Report 36PH0153 – Appendix B


The following document outlines the URS Phase III data-recovery plan for the archaeological mitigation of construction impacts to an intact portion of the former Aramingo Canal, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Undisturbed components of the canal (circa 1847–1900) were initially identified in September 2007 during archaeological testing of a planned temporary traffic ramp (Ramp B) in the GR0 Section of the I-95 Improvement Corridor Project. The findings of this testing, as well as a synopsis of the canal’s known history and recommendations for alternative mitigation measures, were previously documented in a letter report (Mooney 2007) submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), District 6-0, and the Bureau for Historic Preservation (BHP). Provisional concurrence with those findings and recommendations was received from PennDOT and BHP on October 30, 2007, pending the review and acceptance of this work plan.

Phase III Research Goals and Objectives

As outlined in the previous testing report, very little concrete information is known about the history, the construction, or the eventual abandonment of the former Aramingo Canal. Proposed data-recovery investigations within the Section GR0 project area are intended to provide supplementary data and evidence about the canal, both from structural/technological and historical standpoints.

From a structural perspective, fragmentary historical documentation indicates that the Aramingo Canal was created within the stream channel of Gunner’s Run, a tributary to the Delaware River, although the specific manner of its construction remains largely undocumented. Furthermore, historical survey maps for properties bordering this waterway depict the canal prism as containing wooden/timber sidewalls, and evidence of those walls were partially exposed during prior archaeological testing; however, some notations on several of these maps also suggest that the peripheral walls of the prism were actually a combination of timber and stone. By comparison with other nineteenth-century canals in Pennsylvania, this construction method initially appears to be comparatively unique, or at least uncommon. Data-recovery excavations within the alternative mitigation location are intended to collect and document significantly more detailed information regarding the means in which the Aramingo Canal was built, and to resolve potentially conflicting historical information about the nature of its construction. Specific research questions to be addressed in these investigations include:

  • By what means was the Aramingo Canal created within the meandering Gunner’s Run stream channel?
  • What materials were used to construct the sidewalls of the canal prism, and in what specific manner were these materials fitted together?
  • How deep was the active canal channel in this location?
  • Was the bottom of the canal prism lined or prepared in any specific manner and, if so, what methods or materials were used in this aspect of the canal’s construction?
  • How does the construction of the Aramingo Canal compare/contrast with other well-documented canals in the surrounding region?
  • Some historical evidence seems to suggest that the canal was abandoned and filled in over a period of years. What was the specific means by which the canal was abandoned? Does the wooden structure exposed during prior testing relate to the closing of the canal and, if so, in what capacity?

Likewise, the history of the canal, the nature of its use by adjacent commercial interests and residents, and its impact on the development of the surrounding communities are also extremely poorly documented.  Phase III investigations will also attempt to identify and collect any additional historical documentation that can be of use in developing a more robust historical context for the Aramingo Canal, and to answer the following research questions:

  • In what ways did the use of the canal change over time?
  • In what ways was the canal used by local communities in its later years, when it appears to have been considered a public nuisance? What can artifact deposits within the canal prism tell us about this latter period of its history?
  • What types of commercial ventures were supported by the canal?

Data-Recovery Plan

URS efforts to further understand the Aramingo Canal involve a two-pronged approach to incorporate controlled, intensive excavation and archaeological documentation, as well as additional archival and historical background research. Controlled excavation of the canal itself will focus on providing information related to the manner in which the canal was constructed and also, potentially, the nature of its eventual abandonment. Archival research will seek additional and more detailed information about the operation of the canal and the impact it had on the historical trajectory and development of the surrounding community. More detailed descriptions of both aspects of this investigation are provided below.

Controlled Excavations

As agreed to by representatives of PennDOT and the BHP, proposed data-recovery excavations of the Aramingo Canal will occur in an alternative location outside of the area of potential effects (APE) for the construction of Ramp B in Section GR0 of the I-95 improvement corridor. This area consists of an open grassy space situated between the Girard Avenue and southbound I-95 elevated roadways, approximately 100 feet (30 meters) southeast of the previous testing location (see October 24, 2007 letter report; Figure 1). More specifically, data-recovery investigations will target portions of the preserved canal on the eastern side of the prism, directly opposite those sections initially exposed and documented in earlier Trench 3 excavations. Controlled investigations in this location should expose identical, mirrored portions of the Norris Street bridge abutment, the presumed wooden cofferdam traversing the prism, and the well-preserved exterior wooden canal walls. Excavations in this alternative area will also permit more thorough documentation of the eastern cross section of the canal prism and any possible artifact-bearing deposits that may have accumulated at the bottom of the canal channel.

Canal investigations in this alternative location are proposed to involve the excavation of three separate but interlinked exploratory trenches. The first of these trenches will target the exterior structures of the canal prism (timber walls and Norris Street bridge abutment), as well as the potential cofferdam, and will traverse the interior face of the eastern canal wall. This trench will begin at or near the southern edge of the southbound I-95 overpass and extend an anticipated minimum distance of some 60 feet (18 meters) to the southwest. While it is believed that a trench of this length will be sufficient to expose and document all intended targeted elements of the canal, it may be extended a short distance farther at the supervising archaeologist’s discretion, if necessary. Trench 1 will extend to the full depth of the canal prism and is anticipated to measure approximately 10 feet (3 meters) in width at its bottom, in order to allow safe access for members of the archaeological team and afford sufficient space to expose and document the preserved sidewalls of the canal.

The second trench will be judgmentally placed at the supervising archaeologist’s discretion, and will be oriented perpendicular to and extending northwest from the first trench. This trench will provide a cross-sectional view through the eastern half of the prism, and will extend from the eastern wall of the canal to a point approaching the active Dyott Street sewer at the middle of the canal. The trench will extend to a point slightly below the maximum depth of the canal prism and will be used to create an east-west profile for the interior of the canal. This trench will also allow an examination of any observable construction techniques used in creating the floor of the canal; it will also allow archaeologists to sample any potential artifact-bearing deposits that may have accumulated in the bottom of the prism during the period the canal was in active use. If such deposits are present, a representative sample will be examined onsite and the associated artifacts retained for further study. In addition, a minimum of 10 liters of these deposits will be retained for possible flotation analysis.

The third trench will parallel portions of Trench 1, along the exterior of the eastern canal wall, and will be used to document any relevant construction techniques employed in creating the exterior lining of the canal prism. More specifically, this trench will be used to look for any evidence of how the original Gunner’s Run stream channel may have been modified during the construction of the Aramingo Canal, and/or for indications of how the canal was rendered watertight and structurally sound within this formerly meandering drainage basin. The length and depth of this trench will be determined at the time of the investigations and based on the nature of any associated discoveries.

During this data-recovery effort, URS archaeological staff will guide the excavation of all trenches, to be completed via a mechanized backhoe or similar construction equipment. At all times, trenches will comply with applicable OSHA safety standards, and will be sufficiently sloped or stepped back at the top to allow safe entry for members of the archaeological team into the excavations. At this time, it is anticipated that no intensive shoring measures (soldier piles and wood lagging, etc.) will need to be installed during these investigations. Based on the results of previous testing in Section GR0, it is expected that significant amounts of water are still contained within the canal prism and will require removal in order for the data-recovery investigations to progress safely. Subsurface water will be removed from the excavations by establishing sumps within trench bottoms, where necessary, and employing trash pumps or similar high-volume pumping equipment to discharge water into the adjacent Dyott Street sewer.

During the exploration of the Aramingo Canal prism, all findings will be carefully and thoroughly documented for inclusion in the subsequent technical report. Documentation methods will include high-quality color slide, black-and-white print, and high-resolution digital photography, as well as hand-drawn plan and profile maps. Identified structural elements of the canal and the trench excavations will also be thoroughly mapped using total station survey equipment and recorded via CADD-based site maps. Additional documentation will include the maintenance of detailed daily field notes, photograph logs, and, where appropriate, the use of standardized field forms.

Any potential artifact-bearing deposits contained within the bottom of the canal prism will be sampled to recover any associated artifact deposits. Given the likely waterlogged and clayey nature of any bottom deposits, these sediments will not be screened through standard ¼-inch hardware cloth. Instead, excavated artifact-bearing deposits will be examined by hand, and a representative sample of artifacts will be collected for further study and documentation. In addition, samples of any artifact-bearing sediments will be retained and floated offsite to recover any smaller artifacts that may be included. All recovered artifacts will be retained in plastic bags labeled with appropriate locational information and will be transferred to the URS archaeological laboratory in Burlington, New Jersey, for subsequent processing, identification, analysis, and cataloging. All post-fieldwork laboratory studies will be conducted in accordance with the Pennsylvania State Museum’s Curation Guidelines (2003).

Supplemental Historical Research

Given the paucity of historical documentation currently available on the history of the Aramingo Canal, the second component of the data-recovery plan will involve the conduct of supplementary background research into the canal’s history, use, and local impact. URS researchers will visit relevant local archival repositories, including the Pennsylvania Historical Society and the Philadelphia Public Library, in order to search for any additional published information and/or historical accounts regarding the construction of the canal, the nature of its use history, and the effects it had on the development of neighboring local communities, principally the Richmond, Aramingo, Kensington, and Fishtown sections of the city. Researchers will also identify and accumulate copies of any historical maps that might contain useful information about the canal, as well as any surviving photographs that might contain information regarding the nature of its construction, use, and abandonment. URS staff will also establish contact with members of the Society for Industrial Archaeology (Oliver Evans Chapter) and local historians regarding any information they may possess relative to the canal. Information collected during background research will be incorporated into the final report for the data-recovery effort.

Public Outreach

A significant component of Data Recovery efforts will involve the dissemination of information about the canal and related archaeological discoveries to members of the public. The process of sharing this information is anticipated to involve a number of distinct actions, including public presentations, public and professional publications, and on-site tours.

  • During the active excavation of the canal, URS will coordinate with PennDOT to make the site, and the archaeological exploration, accessible to interested members of the public, local historians, and other visitors. In the event that public accessibility may not be permissible on a daily basis, URS will make necessary arrangements to provide for the establishment of periodic site openings so that visitors can observe the progress of the project, interact with members of the archaeological team, and view the competed excavations. Site openings will be well-advertised in advance to encourage public visitation of the site and to ensure thorough public exposure for the project.
  • Following the completion of these investigations, URS will assemble a Power Point presentation of findings that can be given to any interested school and/or community groups. URS will also develop an internet-based version of this presentation that will be made available for viewing through the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum ( and PennDOT Cultural Resources websites. A version of this presentation will also be developed as a publicly available information bulletin or pamphlet, or possibly released through PennDOT’s “Byways to the Past” publication series.
  • URS will prepare a written synopsis of findings from these investigations that will be made available to members of the archaeological community via professional conferences, such as those held annually by the Society for Historic Archaeology (SHA), Society or Industrial Archaeology (SIA), and/or Council for Northeast Historical Archaeology (CNEHA), and through the various professional journals associated with these organizations.


It is anticipated that data-recovery efforts will be conducted sometime in the spring of 2008, pending final approval of the present budgetary supplement request. URS will coordinate the conduct of the data recovery with representatives from PennDOT, District 6-0, and will notify the BHP and the State Museum in advance as to the scheduling of these investigations. URS archaeologists will additionally coordinate with those organizations to arrange appropriate field view meetings to review the progress and findings of the investigation.