History going back nearly 300 years uncovered as they dig up the ground for a new park near the statehouse.
When archaeologist Richard Hunter looks at the big hole he and his colleagues recently dug less than a hundred yards from the Statehouse in Trenton, he sees the red, white and blue of America’s past — and the green future of a brand-new state park.
Hunter is overseeing the Petty’s Run dig, where archaeologists are uncovering layers of New Jersey history going back to the 1730s. It is the largest current archaeological dig in the state, and part of the creation of Capital State Park, a $10 million project that will surround the Statehouse on three sides.
The sloping land was an industrial site for 62 years before the Statehouse was constructed in 1792, and plants continued to make products in the shadow of the building where politicians made laws for another half century. At various times, there was a steel plating mill, a steel mill, a cotton mill and a paper mill. They were all powered by the water of Petty’s Run, which still empties into the Delaware River.
“The key point for this site — if displayed and interpreted appropriately — can be a primary focus of heritage tourism in downtown Trenton supplementing the Old Barracks, the Statehouse and the Battle (of Trenton) Monument,” Hunter said. “It can bring people into Trenton and help revive the city. This site also has national significance.”
On the site since July, the archaeologists have dug as deep as 20 feet below ground level and unearthed sections of the stone and brick foundations and walls of the plating mill, which operated from 1731 to 1790.
The mill made ax heads, shovel heads and frying pans, and steel barrels for muskets used to help gain America’s independence. A few feet away, they have uncovered the foundations and walls — even a patio and rear steps — of tenements built in the 1870s. Nearby is the foundation of a site where a small steel mill and furnace stood during the Revolutionary period. They were replaced by a cotton mill that opened in 1814, and then a paper mill that operated from 1827 to 1876..