Home > Uncategorized > Christie Buries Trenton’s History – Kills 1730’s Petty’s Run Restoration

Christie Buries Trenton’s History – Kills 1730’s Petty’s Run Restoration

Richard Bagger, Gov. Christie's Chief of Staff, chairs the State Capitol Joint Managment Commission's approval to fill and abandon Petty's Run excavation and restoration.


[Update 2 : 1/27/11 – efforts are being made to stop DEP from burying the site, see today’s Trenton Times coverageHistorical society calls city dig site ‘endangered]

Update 1: 12/1/10  NJ Newsroom coverage:  Commission votes to fill in Petty’s Run archeological site on Statehouse grounds]

Trenton Times story: Plan to bury Trenton archaeological site is blasted – end updates]

In an appalling and senseless move to destroy a unique and valuable historical asset, an obscure body called the State Capitol Joint Management Commission voted this morning to kill the Petty’s Run Project.

The 5-2 vote allegedly was based on a recommendation by DEP Commissioner Bob Martin.

But, amazingly, on May 25, 2010, the same DEP Commissioner Bob Martin issued an historic preservation award to the Petty’s Run project, honoring it as an example of “NJ’s best and brightest”:

Petty’s Run Site archaeological explorations public outreach, Trenton, Mercer County

The Petty’s Run archaeological explorations were undertaken as part of the design of the proposed Capital State Park. Phase 1B of the park, just east of the State House, calls for a series of conserved foundations, restoration of flow to Petty’s Run, and the installation of an operational waterwheel in a 19th century paper-mill wheel pit to educate visitors about water-powered industry around the time of the American Revolution. The park design team realized the work, because of its location, would generate considerable attention. The team used the excavation itself to inform the public about the history of the site. Outreach included a web journal, an on-site interpreter, and periodic site tours and presentations.

The political decision to reverse course and kill the project was not based on any well considered rational plan, alternatives or as a cost savings move. Funding is available and dedicated by the voters, and the costs to close the project exceed those to finish it.

Similar to Christie’s termination of the tunnel to NYC known as “ARC”,  “The state has money for the project that under law cannot be used elsewhere.”

The Capitol Joint Management Commission is Chaired by Governor Christie’s Chief Of Staff, Rich Bagger. News sources indicated that Lt. Governor Guadagno wanted the project killed because she didn’t like the view of it out her State House office window. (see Tom Hester, NJ Newsroom: Lt. Gov. Guadagno wants archeological dig on Statehouse lawn buried

So, while there was virtually zero public awareness or debate on costs or alternatives, the involvement of Bagger and Guadagno and the reversal of DEP’s prior support mean that the decision to kill the project was a political one made by Governor Christie.

Christie’ decision is an affront to NJ’s history and an attack on Trenton and the idea of urban parks in NJ. If defies strong public support for parks for people.

Petty’s Run is an ongoing archaelogical excavation and restoration of a mill that dates to pre-Revolutionary War Trenton of the 1730’s.

History buffs should visit Pettysrun.org for a description of the archaeological dig and restoration project, with excellent photos.

The Petty’s Run project is an essential element of Trenton’s Capital State Park (click here for Master Plan), which showcases Trenton’s rich history:

Capital State Park

The State of New Jersey is creating a new urban park in downtown Trenton. Named the Capital State Park and following a master plan created by WRT Design, the initial phase of the park focuses on the area between the State House and the War Memorial and on the strip of land extending up behind the Old Barracks Museum and Thomas Edison State College to West State Street. Ultimately Capital State Park seeks to reconnect the city to the Delaware River and the water resources that have underpinned its growth and prosperity.

Trenton’s rich history is one of the main themes that will be incorporated into the park design. The area behind the Barracks contains the buried remains of several 18th- and 19th-century industrial sites along Petty’s Run. The goal of the archaeological excavations currently in progress is to inform the park design and devise a means of exposing, stabilizing and displaying the buried ruins as an addition to the complex of historic sites that is anchored by the State House and the Old Barracks.

Read the Park Master Plan’s vision and design options for Petty’s Run (click here @ page 76)

NJ has just one urban State park, Liberty State Park in Jersey City. The new Capital State park would enrich the State park system, capitalize on Trenton’s tremendous historic assets, and serve as a magnet for tourist and historic preservation based economic development.

Funding for the Park was dedicated via the 2003 voter approved constitutional amendment to dedicate $50 million of corporate business tax proceeds to State Park maintenance and restoration. So budget shortfalls can not be the reason for killling this project.

This is politics at its worst – our sources told me that this battle is not over.

We’ll keep you posted. Below are photo’s I shot after the hearing this morning. They give a sense of the linkage to the Old Barracks and the State House.

[Update – photo reply to comment. Read the sign at Historic Barracks: “Our funds cut 100%, Please donate”. Shot at May 22, 2010 protest

Trenton's Historic Barracks fundraising at May 33, 2010 protest

Trenton's Historic Barracks fundraising at May 22, 2010 protest




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  1. November 30th, 2010 at 23:09 | #1

    This seems to be part of a larger plan to kill the boulevard that was planned to link downtown Trenton to the Delaware River and remove Rt. 29 from downtown. Maybe another set of “stakeholder” developers want their own version of redeveloped Trenton to build.

  2. December 1st, 2010 at 10:28 | #2

    I think there is some confusion here: we are not speaking generically about “parks” in urban settings, of which there are many, but of three “new” urban state parks.

    On October 21, 2004, Governor James E. McGreevey announced the designation of three new urban state parks at historic destinations in Paterson, Trenton and River Edge. The urban state park at Historic New Bridge Landing was to include the state-owned Steuben House and the historic pony-truss swing bridge, as well as a new visitor’s center, an interpretive center and additional open space. “Trenton, Paterson and River Edge have natural and historic treasures that are pathways to New Jersey’s history – from the Dutch settlements at River Edge, to the pivotal Battle of Trenton, to the advent of the industrial revolution in Paterson,” said Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell. “New parks in these cities will be centerpieces of community renewal in areas that are under-served by our parks system.”

    Fortunately, the Great Falls at Paterson escaped the DEP’s State Park Service and entered the National Historic Park system. The state parks bureaucracy undermined or stalled progress at Historic New Bridge Landing, despite laws specifically enacted to remove the historic park from their stranglehold. That leaves the dubious $87 million (and counting) Capital State Park.

    While I support industrial archeology and I am particularly interested in the rare colonial blister steel furnace on Petty’s Run, the foundations can be preserved—as they have been for generations in their present condition—by re-burial. There is nothing historically to be gained from turning this into a playground with a fake waterwheel. The public in general and our historic destinations in Trenton would be better served by restoring free public parking and access to our state government and principal cultural institutions and archives.

    I would further note that state-owned Historic Sites are understaffed and underfunded with many in ruinous conditions. They have been mismanaged for many years by political hacks who likely wouldn’t even visit a heritage destination unless they were paid to manage one. And contrary to what I read, I hear no great outcry from historic preservationists in this matter, except those directly or indirectly on the state payroll who stand to benefit from this especially “blessed” project. Moreover, haven’t the new parking garages nearby flooded several times in recent years? Wouldn’t flooding undermine these ruins, if they are left exposed?

    While other state-owned and operated Historic Sites have languished and deteriorated, the Trenton Barracks has received millions of dollars in direct state operating funds, including (if I am not mistaken) $375,000 in the current budget cycle. And that doesn’t count a restoration project in the millions of dollars. Please correct me if I am wrong in these matters.

    I think these people need to get their head out of the sand … or at least out of Trenton once in a while.

  3. Bill Wolfe
    December 1st, 2010 at 12:13 | #3

    @Kevin Wright
    Kevin – reply ion order you make teh points:

    1) I wrote “State parks” in urban areas, and provided a link to NJ’s State Park system. I did not write about urban parks. So any confusion may be a function of your reading comprehension. Do you disagree that urban areas have been given short shrift in terms of NJ state parks resources?

    2) Thanks for the background on McGreevey’s urban parks initiative. That is very useful info and context.

    3) I agree that State Parks Division of DEP has seen erosion of professionalism, has been mismanaged, and led by patronage hacks. But what has this to do with the decision to kill Petty’s Run restoration?

    4) Do you really favor more parking over more parks in Trenton? That is a warped view, in my view.

    5) See above photo – I was told that Barracks budget was zeroed this year under Christie budget.

    6) Garage flooding has little to do with “ruins”. The “ruins” are at a higher elevation than the garage to begin with.

    7) Yes otehr state parks and historic sites have languished – but that is a question of funding and management. My uderstanding is that teh Petty’s Tun adn Captial park had dedicated fundign and did not comepte with other projets. DEP indicated it would cost $400,000 to clsoe the site, which is more – I as told – than it would cost t finsish restoration and keep the site open to teh public.

    8) The Commission meeting was not public noticed and it started at 9 am – very few Trenton meetings start that early. Obviously, this was meant to keep this issue low profile.

    9) My head is never in the san and I spend very little time in Trenton. I readily ackowledge I know little about historic preservation adn the detaisl of this project. But, it was my understanding that the historic preservation community strongly opposed this and will continue to fight to reverse the decision. Do you have contradictory information? If so, please document it.

    10 Last, who do you represent? What is your background? Readers should have all cards on the table so as to judge your criticisms.

  4. Bill Wolfe
    December 1st, 2010 at 12:26 | #4

    @Kevin Wright
    One more point – Unfortuantely, due to the 9 am start, I missed the DEP powerpoint presentation, but was able to listen to the Commission’s deliberations. 2 members were very uncomfortable with voting at this time, adn cited lack of briefing, consideration of aklterantives, or fiscal analysis.

    After the vote, the DEP managers quietly tried to slip out the back of the room. But I was able to ask DEP Assistant Commissioner Amy Cradic a few questions. I was told that there were no documents or analysis supporting the DEP recommendation – so as far as I’m concerned, that says it all. Our conversation was rudely interupted by a Treasury Department representative, who pulled Cradic away. I’m sure that move was engineered by DEP Deputy Commissioner Kropp, to prevent Cradic from responding to my questions. Cradic is a goo person and publc servant who will give straight answers to honest questions. Kropp is the opposite.

  5. Bill Wolfe
    December 1st, 2010 at 12:29 | #5

    @Kevin Wright
    Are you this Kevin Wright? If so, I respect your expertise:

    “Kevin Wright describes in detail the preservation movement which saved the Steuben House and made its interpretation possible.”

  6. Bill Wolfe
    December 1st, 2010 at 12:32 | #6

    @Kevin Wright

    Sussex County is a far cry from Trenton:

  7. December 1st, 2010 at 12:51 | #7

    I was not referring to you as having your head in the sand, but to those involved in this project.

    As a frequent visitor to state parks, I know that city folks want to experience the outdoors in the same way rural folks do, only more so. More importantly, they want to get away from the city and have a picnic or dip in a river or pond. Having grown up in Sussex County, I can assure you that things have not changed over the past century and that city people can and do conveniently enjoy our state parks—more so than rural people who live in and around them. I also enjoy urban parks and visit them often, especially Central Park.

    I don’t think the question here is “parks over parking lots.” It is a question of public access to state government and major cultural institutions, such as the state library, museum, archives and Veterans’ Memorial.

    Petty’s Run (Capital State Park) is no different than any other state park, except for its previously privileged sponsorship and status. It does not enjoy a pool of capital funds or operational funding separate or distinct from other state parks, historic sites and forests. If it does, then this money needs to be re-directed immediately to the care and preservation of our existing parks, forests and historic sites.

    AS to my credentials: I am a member of the so-called historic preservation community. I have served for 22 years on my hometown (Newton) historic preservation commission. I worked for 27-1/2 years in the Division of Parks & Forestry as a historical interpreter—in fact, I was the first Historic Sites Caretaker to occupy the professional Historic Preservation Specialist title (the same title used in the State Historic Preservation Office) and I was one of the first Regional Resource Interpretive Specialists (2001), involved in the visioning process for Historic New Bridge Landing, Lusscroft Farms, and the NJ State History Fair. I have been secretary of the Historic New Bridge Landing Park Commission for 15 tears (since it was founded). I have been president of both the Sussex County and Bergen County Historical Societies (among many other volunteer positions). I have published much historical information and research in a variety of media and formats, including a book on the First Peoples, and I was a historical advisor for the documentary on the NJ Highlands, which is an area of particular cultural interest to me, since I descend from its first settlers. Wright Pond in Byram Township is named for my ancestor, Charles Wright, a Revolutionary War veteran.

    Incidentally, these bureaucrats are the same folk who complain about their pet projects, but who then allowed the re-created “Lenape” village )and latrines) to be built over a prehistoric and historic cemetery at Waterloo. Me thinks they protest too much. Me thinks you ought to ask about their credentials, especially in the management and interpretation of historic sites.

  1. February 21st, 2011 at 11:27 | #1
  2. May 5th, 2011 at 19:35 | #2
  3. July 30th, 2011 at 10:13 | #3
  4. October 16th, 2011 at 19:09 | #4
  5. May 12th, 2015 at 12:25 | #5
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