Upper Moreland Historical Association Unearths Artifacts Along I-95
Archeologist Doug Mooney speaks at Upper Moreland Historical Association on Feb. 26.
“This is just a teaser,” Douglas B. Mooney, senior architect from the URS Corp. told his audience in the Upper Moreland Township Building on Feb. 26. “We plan to be here a few more years,” he said, speaking of the ambitious archeological digs now in progress along I-95 in Philadelphia.
His talk, “Before and Below I-95: Archeological Discoveries from the Philadelphia Waterfront” was hosted by the Upper Moreland Historical Association, one of eight free programs this year.
Through color slides, an ancient, never-before-seen Philadelphia flashed across the screen, accompanied by Mooney’s lively narration.
Who would ever think that the billion-dollar upgrade of I-95 funded by the Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportion would yield priceless artifacts of the beginning of our nation?
These include centuries-old relics from the Delaware Native Americans, the first inhabitants of North America; the now-buried Aramingo Canal, into which 900 slaughterhouses dumped their detritus; and finds from a stove factory, bottle factories and more, all found in stratified dig sites in Port Richmond, Kensington, and Fishtown, said Mooney.
Thanks to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, any project that uses federal funding must first undergo an architectural assessment to determine what artifacts may lie beneath the ground.
Mooney told an audience of 51 that he was quite sure he would find artifacts from Native villages, even though “experts told us we would never find an intact Native American site.”
“We found bits and pieces of six Native American sites that were astonishingly well-preserved,” he said.
The Lenni-Lenape, the Eastern Seaboard’s branch of the Delaware Natives, dwelt along the Delaware River. Before the arrival of the Europeans, 20,000 Lenape lived in rounded wooden wigwams in the pristine environment: lush green forests ran with deer and turkeys and small game; meandering waterways flowed with shad, turtles and other sea creatures.
Slides of dozens of Native American tools used for killing meat, fowl and fish flashed on the screen, along with a mysterious green amulet with zigzag designs.
“Some sites are so near the surface, all you need to do is sweep them with a broom and there they are, while other times they’re eight feet down,” said Mooney, who lives near Valley Forge.
Mooney, 47, and his younger architects, interns at Temple University, admits it was “just plain luck” that the sites were so well-preserved.
“We plunk a bunch of holes in the ground,” he said. “We dig and we hope.”
Guided by historic maps, these I-95 treasure seekers have been digging on this one site since 2007. Their square grids dot the landscape, where safety is a constant concern. The diggers wear protective gear such as hard hats, reflective vests, and rubber boots, which, upon occasion, get sucked off in the foot-deep mud, said Mooney.
When they lower themselves down the ladder into the dank and muddy holes, they are richly rewarded. Decades before them, looters pilfered what booty they could, under cover of darkness. This is why the sites are not advertised, said Mooney.
Mooney and his team of 10 found bits and pieces of six Native American sites. “All were probably small temporary camps occupied by only a few people, maybe members of a single extended family,” he said. “These were likely created in the course of gathering foods to bring back to a larger settlement and places where new stone tools were being made. They were probably not occupied for more than a few days at a time.”
Their “astonishing findings,” said Mooney, added to the picture of what life was like for the Lenape, who lived here from 2500 B.C. until 1550 A.D., when they were pushed out, often violently, by the European settlers.
“Artifacts,” said Mooney, “were the things they left behind.
“The more items you recover, the fuller a picture you’ll get of the lifestyle, the diet and health issues of the inhabitants,” said Mooney.
A stone’s throw from the former Shackamaxon Lenape village is the popular Penn Treaty Park in Fishtown on the Delaware. It was here, according to legend, that the Native Americans offered their lands to William Penn in return for iron tools and other modern items the Stone-Age tribe did not possess. Their hope was to live in harmony with the new inhabitants on the lands of the Great Spirit.
Though the Quaker William Penn meant well, the gradual influx of Europeans into the promised land of America would mean the end of the 3,000-year-old reign of the Lenape nation in the Philadelphia area.
The Europeans arrived in Philadelphia in the 1630s, said Mooney. The waves of migration included the Dutch, Swedes, Finns, and finally the English, all of whom contributed to the developing city. “The Philadelphia we know today took 300 years to build,” said Mooney.
In the 1730s, the first settlers lived in the Kensington, Port Richmond and Fishtown areas. “There was no trash pick-up, so the best artifacts were found in privies or outhouses, which doubled as garbage dumps.”
Homeowners threw broken items or foodstuffs down the hole. “Items used on a daily basis – like plates and cups – are more likely to break,” he said, and were chucked down the hole to their final resting place.
The audience witnessed slides of gaily-painted cups and plates, most with floral designs, imported from England or the Orient, their broken pieces glued together.
Moisture helped with the preservation, said Mooney, whose team found a 250-year-old newspaper from colonial times.
Alcohol played an enormous role in the lives of the Colonial settlers. Philadelphia was filthy,” said Mooney. “The city stank.” People of means left in the summer due to the odor and germs and disease carried by various bodies of water, which served as dumping grounds.
“People drank watered-down gin or beer instead of water, which was toxic,” he said. Doctors knew that diseases such as typhus and cholera bred in the foul waters.
Women cooled themselves off with fans. One onscreen artifact was a fan made of bone. There were also numerous shapely bottles of cologne and perfume, clever solutions to douse over a woman’s unwashed body.
Large mustaches were in fashion in the 1850s. Graying mustaches were often dyed, so artifacts included both regular drinking cups with mustache guards and those with special mustache guards so the dye wouldn’t drip off while drinking, said Mooney.
Skeletons of pets – dogs, cats and even a pig - were unearthed. Mooney showed a slide of a dog skeleton, buried with a porcelain doll’s head. “A favorite toy, perhaps,” he conjectured.
All the while, the city was growing by leaps and bounds, still with no thought of proper waste disposal, always a boon for the archeologists.
The former Dyottville section of Port Richmond, Kensington and Fishtown yielded a treasure-trove of relics. This industrial area was named for British-born advertising wizard Thomas W. Dyott, who tacked a fake medical degree after his name to promote sales of his patent medicine cure-alls. To contain the potions, which were 80 percent alcohol, he purchased the Kensington Bottle Factory in 1933, said Mooney.
Dyott bottles are now collector’s items.
At auction, one recently sold for $100,000.
Dyott was a do-gooder to his 450 employees: men, women and children as young as 6, who agreed to abide by his rules. An idealist, he insisted his employees live in his utopian community on Second and Race Streets. Fifty different buildings, including his glass works and dormitories, were excavated.
He was a benevolent autocrat, said Mooney, who built schools for the children and ordered everyone to attend church. “He told them when to go to bed, when to bathe, and forbad them to drink alcohol or use profanity.”
Neighbors of the Dyott Glass Works were also admiring customers. Digs revealed pitchers and mugs in surrounding homes, some made of recycled glass, as well as “witch balls,” colorful hollow glass spheres found in all the houses “to keep the demons away.”
“Who gets to keep the artifacts?” asked an audience member.
“By law, whoever owns the land owns the artifacts,” said Mooney. But the Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportation signed a deed to give them to the Pennsylvania State Museum in Harrisburg.
“Local residents are hoping to get them back and I hope they’re successful,” said Mooney.
Audience member Alice Houriet of Willow Grove said that her 92-year-old mother still lives in the 200-year-old family home in Cloverhill, N.J. where she grew up. “I tell her to take care of that house because some day it will be part of history.”
Who knows what things will be left behind in the next century?
For more information, view the Philadelphia Archological Forum website.