By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — Workers rebuilding the World Trade Center have just uncovered a historic wall that once separated the streets of lower Manhattan from the Hudson River.
The dusty granite blocks are part of Manhattan’s first seawall, which was built more than 100 years ago to allow ships to pull up to the edge of Manhattan to do business.
“It’s just really cool to uncover history,” said Clarelle DeGraffe, 48, senior program manager with the Port Authority. “It’s so well-preserved — it’s a beautiful sight.”
The wall is part of a much larger bulkhead that runs from the Battery up to 59th Street, a massive engineering project begun shortly after the Civil War that took more than 60 years to complete.
While sections of the historic wall have always been visible above Chambers Street, this piece along West Street between Liberty and Vesey streets has been hidden for decades by the landfill on which Battery Park City was built. So far, the Port Authority has exposed a section of granite blocks 19 feet long and 8 feet tall.
But the bulkhead won’t be visible for long — the Port Authority plans to demolish an 80-foot-long section of it to make way for an underground passage that will take people from the World Trade Center into Battery Park City as soon as December 2012.
Before the wall can come down, archaeologists and the State Historic Preservation Office have to finish photographing and studying it.
As workers keep digging, they expect the granite to go down another 20 feet or so, and then beneath that they should find wooden piles that go all the way down to bedrock.
“Until we get down there, we’re not going to know for sure,” said Thomas Labanowski, 44, project superintendent with Turner Construction Company, a contractor on the job.
DeGraffe said she is inspired by the strength and craftsmanship of the bulkhead.
“It’s really neat to see the work of all those who have gone before us,” she said. “It still stands, and that’s a challenge to those of us who are here.”