NYCHA’s Sandy Recovery Work Sometimes Comes with a History Lesson

Dr. Joan Geismar
Dr. Joan Geismar (right) looking for archaeological treasures at Baruch Houses.

Before NYCHA’s Sandy Recovery and Resiliency team could begin major work at Baruch Houses in June, they called in urban archaeologist Dr. Joan Geismar to ensure that nothing of historical significance would be disturbed during construction.

Baruch Houses is located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan near the East River. Like most of New York City’s neighborhoods, it has a rich history. In the 19th century, the area was a center for business and trade, the landing point for new immigrants and home to some of the city’s first tenements.

Based on extensive research of the area, Dr. Geismar determined there could be evidence of homes built in the 1840s and 1850s as well as sanitary features called privies (outdoor toilets) buried at the development.

“Those are archaeological treasures – treasures because they con

tain information about people’s lives, what they ate, what they chose to buy, what they threw away,” she explained. “What I’ve discovered in many years of doing archaeology is that these features have their own personalities.”

History buffs are in for a letdown, though. Dr. Geismar made no major archeological discoveries: “We tested three sites where I thought there was potential. In one of the locations, we exposed what I believe is an earlier paving, probably from the backyard of a tenement that might have been built there.”

This was the second archaeological dig Dr. Geismar has done at a NYCHA development; the first was completed at Gowanus Houses last April. The New York State Historic Preservation Office determined that both Gowanus and Baruch were historically significant and needed to be checked before excavation and major construction.

“I have found that NYCHA has been very supportive of the work that needs to be done,” Dr. Geismar said.

The good news is that construction on Baruch Houses can begin right away. The development experienced major damage during Superstorm Sandy. Recovery work at the development includes flood proofing, installation of  backup power generators, new heat and hot water service, restoration of the development’s four playgrounds, and more.

Print this pageEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn