Dusting Off History

 
On Dec. 16, 1835, a horrific fire destroyed most of Lower Manhattan. Around 700 buildings were gutted. On the basement floor of a building at South and Front Street, these burnt grapes and coffee beans were recovered. In those days a grocer usually kept coffee beans, tea, spices and dried fruits. "Perhaps," Dallal says "he wanted to sell the grapes to a wine maker."

Dr. Hans Kierstede had problems getting drugs for his patients, so he made his own.

"He was also an apothecary," says Diane Dallal, an urban archaeologist at New York Unearthed, the South Street Seaport Museum's offsite urban archaeology museum at 17 State St.

Diane Dallal

The remains of Dr. Kierstede's home and office were found in 1980 beneath the present-day Nasdaq building, when archaeologists were looking for a warehouse of the Dutch West India Company. The hospital remains were dated to the late 1600s. "We also found the remnants of the warehouse floor. It was owned by a gentleman named Augustine Heermans, a tobacco trader and a slave merchant," says Dallal.

Urban archaeology in New York is a recent profession. "Professional archaeology in New York did not begin until 1980-81," says Dallal. "Earlier, avocational archaeologists used to go uptown or Harlem or the Bronx and dig. Lots of the artifacts found were Native American remains and Revolutionary War material," she says. "In 1980, new laws were in place that required certain environmental regulations be followed."

One of the first official excavations in New York was conducted on Pearl Street in downtown Manhattan in 1980. Across Pearl Street from Fraunces Tavern, a building was going up and archaeologists from New York University were called in to investigate.

"They knew that it was the site of the first Dutch city hall," Dallal says. "Though they never found the city hall, they did find the Lovelace Tavern [named after Francis Lovelace (administrator between 1668 and 1673), the second English governor of New York]. But Lovelace was no longer able to use the Dutch city hall-it was dilapidated-so they used the tavern to continue their business, they would eat, smoke … they even had a jail in there," she says.

Along with the discovery of the Lovelace Tavern, thousands of other artifacts were also found. The artifacts shed light on the trade and commerce practiced at that time.
"We found wine bottles, smoking pipes and dishes," Dallal says. "All spoke of the style that was prevalent then. The maker's marks on the pipes were from other countries. So that added a lot to our understanding of the history and economy of that period."

Dallal is now researching pipes. She picked up a remnant of one and pointed to the manufacturer's marks. "R. TIPPET" it reads.

"Most of the smoking pipes date from 1740-1780. On all his pipes he stamps his name. We found that there was a family called Tippets, who used to make pipes in Bristol, England," she says.

The African Burial Ground between Duane and Reed Streets was another fortunate find. A slave cemetery, it was excavated in the early 1990s, says Dallal. While the federal government was constructing a new building, they found human remains. The bodies are still being studied at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

"There was so much construction that they didn't wait," says Dallal. "They dumped 20 feet of landfill when they were building Broadway to even out the streets. As luck or misfortune would have it, they found the remains and halted the construction. They removed 400 bodies, but even now there are thousands more."

Dallal says that the developers did not like the fact that they had to pay for the archaeologists who were brought to work in case of any historical find. In fact, right at the spot where N.Y. Unearthed now stands, Jewish families in the early 18th century were believed to have made their home.

"But we didn't have a chance to excavate. The developer went all the way to the bedrock. To make sure that others don't do it, the city directed him to pay the cost of this building [N.Y. Unearthed]!" Dallal says.

Two million artifacts are now stored at the South Street Seaport Museum and Dallal's job is to preserve them for posterity.

 

 

 



 

Above, FRAUNCES TAVERN: "After the American Revolutionary War, on Dec. 4, 1783, Gen.George Washington bade an emotional farewell to his officers at a banquet held in the Long Room located on the second floor of this tavern. Samuel Fraunces, a West Indian innkeeper was the proprieter; he later became Washington's chief steward. Fraunces, also an American patriot, was host to secret meetings of the Sons of Liberty and gave aid to American prisoners of war. The present building, purchased by the Sons of the Revolution in 1904 was restored by them on this site and has since been maintained by them."

-NewYork City Community Trust, 1976

 

 

A replica of the smoking pipes found during excavation in downtown New York in 1980.

 

 

The African Burial Ground site, a National Historic Landmark between Duane and Reed Street, in preparation for its memorialization .

 

 

"SHALLOW BASEMENTS, 1820s: Beneath a modern parking lot, archaeologists found artifacts mingled with debris from the last building that was torn down on this site. This debris is made up of pieces of the building as well as things that were inside when it was demolished. The artifacts found in the demolition debris of an 1828 building, date from the early 19th century when the building was built to the late 20th century when it was torn down.

--N.Y. Unearthed