Source: Plan Philly
Date: November 10, 2008
Byline: Kellie Patrick Gates
Big discovery at SugarHouse site?
SugarHouse archaeologists, led by an amateur local historian, today unearthed part of a foundation on the proposed casino site.
The historian, preservationist Torben Jenk, says the find is a portion of Batchelor's Hall — a society whose members included many prominent 18th Century Philadelphians, and where the nation's first botanical garden of medicinal plants was established in 1729.
"It's a 279-year-old structure, and we found it using a 204-year old survey," said an excited Jenk on Monday evening. "It's the second oldest building that we can document to date in Fishtown."
But casino spokeswoman Leigh Whitaker said the casino's archaeologists, A.D. Marble, say what was found is much less historically significant, and from a different century, than the place where Pennsylvania Hospital founder and trustee Lloyd Zachary socialized and renowned botanist John Bartram may have tended the plants.
"We did not find Batchelor's Hall," Whitaker said. "We found a foundation of a residence or other building from the 19th Century."
Jenk, who restores old homes and other buildings professionally, said the 22-inch high foundation wall that was found was not the Wissahickon schist — the gray stone with sparkly mica flecks — that he sees in 19th Century buildings.
"It's definitely an 18th Century foundation," he said. "Those tend to have cobbles — stones that looked like big ostrich eggs. And the mortar that joins them is different — it tends to be courser, with lime and crushed oyster shells." Jenk says that's what he saw on the northwest corner of the site, near the northern most of the two large SugarHouse Casino billboards.
It's not just that SugarHouse thinks the foundation found Monday is younger than Batchelor's Hall, Whitaker said. A.D. Marble and SugarHouse believe the social club was not located anywhere on the site.
Jenk takes issue with this, because, he said, the foundation is in the right place, on the right property, according to old maps and surveys. "That northeasterly wall sits exactly where I told them to look," he said.
It is not unusual for Jenk and SugarHouse to disagree.
The archaeology that has been done at the SugarHouse site is part of a historical review mandated by federal law because the casino needs a federal permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to build its Delaware Avenue project as planned.
The Corps has been advised on this portion of its permit process by the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission, the national Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and a group of local archaeologists, historians and community activists called consulting parties. Jenk is one of them, but he is not the only one who has been critical of the process.
He, Philadelphia Archaeological Forum president Douglas Mooney, Northern Liberties Neighbors Association Vice President Debbie King and others have taken issue with the both the archeology done by A.D. Marble and the way the Corps has handled the historical review process.
In what is probably the most publicized example, Marble did not mention that a British Revolutionary War fort once sat on the site. Jenk provided a mountain of historical documents. Marble's position is now that the Fort stood there, but any evidence was destroyed when pilings were drilled to support the former sugar factory that once stood on the site.
Marble also anticipated not finding any Native American artifacts on the site, and it has turned out to be one of the richest troves of such artifacts in the city.
SugarHouse has stood by its archaeologists and said they would do all necessary work in the Army Corps process.
In August, The Corps wrote a letter to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission saying that they were satisfied that SugarHouse and Marble had done all the digging necessary before the permit could be issued.
The consulting parties were frustrated that this step and others had been taken without face-to-face meetings. Aside from their first discussion nearly a year ago, most of the debate has taken place via email.
In late October, the Corp called another face-to-face meeting, and it was at that meeting that Terry McKenna, project executive for SugarHouse's general contractor, volunteered to look for the remains of Batchelors Hall, a tide mill and a shipyard at locations suggested by Jenk, and that Jenk could be present. McKenna also said Marble would do more looking for the British fort, beneath Penn Street, but that work cannot begin until the utilities under the street are capped.
A few days after the meeting, Whitaker said that Marble had looked for these things before, but found no evidence of them. The additional digging — which is not required by the Army Corps — was to be done to assuage Jenk's fears that Marble was digging in the wrong place.
Whitaker said Monday that SugarHouse will keep its promise to look for the shipyard, tide mill and Fort. Tuesday, more work will be done related to the foundation found Monday, she said, and archaeologists will include their findings in a future report.
Jenk said he will wait to see what is within that report, and if it follows Whitaker's description of a 19th Century foundation, the consulting parties will take their case to the contrary to the Army Corps, the Historical and Museum Commission and the Advisory Council.