Archeologists hired by the Philadelphia Housing Authority to perform a ground-penetrating radar survey of the Potter’s Field site in Germantown reported Thursday night that they discovered anomalies beneath the surface in three locations.
However, an archeological dig is needed before they can say those anomalies represent historic grave sites.
Further demolition-and-development delays could result.
According to a preliminary report presented before an estimated 50 residents at a PHA public meeting inside Mt. Moriah Church, which is not far from the West Queen Lane/Pulaski Avenue site, there are “numerous singular anomalies that are similar in size to both an adult interment and a child’s interment.”
“The scientist doing the ground-penetrating radar survey said [three areas] should be investigated,” explained Mary Tinsman, an archeologist for the Cultural Hertitage Resource Services, the firm hired to analyze the site. “But an anomaly could be a tree roots, it could be construction debris from the high rise or it could be a gravesite.”
For many in attendance, the news elicited memories of stories of bones spilling out of the construction site while the Queen Lane Apartments were being built in the 1950s.
“There’s still nothing concrete but at least a little bit has been leaked out that there were some findings in the initial survey,” said Dolores Jones, who has lived within three blocks of the apartment high-rise for decades. “That’s the hope, that’s what people wanted to know.”
Jones added that she hopes the community and PHA cooperate and hold one another accountable in future steps at the site.
Despite Thursday’s announcement, PHA officials are still waiting on the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) to offer feedback on the survey results.
Whether Thursday’s news will result in further delays remains an unanswered question.
It is contingent upon whether the PHMC agrees with the findings and discussions between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and, among others, the Northwest Neighbors of Germantown.
Already, special considerations for the new housing units are meant to respect, and acknowledge, the African American burial ground which, according to the Philadelphia Preservation Alliance, was created in 1755 for “all strangers, Negroes, and Mulattoes as die in any part of Germantown forever.”
“We wanted to make sure that when you look through Potter’s Field, you don’t feel like your just looking at the back of somebody’s house,” explained Michael Johns of the PHA. “It will appear like it’s almost part of the entire vernacular of the building around the park.”
Johns, who was recently promoted to PHA executive director of housing operations, presented new architectural drawings and site plans anticipating that the project will move forward.
City Planner Kyle Flood will take over as manager of community planning and design, but Johns said he is committed to the project, which is months behind schedule.
Also, instead of backyards, the homes will feature LEED-certified decks.
Bass: Playground rebuilding will take time
At the meeting, Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass said that she came to listen for community concerns and offer support for the PHA project.
As chair of City Council’s Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs Committee, she noted that she has plans to rebuild the Wissahickon Playground space.
“There is no quick fix,” she said, hoping for intergenerational community participation. “It’s probably going to take us a year, maybe two years, but we need a place for our young people to go.
“We’ve got a small pot from our [Neighborhood Transformation Initiative] funds that we’re going to use to invest in this area because it doesn’t make sense to do so much and leave other things undone.”