Subway excavation hits a Colonial wall

N.Y. dig uncovers part of original battery

December 08, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK --Three weeks after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority started digging a subway tunnel under Battery Park, the project hit a wall. A really old wall.

It is a 45-foot-long section of a stone wall that archaeologists believe is a remnant of the original battery that protected the Colonial settlement at the southern tip of the island. Depending on which archaeologist is asked, it was built in the 1760s or as long ago as the late 1600s.

Either way, it would be the oldest piece of a fortification known to exist in Manhattan and the only one to survive the Revolutionary War period, said Joan H. Geismar, president of the Professional Archaeologists of New York City.

"To my knowledge, it's the only remain of its kind in Manhattan," Geismar said. "It's a surviving Colonial military structure. That makes it unique."

Among the items archaeologists have found around the wall are a well-preserved half-penny coin dated 1744 and shards of smoking pipes and Delft pottery, said Amanda Sutphin, director of archaeology for the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission.

"It's one of the most important archaeological discoveries in several decades in New York City," said Adrian Benepe, commissioner of the city's Department of Parks and Recreation.

Geismar and other archaeologists said that most likely the wall is the base of a barrier at what was then the shoreline, built to protect soldiers as they fired guns and cannons at attacking ships.

What is clear about the battery wall, which sits on bedrock about 9 feet below street level, is that it stands in the way of the MTA's plan to build a section of tunnel that will connect to a new transit station scheduled to be completed in two years at a cost of $400 million.

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