Care, accountability when turning hallowed ground

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Posted: Friday, March 4, 2011 10:24 pm | Updated: 11:42 pm, Fri Mar 4, 2011.

Contractors are taking extra precaution when they dig up streets in Gettysburg this summer, as part of several multi-million dollar roadway upgrades.

After all, this is historic Gettysburg, and you never know what crews may unearth.

“Everybody is just a little bit more careful when they do road work or projects around here, because it’s Gettysburg,” says Borough Manager Florence Ford, previously of nearby Cumberland Township.

“Any time we put shovel to the dirt, we take our time,” says Ford.

Procedures are in place so that when contractors excavate an unexpected Civil War relic — or even bones — work stops immediately, pending further inspection.

In fact, the state’s Department of Transportation has conducted archaeology studies the last few years in Gettysburg, associated with its various bridge replacements, as well as the US 30 and Route 15 interchange.

 “We are aware of the high potential to find artifacts in the Gettysburg area and keep the footprint of our projects as small as possible,” says PennDOT spokesman Michael Crochunis, noting that crews follow standard protocol.

“We have found artifacts at different locations, but none of the archaeology sites were determined to be significant,” says Crochunis, adding that those excavation records are stored with the Pa. Historical & Museum Commission.

PennDOT has contracted out the work on its state-owned roads in Gettysburg: the streetscape improvements on the first block of Steinwehr Avenue and the West Middle Street project. The Steinwehr bid was awarded to Clearwater Construction of Mercer, for $2.046 million, and Valley Quarries for the $1.8 million West Middle Street reconstruction. Currently, Pioneer Construction, of Honesdale, is replacing six blocks worth of outdated pipeline along West Middle Street as part of a $1.056 million Gettysburg Municipal Authority project, before PennDOT moves in and shuts down the entire street for its 56-day project.

According to Ford, an “on-site” inspector is in place for each project, in case relics or artifacts are excavated. The most common-type of 1863 memorabilia uncovered during road work or property renovations include plates, pottery and jewelry, although on rare occasions, human bones have been found. Police are called to the scene, work is put on hold, and crews wait, until a final determination is rendered.

Nothing has been found with the local projects, which are just under way, but Ford points out, “you never know.”

State law prevents contractors from continuing projects, once artifacts are excavated. There are also penalties in place if those relics are not reported, or even taken home.

The same rules apply to work out at Gettysburg National Military Park, for any of its road work or historic house renovations.

“We stop the work, we leave the artifact where it is, we call in the park archaeologist, and evaluate it,” explains park spokeswoman Katie Lawhon.

“Depending what it is, it may or may not be added to the park’s archaeology collection,” says Lawhon, noting that the archaeology collection contains “artifacts that came from the ground”  throughout the 6,000-acre park.

Lawhon cites buttons, pieces of glass jars, pottery and ceramics as “common things we might find as a result of a contractor” performing ground work at the park. Over the last year, contractors repaved park roads, in preparation of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 2013.

But the household renovations often produce relics. For example, over the last two weeks, park contractors discovered a button. “When it comes to things like broken pieces of ceramic and glass, it’s not that rare,” says Lawhon. “These were homes during the Civil War,” she adds.

Arguably, the most famous discoveries that have occurred during construction or road work in the Gettysburg area were a set of human remains along the railroad track in the 1990s; and the original tracks of the Gettysburg Railroad Station during renovations in 2005.

There have also been close calls, remembers Ford, when a large set of bones was excavated during construction of the new $103 million Visitor Center in Cumberland Township, south of Gettysburg. Work was immediately halted, police were notified, and an investigation commenced.

The bone was a deer femur. “You have to take everything seriously,” says Ford.

Still, the roadway and renovation work is taken very seriously, with penalties for not following the rules. According to officials, contractors face suspension or termination for not reporting a discovery, no matter its significance.

  • Discuss

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  • ROCK 32 posted at 10:44 pm on Sat, Mar 19, 2011.

    ROCK 32 Posts: 173

    O no I am not exaggerating "heritage tourist" are the worst and when they come here this summer for that one or two weekends they are going to have a cow because they will have to go around the main streets to get to their precious battlefield. I know of some people in this town that have had work done on their property and found things and just placed it back and didn't say anything about it because they knew what HARB and the rest of the civil war folks would make out of it.

  • Chris in Indy posted at 1:06 pm on Mon, Mar 14, 2011.

    Chris in Indy Posts: 68

    Most of you sound like serious alarmists. I don't see a lot of proof here that PennDot has routinely stopped work for days and days after finding some kind of artifact. Bones are another story entirely. Work ANYWHERE should stop when finding bones. The bones could be from anyone at anytime.

    As to the one bringing up "heritage tourists," surely you exaggerate.

  • Heywood posted at 8:39 pm on Tue, Mar 8, 2011.

    Heywood Posts: 210

    I want to bring my metal detector over the mess and see what artifacts I can find

  • Michael V posted at 4:48 pm on Tue, Mar 8, 2011.

    Michael V Posts: 3

    Of course it is a reason for Penn Dot workers to just stop and do nothing, but they do so with the blessing of a small group that believes time should have just stopped after the battle and anything that was not here while the battle raged, should be gone. Thus anything they can do to deter development, repairs or change, they will do. Lets be honest here as well, if the workers did not stop, you know these groups would only be too happy to slap a lawsuit on them, which would stop the work longer, and cost taxpayers even more money.

  • Heywood posted at 10:16 am on Sun, Mar 6, 2011.

    Heywood Posts: 210

    Yes while the whole town and surrounding area was a huge battlefield, I highly doubt that anything of interest was near the street. The likely hood of finding something such as human bones or anything else that pertains to the battle has been cleared up for 147 years.....But that said, that gives Pendot or the contractor a green light to "milk the cow" or" walk the dog", in other words take as long as you like.....

  • grizwald713 posted at 4:43 pm on Sat, Mar 5, 2011.

    grizwald713 Posts: 47

    What are they worried about? This isn't part of the battlefield. Could not possibly have been any action here! Just throw up a casino quick! No one will notice!
    Smell the sarcasim?[beam]

  • ROCK 32 posted at 1:47 pm on Sat, Mar 5, 2011.

    ROCK 32 Posts: 173

    How about you all just worry about getting the work done instead of wasting taxpayers money looking for something that there is so much of and can't be taken care of right anyway. It never fails if someone is turning over a speck of dirt someone has to be there in case there is a piece of historical fecal matter to be retrieved.

    sjguy I wouldn't say it is Penn Dot guys watching over this I would figure outside Heritage Tourist you know the ones that always tell us what is best for our county.

  • Heywood posted at 1:29 pm on Sat, Mar 5, 2011.

    Heywood Posts: 210

    Yeah..don't throw away that old rusted cut nail on the side of the street....May have been from a ammo box!!!!

  • sjguy posted at 10:58 am on Sat, Mar 5, 2011.

    sjguy Posts: 142

    I suppose this means even more Penn Dot guys will be standing around doing nothing.

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