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Excavating Beekman January 18, 2008
by Courtney Scott

Area 3. Wharf (Beekman Street North between Front Street and Water Street)

This section of Beekman Street did not exist in the early eighteenth century. The original shoreline of New York City was situated at present-day Pearl Street. Before the area was created by landfill, beginning in the eighteenth century, it was the location of Daly's shipyard, owned and operated by John Daly a ship's carpenter. Daly's had closed by the time the area was subdivided into water lots and deeded to encourage development along the shoreline in 1750.

The area of present-day Beekman Street, between Fulton Street and Peck Slip became known as Crane Wharf. Newspaper advertisements for wharf-side businesses began to appear around 1790, and they included merchants and a blacksmith. The area continued as a wharf until the 1820s when the city began development of the Fulton Market, which opened in 1822. This required opening and paving Beekman Street from South Street to Pearl Street (formerly Queene Street).


Kiln furniture: these wedges kept pottery separated during firing (Chrysalis Archaeological Consultants)

Replacement of utilities lines required excavating the length of Beekman Street to a depth of 5.5 feet or more. Finding a clear stratigraphic profile was difficult because decades of disturbance from the installation and repair of utilities. Despite this, small pockets of undisturbed soil were encountered, one with 564 artifacts, 90 percent of which were food-related ceramic wares. Many of these "pockets" had pottery fragments, stoneware kiln furniture (in the form of spools and wedges), and fossilized coral.


Coral (Chrysalis Archaeological Consultants)

The coral was identified as staghorn, a species common to the Caribbean. The closest it is found to New York is off the coast of Florida. Its presence in a nineteenth-century deposit is indicative of both trade dealings of local businesses with the Caribbean and the common practice of dumping trash into the river. Fossilized coral was often used as ballast on ships. It could easily have been dumped when it was no longer of use or during one of several landfill episodes.

During the eighteenth and nineteenth century, Manhattan had no municipal waste-disposal program. Instead, residents deposited their trash in no longer used wells and privies or the East River. It is believed that the remains from this area are likely from dumping garbage in the East River rather than being directly associated with the occupants of Crane Wharf.