Volunteers search for traces of history beneath Lovett Park

Does anything lurk beneath the ground at Lovett Park, the quiet grassy open space next to Lovett Memorial Library at 6945 Germantown Ave.? A small band of volunteer diggers were determined to find out during an event on Nov. 17.

What prompted the investigation, said David T. Moore, a past president of the Friends of Lovett Library, was the planned renovation of the park by the Free Library of Philadelphia and Mt. Airy USA into a “destination space” with an amphitheater, pedestrian plaza, and other amenities.

“Some of us thought that before the rebuilding, it would be nice to find out what might be there below the surface,” said Moore at the time of an initial survey of the site in October.

He added that one of the features of Lovett Park – donated to the library by the Lovett family in the late 1800s – that was almost unique along that stretch of Germantown Avenue was that it had never been built on. The park, which covers about an acre, is the last open space surviving from what had once been a 10-acre field.

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An area rich with history

That didn’t necessarily mean, however, that there was nothing waiting to be found.

What’s now Germantown Avenue was an American Indian trail for centuries. The Battle of Germantown was fought along it in 1777. In the early 1800s, the site was a drilling site for local militia troops. It was also used as a baseball field before Mt. Airy playground was built after World War II.

On November 17, Moore said, “We might find a 400-year-old arrowhead or a four-year-old Coca Cola can – we don’t know. That’s the excitement of all this.”

To oversee the excavation, The Friends of Lovett raised money to hire Eugene Hough, who operates Heritage Guild Works. His company specializes in tombstone and cemetery preservation along with educational and archeological studies.

Hough brought his ground-penetrating radar apparatus to the park on Oct. 3.

That day, Hough methodically criss-crossed the grounds with his machine, which resembles a lawnmower with a computer screen stretched across the handle.

When the screen displayed a solid, unbroken line, it indicated that the machine was passing over undisturbed ground. Areas where the soil beneath the surface was broken up – whether by past digging, man-made artifacts, or something as prosaic as tree roots – it showed up as jagged lines.

Those spots were marked with flags for future investigation.

Slow, painstaking work

Hough returned Nov. 17 for some actual digging with the help of volunteers from the Friends of Lovett, who included FOL President Sheila Incognito, FOL Treasurer Irv Miller, Moore, and a couple of younger volunteers, students Cushla Standefer and Deanna Haasz.

Plans for the day included digging down, layer by layer, to a depth of 18 inches in two selected plots, one close to Germantown Avenue and one near the back of the park, each about five feet square.

The small turnout confined the digging to the plot near the Avenue. The work is painstaking and takes time to do correctly. An education in basic archeological techniques for the participants is also necessary.

“Really, what we’re doing today is an open-air classroom,” said Hough.

Before the digging started, Hough, who was wearing a Colonial-era tri-corner hat, had shown a display of 18th century artifacts he’d brought along. They included a flint-lock musket and pistol, and pottery and glassware.

Pointing to the pistol he said, “It would be lovely to find something like this but we’ll probably find just bits and pieces.”

The results

In the end, bits and pieces were what the group turned up, none of them very old.

Objects found included a couple of coins – “our funding source!” joked Hough – some small bits of metal including the bottom of a beer can, some seeds, a child’s toy, and a small stainless-steel table knife.

The time, place, and weather conditions when each was found were carefully recorded in a logbook.

Moore for one wasn’t disappointed in the results.

“This was kind of a trial run,” he said afterward. “It was worth doing. When we get organized we’ll certainly do it again in the spring.”

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