At the start of Data Recovery investigations available historic documentation indicated that comparatively little was known about the history, construction, or eventual abandonment of the former Aramingo Canal. Data-recovery investigations within the Section GR0 project area were designed to provide evidence of both the structural/technological and historical characteristics of the canal.
From a structural perspective, fragmentary historical documentation indicated 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 remained largely undocumented. Historical maps for properties bordering this waterway depicted the canal prism as containing wooden/timber sidewalls, and evidence of those walls were partially exposed during prior archaeological testing. By comparison with other nineteenth-century canals in Pennsylvania, this construction method initially appeared to be comparatively unique, or at least uncommon. Data-recovery excavations within the alternative mitigation location were intended to collect and document more detailed information regarding the means by which the Aramingo Canal was built, and to resolve potentially conflicting historical information about the nature of its construction. Specific research questions formulated for this investigation included:
- 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 was also extremely poorly documented. Phase III investigations were intended 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 did the canal support?
Phase IB/II field testing was limited to those specific locations along the proposed Ramp B Spur alignment that were subject to potential impacts from construction. The alignment of this temporary ramp roughly mirrored the former route of Girard Avenue in this vicinity, and represented a more or less linear transect that cut across the Aramingo Canal prism from south to north. Initial archaeological testing was conducted in three specific locations – the footprints of the western abutment and of Piers 1 and 2. Selection of these locations for subsurface exploration was based in part on available historical documentation, and partly on the results of prior soil borings which suggested that both the abutment and Pier 1 locations might contain intact historical ground surfaces sealed beneath some 7–12 feet of fill material. The testing of Pier 2, located in the area to the east of Spur A, was completed based on historic documents showing that the close proximity of the original western timber sidewall of the canal.
Testing at these three locations was accomplished via targeted backhoe excavations, designated Trenches 1 through 3. At each planned pier location, a standard backhoe was used to remove overlying fill deposits and to facilitate the identification of any undisturbed cultural resources, structural ruins, and/or potentially artifact-bearing soil horizons. Whenever intact resources were identified, remaining fill deposits were removed by hand, and exposed archaeological remains were fully photo-documented and recorded on hand-drawn plan and profile maps. In all instances, test trenches extended to maximum depths of approximately 8–8.5 feet below ground surface, at which point groundwater was encountered and further excavation became impossible.
The URS data-recovery plan to recover and analyze information on the Aramingo Canal involved a two-pronged approach, incorporating controlled, intensive excavation and archaeological documentation, as well as additional archival and historical background research. Controlled excavation of the canal itself focused on providing information related to the manner in which the canal was constructed and also, potentially, the nature of its eventual abandonment. Archival research sought to identify 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.
As agreed to by PADOT archaeologists and the Bureau for Historic Preservation (BHP), proposed data-recovery excavations of the Aramingo Canal were conducted in an alternative location outside of the area of potential effects (APE) for the construction of Ramp B. This area is an open grassy space situated between the Girard Avenue and the southbound I-95 elevated roadways, approximately 100 feet (30 meters) southeast of the previous testing location. More specifically, data-recovery investigations targeted portions of the preserved canal on the eastern side of the prism, directly opposite those sections initially exposed and documented in Phase I/II excavations. Controlled investigations in this location were expected to reveal identical, mirrored portions of the Norris Street bridge abutment, the wooden post structure traversing the prism, and the well-preserved exterior wooden canal walls. Excavations in this alternative area would also permit a 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 involved the excavation of exploratory backhoe trenches. The first of these trenches began near the southern edge of the southbound I-95 overpass and extended to the southwest. The trench was excavated to the water table and along the outside of the brick-and-concrete foundation of the William Cramp and Sons machine shop.
The second trench was excavated along the south wall of the foundation, perpendicular to the initial trench. Evidence of the timber canal wall was identified in the second trench and indicated that the canal wall, in this location, fell within the machine shop foundation. The remaining backhoe work focused on removing fill from within the foundation to the top of the canal wall. The canal wall was then cleared using a combination of hand and mechanical excavation.
During the data-recovery effort, URS archaeological staff guided the excavation of all trenches by construction equipment. At all times, trenches complied with applicable OSHA safety standards, and were sufficiently sloped or stepped back at the top to allow safe entry for members of the archaeological team. A significant amount of water was encountered within the canal prism and was removed by pumps in order for the data-recovery investigations to progress safely.
During the exploration of the Aramingo Canal prism, all findings were carefully and thoroughly documented. Documentation methods included high-resolution digital photography, as well as hand-drawn plan and profile maps. Identified structural elements of the canal and the trench excavations were thoroughly mapped using total station survey equipment and recorded via CADD-based site maps. Additional documentation included the maintenance of detailed daily field notes, photograph logs, and, where appropriate, the use of standardized field forms.
Potential artifact-bearing deposits were sampled to recover any associated artifact deposits. Given the waterlogged and clayey nature of the matrix within the canal wharf structure, those sediments were not screened through standard ¼-inch hardware cloth. Instead, excavated material was examined by hand, and a representative sample of artifacts was collected for further study and documentation. Likewise, fill matrix within the canal prism was not systematically sampled for artifact content. Because the origin of fill used to bury the canal was unknown, and the date of the prism’s in-filling was well documented, the recovery of a substantial artifact assemblage from this context was judged unlikely to generate much in the way of significant canal related archaeological data. All recovered artifacts were retained in plastic bags labeled with appropriate locational information and were transferred to the URS archaeological laboratory in Burlington, New Jersey, for processing, identification, analysis, and cataloging.
Supplemental Historical Research
Given the relative paucity of historical documentation available on the history of the Aramingo Canal, the second component of the data-recovery plan involved supplementary background research into the canal’s history, use, and local impact. URS researchers visited relevant local archival repositories, including the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia City Archives, the Frankford Historical Society, and the Free Library of Philadelphia, 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 and Kensington-Fishtown sections of the city. Researchers also identified and accumulated copies of historical maps that contained useful information about the canal, as well as any surviving photographs that might contain information regarding the nature of its construction, use, and abandonment.
Laboratory Analysis Methods
During the completion of Phase III investigations a small number of historic artifacts were found and retained for further study. All post-fieldwork laboratory studies were conducted in accordance with the Pennsylvania State Museum’s Curation Guidelines (2003). Artifacts were cleaned and labeled. Historic artifacts were analyzed in terms of type of material, form, function, and temporal attributes .
Historic artifacts included ceramics and glass. Historic ceramics were characterized by paste, glaze, and decoration. Major categories include pearlware, whiteware, white granite, and ironstone/stone china. Vessel function was inferred whenever possible, based on vessel shape and size. Makers’ marks were recorded and identified when present. Where the quality of the evidence permitted, date and place of manufacture were specified for each vessel in the assemblage. Glass containers were characterized by type, color, and element (body, rim, base). Whenever the quality and completeness of the vessel were sufficient, the date of manufacture and the function of the bottle were specified. Many of the recovered bottles were embossed, providing information on age, function, and place of manufacture.