7.16.2010

18th century ship excavated at world trade center site

An amazing find in my hometown.
In the middle of tomorrow, a great ribbed ghost has emerged from a distant yesterday.

On Tuesday morning, workers excavating the site of the underground vehicle security center for the future World Trade Center hit a row of sturdy, upright wood timbers, regularly spaced, sticking out of a briny gray muck flecked with oyster shells.

Obviously, these were more than just remnants of the wooden cribbing used in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to extend the shoreline of Manhattan Island ever farther into the Hudson River. (Lower Manhattan real estate was a precious commodity even then.)

“They were so perfectly contoured that they were clearly part of a ship,” said A. Michael Pappalardo, an archaeologist with the firm AKRF, which is working for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to document historical material uncovered during construction.

By Wednesday, the outlines made it plain: a 30-foot length of a wood-hulled vessel had been discovered about 20 to 30 feet below street level on the World Trade Center site, the first such large-scale archaeological find along the Manhattan waterfront since 1982, when an 18th-century cargo ship came to light at 175 Water Street.

The area under excavation, between Liberty and Cedar Streets, had not been dug out for the original trade center. The vessel, presumably dating from the mid- to late 1700s, was evidently undisturbed more than 200 years.

News of the find spread quickly. Archaeologists and officials hurried to the site, not only because of the magnitude of the discovery but because construction work could not be interrupted and because the timber, no longer safe in its cocoon of ooze, began deteriorating as soon as it was exposed to air.

For that reason, Doug Mackey, the chief regional archaeologist for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, was grateful for the rainfall. “If the sun had been out,” he said, “the wood would already have started to fall apart.”

Story and slide show here.

5 comments:

Amy said...

It's amazing to imagine how this ended up under the city. The story also made me think of the book you recommended, Banished Children of Eve. Not the same time period, but it also evoked that sense of early NYC when lower Manhattan was the heart of the city.

A few years back, the tides on the National Seashore in Wellfleet uncovered a wooden hull that had been buried in the sand for at least a century. It became a real point of interest for those walking along the beach. Over the winter, the tides reburied it, and it can no longer be seen.

L-girl said...

IIRC, the WTC was built entirely on landfill, so the ship wasn't under the city then.

I just recently recommended Banished Children of Eve to someone else. She posted about the 1863 draft riots... so of course I had to mention it!

That's very cool that a boat was revealed - and then re-covered - on the beach. Pretty amazing.

Amy said...

Yes, that makes sense (about the landfill).

I wonder whether they will be able to preserve this ship in any way.

redsock said...

More stuff under the ground:

"[A]mateur urban archaeologists might want to hasten to the observation gallery in the Winter Garden overlooking the World Trade Center site. For the next few days — but not much longer — a 40-foot-long section will be visible of the massive bulkhead that marked Lower Manhattan’s edge until the creation of Battery Park City. What can be seen are several courses of granite blocks, each about two feet high, two feet deep and four feet long. They are arranged in a kind of monumental Flemish bond, with the blocks’ long and short sides laid in an alternating pattern. ...

Zachary J. Davis, a principal archaeologist with the Louis Berger Group, which is working for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to study and document the river wall, said this portion of the bulkhead was finished in 1899."

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L-girl said...

For the next few days — but not much longer — a 40-foot-long section will be visible of the massive bulkhead that marked Lower Manhattan’s edge until the creation of Battery Park City.

I wish I could rush right down there and see it!! Argh this is making me miss NYC.