Thursday, July 17, 2014

History in the News: Summer 2014

More history making the news in the 21st century.
The local papers rarely print interesting history-oriented stories from out of the local area, and that's where combing the internet can really help.
Unfortunately, much of what is printed can be some not-so-good news such as historical structures either being torn down or destroyed by fire.
The stories I have for this "History in the News" posting, I'm happy to say, is all good preservation-type articles.
I hope you enjoy them:

Origins of Mysterious World Trade Center Ship Revealed

By Megan Gannon, News Editor   |   July 28, 2014 (Live

In July 2010, amid the gargantuan rebuilding effort at the site of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, construction workers halted the backhoes when they uncovered something unexpected just south of where the Twin Towers once stood.
At 22 feet (6.7 meters) below today's street level, in a pit that would become an underground security and parking complex, excavators found the mangled skeleton of a long-forgotten wooden ship.
Now, a new report finds that tree rings in those waterlogged ribs show the vessel was likely built in 1773, or soon after, in a small shipyard near Philadelphia. What's more, the ship was perhaps made from the same kind of white oak trees used to build parts of Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were signed, according to the study published this month in the journal Tree-Ring Research. Archaeologists had been on-site throughout the excavation of the World Trade Center's Vehicular Security Center. They had found animal bones, ceramic dishes, bottles and dozens of shoes, but the excitement really kicked up when the 32-foot-long (9.75 m) partial hull of the ship emerged from the dirt.
The vessel was quickly excavated, to prevent damage from exposure to the air. Piece by piece, the delicate oak fragments were documented and taken out of the rotten-smelling mud. The timbers were sent to the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, where they would be soaked in water to keep the wood from cracking and warping.
A few timbers were sent back to New York, just 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of the World Trade Center, to the Tree Ring Laboratory at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York. Researchers at the lab dried the fragments slowly in a cold room and cut thick slices of the wood to get a clear look at the tree rings.
Rings in the white oak timbers used to build the ship reveal that the vessel was built around 1773 near Philadelphia.
Credit: Courtesy of Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. ONE-TIME USE ONLY

The team established that the trees used to build the ship — some of which had lived to be more than 100 years old — were mostly cut down around 1773. Then, to determine where the wood came from, the researchers had to find a match between the ring pattern in the timbers and a ring pattern in live trees and archaeological samples from a specific region.
"What makes the tree-ring patterns in a certain region look very similar, in general, is climate," said the leader of the new study, Dario Martin-Benito, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich. Regional ring patterns arise from local rain levels and temperatures, with wetter periods producing thicker rings and drier periods producing smaller rings, he said.
Martin-Benito and his colleagues at Columbia's Tree Ring Lab narrowed their search to trees in the eastern United States, thanks to the keel of the ship, which contained hickory, a tree found only in eastern North America and eastern Asia. Otherwise, the researchers would have had much more difficulty in limiting their search, as oak is found all over the world. [Shipwrecks Gallery: Secrets of the Deep]
The ship's signature pattern most closely matched with the rings found in old living trees and historic wood samples from the Philadelphia area, including a sample taken during an earlier study from Independence Hall, which was built between 1732 and 1756.
"We could see that at that time in Philadelphia, there were still a lot of old-growth forests, and [they were] being logged for shipbuilding and building Independence Hall," Martin-Benito told Live Science. "Philadelphia was one of the most — if not the most — important shipbuilding cities in the U.S. at the time. And they had plenty of wood so it made lots of sense that the wood could come from there."
Historians still aren't certain whether the ship sank accidently or if it was purposely submerged to become part of a landfill used to bulk up Lower Manhattan's coastline. Oysters found fixed to the ship's hull suggest it at least languished in the water for some time before being buried by layers of trash and dirt.
Previous investigations found that the vessel's timbers had been damaged by burrowing holes of Lyrodus pedicellatus, a type of "shipworm" typically found in high-salinity, warm waters — a sign that the ship, at some point in its life, made a trip to the Caribbean, perhaps on a trading voyage. Martin-Benito speculated that the infestation might have been one of the reasons the ship met its demise just 20 or 30 years after it was built.
"I don't know much about the life expectancy for boats, but that doesn't seem like too long for something that would take so long to build," Martin-Benito said.

Civil War Trust to buy Gen. Lee's HQ at Gettysburg
Amy Worden Inquirer Staff Writer July 01, 2014 3:01 AM
for the Philadelphia Enquirer
GETTYSBURG - For almost a century, the small, historic stone house on Chambersburg Road has been obscured by the commercial buildings surrounding it.
But in 1863, it occupied a prominent position at the epicenter of fighting on Day One of the nation's best-known Civil War battle. That night, it would be seized and used as the headquarters of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
On Tuesday - exactly 151 years after the start of the Battle of Gettysburg - the Civil War Trust will announce the purchase of the four-acre parcel and the restoration of the site to the way it looked in 1863.
"As far as preserving a historically significant structure and part of the battlefield, this is biggest deal we've ever done," said Jim Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Trust, a Washington-based nonprofit group that has preserved 40,000 acres of land in 20 states. "Lee's headquarters is one of the most important unprotected historic structures in America."
Lighthizer said the trust would purchase the property, which includes a Quality Inn and a brew pub, from Belmar Partnership for $5.5 million and spend an additional $400,000 to $500,000 to demolish the modern structures and restore the historic building.
On July 1, 1863, the property was the scene of violent hand-to-hand combat between advancing Confederate troops and Union troops attempting to protect the western entrance to the town and the railroad line, which still runs behind the parcel.
By day's end, Union troops had retreated to Seminary Ridge, and Lee, the Confederate commander, established his headquarters at the house.
"It was the nerve center," historian and licensed Gettysburg battlefield guide Tim Smith said in a video produced for Tuesday's announcement at the Lee headquarters.
The house, believed to have been built in 1833, was occupied by a widow named Mary Thompson at the time of the war and was co-owned by U.S. Rep. Thaddeus Stevens - a force behind the passage of the 13th Amendment ending slavery.
The headquarters building was opened as a museum in the early 1920s in connection with the motel on the site.
Lighthizer said the artifacts, which were to be donated to the trust by the owners, would be sold and the building restored to the way it looked when Lee and his officers plotted strategy under its roof.
Lee would go on to defeat July 3 and retreat south after losing thousands of men in what is considered the turning point of the war.
"This spot is where some of most important decisions were made by an American general in the Civil War," said Lighthizer. "It had direct impact on the future of the country."
He said that there was no timetable for the restoration project or reopening the house after demolition of the modern buildings, but that the whole parcel would be donated to the National Park Service for inclusion in the Gettysburg National Military Park.
"To the preservation community, this land was long considered lost," Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor said in a statement. "Thus, the journey we embark upon today is especially meaningful: We are not just protecting a piece of American heritage, we are reclaiming it for future generations."

18th-century woodworking shop a rare find
By Robert Knox
 Boston Globe Correspondent   November 23, 2012
 DUXBURY — What experts are calling “the rarest of the rare” and “a once in a lifetime find” — a largely intact woodworking shop dating from the latter half of the 18th century — has been discovered in Duxbury on the site of a private school for children.
“It is an extraordinary find,” said professor J. Ritchie Garrison, a specialist in American material culture who hurried from the University of Delaware to take a look at the shop last month when he heard about the find. “It’s National Historic Landmark status.”
The 16-by-32-foot shed-like building is on the site of the Berrybrook School on Winter Street. With the school’s approval, restoration carpenter Michael Burrey of Plymouth explored the outbuilding, now clad in nondescript vinyl and used by the school for storage, while taking down an old house that once served as the preschool’s main building on the property.
He said he was stunned by what he saw inside the building.
A drill bit bracket inside the 18th century craftsman's shop.
  Preservation specialist Michael Burrey looks around an 18th century craftsman’s shop recently discovered on the grounds of the Berrybrook School in Duxbury.
A drill bit bracket inside the 18th century craftsman's shop.
“All the benches were there. It’s likely to be the earliest known joiner and cabinet maker’s shop on its original site” anywhere in the United States, Burrey said. “The woodwork on the house [being removed] was probably built in the shop.
“The way the benches are in relation to the windows, how the light comes in to light an area, the location of the tool racks on the walls,” all tell of how the craftsmen used the shop, Burrey said.
Gary Naylor of Hanson, a specialist in antique woodwork and tools, said the shop’s interior revealed signs of a Federalist craftsman’s workshop.
“When I saw the [foot-operated] lathe there, I knew it was a highly skilled craftsman,” Naylor said. “A lot of different features in the building are untouched, intact. When I turned around and saw the opening for the fireplace, it was all coming together.”
The president of the school’s board of directors said Berrybrook had no idea of the building’s historical value.
“We really thought nothing of it. We had used it as storage,” Christopher DeOrsay, an architect, said recently. “We gave [Burrey] a tour. His jaw hit the floor.”
Since then the school has had more than a dozen experts come to see it, DeOrsay said.
Burrey showed off the shop’s period-specific features to visitors on a recent afternoon.
Framed in original sills, joists, and pineboard walls, the shop’s interior reveals two original work benches, one pitted with marks from hand tools. The second was a “planing bench,” lacking gouges or other tool scars because skilled millwork with wood planes was performed there. The wall above the bench has shelving to hold the planes.
The planing bench also reveals a groove added later to allow craftsmen to install a treadle lathe for turning wood, powered by a foot pedal.
The shop also has its original tool racks for chisels, awls, and brace (hand drill) bits, and a rack near the ceiling for handsaws. Holes in the wall board above the joinery bench and to the right of the window show where awls were stuck to keep them close at hand.
Sketches and hash marks on another wall preserve the living sense of a place where woodworkers spend long hours. Someone painted a sketch of a man standing with his back against a wall, one knee lifted, a hand extended. Much of the outline remains, the colors dulled but visible.
Sketches in pencil appear on another wall, including the outline of a bird probably sketched for a weather vane. Cross-hatchings over a door show the tallying of some quantity. Supplies? Boards? Wainscoting panels completed?
Cuts in the wall board reveal the location and shape of the shop’s fireplace, probably removed in the 19th century in favor of a woodstove.
Painted in black on a joist in the shop’s small storeroom, large digits spell out a date, “1789.” It may be a construction date, but Burrey says some construction techniques suggest an earlier date.
Burrey also shows visitors a millworked “chimney surround” removed from the old house. He believes the house’s decorative moldings were done in the shop, probably by the house’s owner.
Garrison, who visited the shop with a team of specialists from historical organizations such as Colonial Williamsburg, said the shop’s interior exhibited the pattern of work for woodworkers of the 18th century. Called “joiners” then (carpenters and cabinet-makers today), early American craftsmen worked with wood that came rough from the saw mill. Their first job was to plane it down to a smooth finish.
You can see which bench is the planing bench not only because it’s not scarred but also because it’s built against the wall farthest from the fireplace, Garrison said. Planing produces shavings likely to become tinder for a spark from the fireplace, and would have been a threat to burn the shop down.
Naylor said property records show that the shop belonged to a well-known “housewright and joiner,” Luther Sampson, in the late 18th century. Genealogy research revealed that Sampson was the craftsman who founded Kents Hill School in Readville, Maine.
Born in 1760 in Duxbury, Sampson served in the Revolutionary War and bought the 60-acre Philips farm on the west side of Duxbury, home of the Berrybrook School today. His high-quality handiwork, experts say, adorns the interiors of many fine houses built in Duxbury in the late 18th century, when the town was home to prosperous sea captains and merchants.
The survey team that visited the shop with Garrison last month concluded the building was worthy of National Historic Landmark status “due to its rarity and integrity,” Garrison said in an e-mail after the visit.
He urged preservation of the shop. “We won’t get a do-over with this building,” he said.
Preservation costs money, and supporters have applied for a $35,000 grant from Duxbury’s Community Preservation Act funds to help pay for an archeological survey of the site, some foundation repair, and to “repair deteriorating hand-hewn sills and joists to stabilize [the] structure.”
“While we have lots and lots of historical houses,” Garrison said in a recent interview, “as a woodworker’s shop it’s probably the oldest in New England” and possibly the country.
“It’s the rarest of the rare. And who knew? Found on the grounds of a preschool.”
DeOrsay said the school’s board of directors would be in favor of preserving the shop. “We’ll try to find out what the best option is.”

History of Philly Rests Under I-95
|  Thursday, Jul 17, 2014  |  

Artifacts detailing over 5,000 years of Philadelphia history have been buried beneath Interstate 95 and the Girard Avenue Interchange. Some of these relics are now unearthed and will be on display at a free event this Thursday.
Entitled “Before and Below I-95 in 2014,” the exhibit will show artifacts discovered in the Kensington-Fishtown and Port Richmond neighborhoods during the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) Interstate 95/Girard Avenue Interchange improvement project.
 “The people in these areas [Kensington-Fishtown and Port Richmond] are not often recorded in historic documents,” says Douglas Mooney, Senior Archaeologist with URS Corporation, PennDOT’s archaeological team on this project. “We are learning a lot more about the individuals that once lived here.”
The most surprising discovery Mooney’s team has made is the wide array of artifacts linking back to Native American tribes. Collections of tools, arrowheads, cooking pots and smoking pipes have been linked back to Native Americans living along the Delaware River back to 3,560 B.C.E.
“There was this general sense that Native Americans have been gone for years,” “But we found intact Native American sites…they never left. In a very real sense, they have a presence here in Philadelphia.”
There have also been discoveries from colonial America, including the sites of former houses with plates, dishes and clothing from daily life in the 1700 and 1800s.
“Very few regions have so much preserved in one place,” Mooney says.
Unique to Kensington-Fishtown and Port Richmond are the remnants of the shipbuilding, fishing and glassware industries that once lined the Delaware River. Snapping turtle skulls, glass objects, and fishing supplies give a glimpse of those booming businesses in the 18th through 20th centuries.
“Center City has been the focus of history,” Mooney says. “The peripheral parts [Kensington-Fishtown, Port Richmond, Northern Liberties] have not been given equal treatment until now.”
This archaeological expedition was a required step before construction on I-95 and the Interchange could begin according to PennDOT Assistant Press Secretary Eugene Blaum. Under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, federally-funded construction efforts, like PennDOT’s improvement project, must conduct archaeological excavations of the region before the land is disturbed. This law is designed to help protect historically significant artifacts from construction damage.
“The cost and time for the excavation is a part of the overall plan for the [I-95/Girard Avenue Interchange] project,” Blaum says.
“We work ahead of the construction areas so that we don’t hold up the schedule,” Mooney says.
Excavations have been completed on 2/3 of the 3-mile construction zone spanning between the Vine Street and Allegheny Avenue interchanges according to Blaum. He says that the remaining 1/3 of this $342 million improvement project should be completed in the next two years.
According to Mooney, the new information they learn every single day from this archaeological dig has been well worth the time.
“People will see pieces of local history [at the upcoming free event] they have never seen before,” Mooney says. “This is the shared history of all Philadelphians.”
“Before and Below I-95 in 2014” will be held from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM at the First Presbyterian Church in Kensington on Girard Avenue in Philadelphia.


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