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Jun 19 2007

Mayor Announces Site Review to Determine Next Steps for President’s House

Release provided by Independence National Historical Park

 Mayor John F. Street confirmed today that a task force is being assembled to determine next steps on the President’s House project in light of the remarkable and unanticipated archeological discoveries at the site. The task force will evaluate options for the site and present recommendations to Mayor Street and Park Superintendent Dennis Reidenbach within the next 60 days. The announcement came at the kickoff event for Philadelphia’s Quest for Freedom, an experience that promotes Philadelphia’s major and unique participation in African American history. The event was held at the National Constitution Center in observance of Juneteenth, the oldest celebration in the United States to commemorate the end of slavery.

The task force will consist of engineers, architects, archeologists, historians and exhibit professionals. The Kelly/Maiello team, selected this past February to design the commemorative installation on this site, will also participate in the review as well members of the President’s House Oversight Committee.

Recent findings at the site as a result of an archeological dig made it necessary to re-examine the current plan. The question becomes how to incorporate the archeological findings into the current plan in order to create an enhanced visitor experience, one that provides visitors with an authentic look at history.

Due to enormous public attention, the viewing platform has been kept open on weekends and will remain open through the 4th of July holiday. Shortly thereafter, the fragile site is likely to be temporarily covered to protect it from the natural elements until a decision is made about how to proceed.

The archeologists have made a series of unexpected and tremendously exciting discoveries. They have found a basement below the kitchen where Hercules – an enslaved African who later escaped to freedom – presided as George Washington’s acclaimed chef. They have uncovered the foundation from a bow window that is believed to be the prototype for oval rooms in the Washington White House, including the Oval Office. And they found an underground passage, part of the house's original construction, from the kitchen to the main house. This tunnel is thought to be one of the many service areas used by the enslaved and servants working between the main part of the house and the kitchen. Tens of thousands of visitors have now stood at the public viewing platform to witness this unique and powerful reminder of our nation’s beginnings.

The archeologists are exploring “shaft features” on the site – historic pits lined with brick or stone that were principally used as outhouses and wells. Three shaft features were unearthed, and may prove to be valuable sources of artifacts and information. These shaft features have not yet been definitively dated. Any other artifacts encountered so far have been demolition rubble, related to much later time periods in the location’s history.

Visitors are encouraged to come to the site. Archeologists can be seen on bended knee with trowels conducting the painstaking process of carefully removing dirt from the 18th century walls. The visitors viewing platform at the site also remains open, Monday-Friday, 8 am–5 pm. In addition, the team of archeologists is available at the dig site to answer questions from the public.

The world-class team assembled by the URS Group to conduct the dig includes Dr. Warren Perry, Director for Archeology for the African Burial Ground in New York; Field Director Douglas Mooney, who directed the recent archeological digs at the National Constitution Center and James Oronoco Dexter Sites; and Dr. Cheryl LaRoche, a conservator who worked on both the African Burial Ground and National Constitution Center projects. The National Park Service conducts archeological digs at construction sites as part of the due diligence process.

This particular research dig was conducted to gain more knowledge about the site and the house. It was also preparation for the beginning of work on the commemoration of the President’s House site. As previously announced, the team headed by Kelly/Maiello Architects and Planners will design and build a new permanent outdoor installation commemorating the President’s House and all its occupants – including the nation’s first two presidents and the enslaved Africans who lived and worked in the Washington household.

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