Contact the NJ State Archives
NJ State Archives
P.O. Box 307
Trenton, NJ 08625-0307
225 West State Street - 2nd Floor
1796 Archives Rediscovered - Press
of the Secretary of State
125 West State Street
Trenton, NJ 08625
April 4, 2006
WELLS AND CHIEF JUSTICE PORITZ TO ANNOUNCE THE REDISCOVERY OF
THE STATE’S ORIGINAL ARCHIVES BUILDING
Excavation Reveals 1796 Secretary of State Building
on State House Grounds
NJ – Secretary of State Nina Mitchell Wells will join
Chief Justice Deborah Poritz, and Supreme Court Clerk Stephen W. Townsend
for the public unveiling of archaeological remains of a structure
built in 1796 to house New Jersey’s colonial and early state
archives. Excavations in front of the State House have exposed the
ancient stone foundations of a fireproof building designed for the
preservation of the State’s most valuable public records.
of State Nina Mitchell Wells, Supreme Court Chief Justice Deborah
Poritz and Supreme Court Clerk Stephen Townsend to unveil the excavated
site of the State’s 1796 archives building to the public for
the first time. The original foundation will be on view.
April 6, 2006
3:00 – 4:00 p.m.
Jersey State House (front steps and grounds)
125 West State Street
Trenton, NJ 08625
remains of the historic 1796 structure began to emerge inches below
the existing grade, just east of the State House’s front entrance
as workers from Hunter Research Inc. ripped out the sidewalk as
part of the state’s ongoing security enhancement project.
note that the media and all guests are advised to wear flat shoes
or boots on the excavation site.
Dig at Statehouse site finds pieces of history - 7 April 2006
[© The Star Ledger, www.nj.com]
1796 building's foundation unearthed near Statehouse
- 7 April 2006 [© Asbury Park Press, www.app.com]
State House Privy Seal? - 7 April 2006 [© The Trenton Times,
Privy to piece of history - 7 April 2006 [©
The Trentonian, www.trentonian.com]
Historic Outhouse Unearthed - 7 April 2006, [6ABC,
© Associated Press, WPVI, www.abclocal.go.com/wpvi]
Statehouse site finds pieces of history
Friday, April 07, 2006
BY TOM HESTER
workers preparing the Statehouse for the future have uncovered part
of its past.
The stone foundation and a part of the basement
of New Jersey's first archives building -- built in 1796 and buried
when the Statehouse was expanded a half-century later -- were recently
unearthed by workers during a project to en hance security.
Archaeologists also uncovered the foundation of
an adjacent brick privy with a 5-foot-deep well-like pit just to
the left of the Statehouse's main entrance. In 1796, the "tastefully
designed" outhouse would have stood on the front lawn of what
was a much smaller Statehouse.
"This is a once-in-a-200-year opportunity,"
state Archivist Karl J. Niederer said yesterday as state officials
and history enthusiasts gathered outside the Statehouse to view
the finds. "The building held unique and priceless documentary
Constructed just four years after the Statehouse
was built, the building was used to preserve New Jersey's most valuable
Revolutionary- and Colonial-era documents. No artifacts have been
The records kept there included the 1787 copy of
New Jersey's ratification of the U.S. Constitution, the state manuscript
copy of the 1789 U.S. Bill of Rights, the 1776 state constitution
and the original 1776 great seal of the state of New Jersey, according
to Niederer. "It held 112 years of land, military and court
records," he said.
The rear of the building stretched 28 feet along
what is now the front of the east wing of the Statehouse. It was
a 12-foot-high one-story brick and stone structure that included
two offices with fireplaces and separate walk-in vaults, possibly
sealed with iron doors, for both the secretary of state and court
clerk. Each office had separate entrances.
The two people who currently hold those posts --
state Supreme Court Clerk Stephen W. Townsend and Secretary of State
Nina Mitchell Wells -- were at the site yesterday.
"This was the 18th-century equivalent of a
state-of-the-art facility for record keeping," Townsend said.
"Who needs to go around the world when we have
an archaeological dig right here in New Jersey, and right outside
my window," Wells said.
It is believed the building was demolished and the
basement filled in sometime in the 1840s to make way for the expansion
of the Statehouse. Today, the records it protected are held in the
State Archives a block away.
Niederer said he was home on the night of March
24 when he received a call from Richard Hunter, an archaeologist
with Trenton- based Hunter Research Inc., who told him they found
parts of a building both had long suspected was near the Statehouse.
the archaeologist and I had reason to believe the approximate location
of the building would be there," Niederer said.
of the building is known to exist, but archivists found a map of
Trenton, circa 1800, that depicts it as a small square in the northeast
corner of the Statehouse grounds. They also found 1795 legislation
that describes how the building should look.
are mainly out of sight to pedestrians and motorists passing on
congested West State Street. Officials conceded that because the
area is an active construction site, the public will not have the
opportunity to see it.
The site will
be covered by a plaza expected to be constructed by June as part
of the project to improve security at the Statehouse. Niederer said
it is expected the outline of the building will be marked with special
stones placed in the plaza. He said a video record of the site would
beneath the Statehouse grounds are the remains of a Colonial-era
iron forge and steel furnace.
history of Trenton is preserved beneath the ground and not far below
the ground," said Ian Burrow, a Hunter Research archaeologist.
"An astonishing thing is the layers of soil from the past.
If we kept digging, we would find more remains of this building
and artifacts of the Lenni Lenape Indians, who also thought this
was a nice place to be."
of the foundation are available at archives.nj.gov.
The Star Ledger
1796 building's foundation unearthed near Statehouse
Posted by the
Asbury Park Press on 04/7/06
By Gregory J. Volpe
Gannett State Bureau
project redesigning the Statehouse entrance for modern security
concerns has unearthed the remains of New Jersey's original archives
building — the second structure built by the state's government.
Erected in 1796
at a cost of 600 pounds, perhaps about $300,000 to $350,000 in today's
dollars, the stone fireproof structure housed the state's early
and colonial documents. Only the Statehouse — the country's
second-oldest in continuous operation — predates it in New
surprised that its foundation was still buried a few feet from the
it had been here, but that's different than having any remains in
the ground," said Ian C. Burrow, an archaeologist with Hunter
Research, the firm that oversaw the dig.
the construction site for a brief tour of the findings Thursday
afternoon. Pictures of the dig and historical documents pertaining
to the building were posted on the state Division of Archives and
Records Management Web site. The site itself — beneath street
level — will be covered by fill and paved over.
an active construction site," said Karl J. Niederer, director
of the state's archives and record management. "They had to
shut down just for this."
were unearthed outside the office of current Secretary of State
Nina Mitchell Wells.
to go around the world to spot an archaeological dig when we have
one right here in the state of New Jersey — right outside
of my window?" Wells said.
found no artifacts besides the building foundation, Burrow said,
likely because the building was shut down and covered with clean
fill sometime in the 1840s.
structure, 46 feet by 28 feet, had four segments — two vaults
in the middle designed to be fireproof, surrounded by offices on
either side. Portions of the foundation — a white stone mica
schist — and the old doorway were visible. Excavators also
unearthed a portion of the privy, a brick well that in its day was
going really first-class," said Supreme Court Clerk Stephen
W. Townsend, who pictured his predecessor 210 years ago when the
building opened "trying his very best to look solemn and dignified,
but in the presence of his new official home he finds it next to
impossible to keep a grin from creasing his face."
which expands the walkway in front of the capital building, is expected
to be finished this summer.
Gregory J. Volpe:
The Asbury Park Press
A State House privy seal?
Dig unearths old archives base -- and outhouse pit
By Joseph Dee
TRENTON -- Archaeologists
and state officials announced two findings yesterday, one sure to
appeal to history buffs, another that will amuse the political cynics.
On display outside
the West State Street entrance to the State House, where workers
are excavating the sidewalk and street to make security improvements,
is the stone foundation of a 1796 building that served as an archive
for Colonial- and early statehood-era documents.
But for some,
the unearthed treasure lies a few feet away, where archaeologists
have shoveled down to the brick remains of -- an outhouse.
had formed a cylindrical chamber for the outhouse with the top course
sitting all these years within inches of the left edge of the State
House steps. There's got to be a joke there, but archaeologist Ian
Burrow stuck to the facts.
was probably in use for 40 years, well into the 1840s," he
Burrow, of Hunter
Research Inc., pointed to where workers had removed half of the
privy's bricks, leaving perhaps a 6-foot-deep semi-circle. It had
been filled long ago "with clean material," he said.
building, used by the secretary of state and the clerk to the Supreme
Court, was built four years after the original State House on ground
that would have been the State House's back yard, Burrow said.
was demolished during the first expansion of the State House in
1845, he said.
the foundation of the original archives building and the office
of my predecessor, John Beatty," said Secretary of State Nina
that once were housed in the the old building now form the core
collection of the modern state archives, said Karl J. Niederer,
director of the state archives. Long-gone brick vaults served as
"state-of-the-art storage facilities," he said.
Department has been contacted about marking the outlines of the
old building with colored stones or in some other fashion when the
site is covered and landscaped, Niederer said. Treasury is in charge
of the security project.
signs will help visitors recognize the significance of the site,
Part of the
archive building's stone foundation "was literally six inches
under the sidewalk on (West) State Street where we all walk every
day," he said.
Dee at firstname.lastname@example.org or (609) 989-5704.
The Trenton Times
Privy to piece of history
7 April 2006
By JACK KNARR,
TRENTON -- There
were always rumors at the State House that a mysterious building
had once stood out front in the late 1700s.
So when new
construction plans were drawn up recently to rip up the sidewalks
of West State Street and tighten security-- a project costing about
$870,000 -- state historians figured this might be a good time to
dig deeper. And solve the mystery.
looked up old legislative bills and maps of the State House to learn
And they found
that in 1795, five years after Trenton was named state capital,
the Legislature had acted to relocate the state’s vital records
to Trenton, and approved spending 600 pounds to build offices for
the Secretary of State and the Supreme Court clerk, and "for
the preservation of the public records of the state ..."
Using an early
19th century map of Trenton, and the site description in the legislative
bill, archaeologists from Hunter Research, Inc., began digging.
(The Trenton firm was low bidder on the project.) They figured they
might find remnants of the mysterious 1796 archives building.
using the archives in the archives to help us find the physical
archives in the ground that once held the archives that are now
in the archives," said the twisted-tongued Ian C. Burrow, vice
president and principal archaeologist of Hunter.
findings were revealed. The digs outside the State House brought
ancient underground stone walls into sunlight for the first time
in about 160 years.
For a moment,
Secretary of State Nina Mitchell Wells, looked back into history.
the foundation of the original archives building and the office
of my predecessor, John Beatty," said Wells. "How amazing
Her office overlooks
the West State Street site next to the foundation of the current
"As I look
out, I see a very significant place in the history of my office
and of this state," she said. "For 10 years, my distinguished
predecessor preserved and protected New Jersey’s precious
colonial and early state archives right over there."
most rare, most precious documents were housed there in the "secure,
the state’s 1787 Ratification of the U.S. Constitution, the
state’s manuscript copy of the 1789 U.S. Bill of Rights, the
1776 State Constitution, the original state Great Seal, and 112
years of colonial land records, enrolled laws, military and court
But there were
no "treasure" findings -- no coins or silver spoons, for
example. No gold bricks that might have been, uh,accidentally left
behind when the building was abandoned and demolished some 50 years
There was one
significant find, however: Diggers unearthed a giant circular brick
privy that had been used by legislators of the day, aside the front
Ian Burrow called
the dig an "astonishing find."
a real testimony to the importance that New Jersey places on its
history," he said. "... Here, just in front of you, is
an immediate example that you can see and you can touch.
glad to say that although we have actually found a privy, we can’t
actually smell the history as well."
when the building was demolished many years later, workers had apparently
filled in the deep hole with clean ground.
Lance (R-Hunterdon) greeted reporters with high humor.
think perhaps this excavation was done because of the safety concerns
at the State House," he deadpanned.
inaccurate. I was digging for gold -- to balance the state budget.
It was unsuccessful in that regard."
Ian Burrow spoke
of Trenton’s colonial history being preserved underground.
nothing short of astonishing," he said. "Here we have
essentially a 19-century city -- Trenton Makes, The World Takes."
all the industrial development and change, he said, "beneath
the ground, and not very far down, either, in many many places we
have found significant archaeological remains of Colonial times."
No further digging
will be done. The giant hole will be sealed carefully.
And in the later
construction at ground level, the "footprint" of this
old structure will be marked for future generations to see.
|Historic Outhouse Unearthed
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - April 7, 2006 - It's unlikely
George Washington did anything there.
But workers excavating near New Jersey's Statehouse have unearthed
the foundations of an outhouse and the state's first archives building
that were built in 1796.
The outhouse, or privy, has a five-foot-deep well-like
pit and would have stood on the front lawn of what was then the
Statehouse. Today, it's to the left of the current capitol building's
The archives building once housed the 1787 copy
of New Jersey's ratification of the U-S Constitution, a 1789 copy
of the Bill of Rights and the original 1776 state seal.
The archives building and outhouse were buried when
the Statehouse was expanded in the 1800s.
The excavations will be covered by a plaza that's
being constructed to improve security at the capitol. Special stones
will mark the outline of the old building.
© 2006, The Associated Press