Petty's Run Archaeological Site
West State Street, adjacent to New Jersey State House, Trenton, Mercer County
Trenton Historical Society
Helen Shannon, President
Jerry Harcar, Trustee
05/27/2011: the State of NJ has issued an advertising for bids for filling in Petty's Run, which they have termed "Stabilization & Closure of the Petty's Run Excavation." There is a fixed price of $410,434 for the work.
06/2011: Early this month, the State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee passed A3699/S2667, the bill that would prohibit the burial of Petty's Run. The legislation now moves on to a Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee vote.
Meanwhile, the state is plunging ahead with burial plans. Bids have been received, and the low bid amounts to almost $40,000 less than the state's budget. Locals advocates continue to voice their opposition to the plan- the Trenton Historical Society held a protest at the State House on June 21, and will continue to protest weekly into the forseeable future.
09/16/2011: Mercer County and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP) have announced a partnership to preserve much of Petty's Run. Each entity proposes to contribute $800,000 toward stabilization, interpretation and maintenance. While some of the site will be covered, a majority will be stabilized. The entire site will be outfitted with interpretive signage, creating a visitor-ready attraction that respects and celebrates Trenton's New Jersey's history. See the PNJ blog for a full press release from NJ DEP.
09/27/2011: The State Capital Joint Management Commission has voted unanimously in support of the proposed partnership to stabilize Petty's Run, effectively reversing their earlier decision in support of burial.
In the early colonial period, Petty’s Run was a fast-flowing creek between the Old Barracks and the New Jersey State House in the heart of downtown Trenton. Up until the time of the American Revolution, Petty’s Run effectively marked the western edge of town.
Petty’s Run was historically harnessed to power mills. From the 1730s through the 1790s, Petty’s Run powered a plating mill (a forge where plate metal goods were made) and a steel furnace. In the 19th century, first a cotton mill (c. 1812-20) and then a paper mill (c.1827-76) occupied this site.
Near the State House and Old Barracks, Petty’s Run was contained within a stone-lined channel by the early 19th century, but by the 1860s, the stream was very polluted from tanneries, other industrial sites and domestic refuse disposal along its course. In the 1870s, after a growing public outcry, the stone walls alongside the stream were covered over by brick vaulting and Petty’s Run disappeared beneath the surface of the city. Today, the Petty’s Run stream corridor passes underground beneath the city and is part of its storm-water drainage system.
In 1996, during site preparation work for an expansion of Thomas Edison State College, this one-of-a-kind archaeological site was discovered. Excavations since that time have uncovered significantly intact traces of the site’s industrial uses, including the Trenton Steel Works, which is one of only five steel furnaces that existed in the Colonies, and the only one whose archaeological remains have been located and excavated. Other extant remains include building foundations, privies, walkways, steps and property walls of the late 19th-century residential properties that faced West State and West Front Streets. Additionally, a collection of artifacts, ranging from Native American stone tools to 18th- and 19th-century pottery sherds and glassware, has been recovered.
The dig was included as a focal point in the master plan of Capitol State Park, a plan that would celebrate and interpret the site as a heritage tourism attraction and potentially serve as a catalyst for revitalization and economic development in Trenton. The park plan has since been placed on-hold indefinitely, and in November 2010, the State Capitol Joint Management Commission, the entity responsible for overseeing the State capitol complex, unexpectedly announced plans to fill in Petty’s Run, with the intention of uncovering it sometime in the future.
The State Capitol Joint Management Commission has the responsibility under state law “to maintain, monitor and preserve the architectural, historical and artistic integrity of any completed project for the restoration, preservation and improvement of the State capitol complex and to safeguard any related artifacts, documents and objects.” While the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has indicated that burying the dig is a necessary step to preserve the site while limited funds are focused on existing parks, local advocates and the larger preservation community have rallied to express concern about the potential for physical damage to the site as a result of filling it in and later removing the fill. In addition, there is logical concern as to whether the site, once covered, would eventually be re-excavated at all.
In January 2011, bills to prohibit the burial of Petty’s Run were introduced in both the New Jersey Assembly and Senate. On May 9, the Assembly version, A3699, was passed. While this is encouraging progress, the future of the site and burial proposal remain uncertain.
The Petty’s Run Archaeological Site is nationally significant and without equal. The State Historic Preservation Office recognized this in May 2010 by awarding the site with a state Historic Preservation Award. Petty’s Run presents a tremendous opportunity for public outreach and education, as well as professional study of 18th and 19th century New Jersey. The decision to cover the site, apparently made without a thorough alternatives analysis, was a vote not for restoration and preservation, and but for destruction and interment. We urge the state of New Jersey to seriously consider options for stabilization of the excavated site “as is.” Stabilization would invest the limited funds available in maintaining the site’s preparedness for the previously-completed interpretation and preservation plans, while allowing the site to continue to educate and inspire in the interim.
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