The so-called “Ronson Ship”
My favorite find in NYC years ago, got in the way of my graduate school education.
In 1981, excavation for one of the company’s buildings, at 175 Water Street near the South Street Seaport, was halted by Mr. Ronson after the hull of a 92-foot merchant ship from the mid-1700s was unearthed. The bow was removed for restoration and sent to the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Va. A 30-story building now stands at 175 Water Street. – “Howard Ronson, 63, Builder of Towers, Dies” NY Times March 25, 2007
We found it with a backhoe operator who’d been an MP at West Point (two tallest in his platoon picked out, rest perished) and an African-American who’s been an Eagle Scout, President of his class at Fordham University, played “Othello” there and was taking Tai Chi at the time. It was the last of three backhoe trenches we were allowed and getting into what we thought was a buried dock blackened by anaerobic bacteria, I noticed it had the curve of a ship. A plank also had a mixture of a fiber and tar to stop the shipworms (teredo) from burrowing or eating their way into the main structure (hemp or horsehair, both once in plentiful supply). I thought, or perhaps a patch. It was analyzed by a biologist who said the worms were from the Caribbean and North Atlantic.
They called Norman J. Brouwer to look at it from the nearby South Street Seaport, and he agreed but said they had no money for it, their last $5000 went to a ship hulk used as a wharf-side warehouse in the Falklands they wanted, the last “Black Ball” packet ship known to exist, that had made the 2 week run and back to Liverpool, England from New York and wanted to get it here. This was just before the war in the Falklands between Great Britain and Argentina, which is heating up again. I wonder if the ship is still there, many were heading for Cape Horn (Kaap Hoorn in Dutch or in Spanish: Cabo de Hornos) and the Pacific Ocean before the Panama Canal.
Here’s a short quote from then Mayor Koch:
“If this ship is not saved for New York City, it will go to Virginia,” Mayor Koch warned at a news conference in December 1984. ”I don’t want people to come up later and say, ‘Why didn’t you tell us?”’ Mr. Koch was talking about part of an 18th century merchant vessel that had been excavated by archeologists in 1982 at a construction site at” 175 Water Street. – Eleanor Blau, Follow-Up on the News: New York Relic Travels South August 17, 1986.
Another archaeology site that the Ronson organization had was the winter excavation of the so-called Broad Street site later known as the “Augustine Heerman’s Warehouse” in report. It became the 30-story Broad Financial Center on Whitehall Street. Augustine Heerman is cited in different histories as “the Czech”; the ambassador from Maryland; the person who introduced the Dutch to tobacco; and most recently it was reported that he owned what today is known as Throg’s Neck, in the borough of the Bronx:
In Sep. 1642 John Throckmorton petitioned the Dutch governor of New Amsterdam for permission to settle twelve miles east of Manhattan. The Dutch called the area Vredelandt, or Land of Peace, but it is now known as Throg’s Neck (a corruption of Throckmorton’s Neck) and is readily identified at the north end of the Throgs Neck Bridge. Indian uprisings, and their attendant massacres, were frequent in this area, causing the Throckmortons to return to Rhode Island. In 1652, John sold all of his Vredelandt land to Augustine Heerman. – The Descendants Of Job & Frances (Stout) Throckmorton & Their Late 18th-century Migration To Virginia & Ohio (author Bill Barton)
John Throckmorton left Rhode Island with his wife and three children (Freegift, Daughter and Patience) and established his colony at the area we now know as Schurz Avenue near Calhoun Avenue in Throggs Neck in 1642. He had received permission from the Dutch Governor, Wilhelm Kieft; to settle this land called “Vriedlant” which had been occupied by the Siwanoy Indians. I believe that his fourth child, Deliverance, was born here becoming the first child of European stock to be born in the Bronx. He started his colony with 35 families but, due to an Indian uprising, it lasted only about a year. Do You Remember – Bill Twomey Copyright © 1996-2006 The Bronx Mall.
This was first seen by me anyway, in a recent issue of the “Bronx Times Reporter” (2010) in its history of the Bronx section, Augustine Heerman selling “morgens” of property, usually less than a hectare or 2.47 acres in the early “Throgs Neck” it varies considerably in the Netherlands. The first block quote is from Ancestry.com which is a great tool, one I used in 1999 to research the Old Bowery in Manhattan, location of former Methodist and Quaker cemeteries, removed to Long Island.
After that excavation I worked another Ronson sponsored site the former United States Assay Office, which recently was evaluated as the most expensive real estate in Manhattan. Its foundation enclosure, the so-called “slurry-wall” and at the World Trade Center described “bathtub” was built by a French firm and I worked on its deep excavation and also watched it excavated to bedrock.
At 32 Old Slip, Mr. Ronson’s company built Financial Square, a 33-story building with a granite and silver-tinted glass facade. It had been the site of the United States Assay Office, where thousands of pounds of gold and silver were once stored and damaged paper money was incinerated. “Howard Ronson, 63, Builder of Towers, Dies” NY Times
Though three years after, I would like to offer my condolences to the Ronson family. I never would have named it the “Ronson ship”. Without the Ronson organization, early facets of New York’s history would have been hauled out for landfill somewhere, perhaps just left in the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island. And I and others, many from far away, wouldn’t have had a job.