the Department of Design and Construction's excavation of the area to install new water mains.

The 18th-century stones had a different texture and shape from the surrounding rubble, and after some careful digging, the entire 6-foot-long section was exposed. The wall is nearly 3 feet thick and 3 feet tall, though it was likely much taller originally, Loorya said.

Loorya's firm, Chrysalis Archaeology, has documented and mapped the wall and is now waiting to hear from city and state preservation officials, along with the construction team, to find out whether the wall must be removed for the utility work or whether it can remain in place.

Loorya is also continuing to find artifacts on another nearby Department of Design and Construction water main project, on Peck Slip.

About two weeks ago, workers excavating a muddy area on the south side of Peck Slip between South and Front streets hit an enormous deposit of mid-19th-century pottery, less than five feet under the ground.

Loorya filled more than 40 gallon-size bags with the pottery shards, which included an elegant painted teapot spout.

"We didn't realize how great they were until we were able to clean them and get the mud off," Loorya said. "It looks like a lot [of the pieces] will be able to be reassembled."

The sheer quantity of pottery — and the fact that Loorya discovered the same patterns in multiple colors — suggests that the many plates and cups came from a merchant, rather than a private home.

The merchant may have thrown the items away because they weren't selling, back when this part of Peck Slip was still underwater, Loorya said.

"A garbage dump is a modern concept," Loorya said. "People dumped their trash in the East River."