Lazaretto Lazaretto
Source: Preservation Online
Date: July 31, 2006
Byline: Andrea Wilson

Archaeologists Find Possible Cemetery at Pa. Quarantine Station

An archaeological investigation of the site known as Philadelphia's Ellis Island has uncovered a possible graveyard and other artifacts. Preliminary findings from the study of the Lazaretto, the first quarantine station in the country, could have an impact on current plans to redevelop the site.

The study, performed in June by Cultural Heritage Research Services, Inc., based on information gleaned in an initial analysis last December by Geo-Graf, Inc., sought to determine the archaeological significance of the Lazaretto, which soon may house a fire station, banquet hall, and 200-car parking lot on half of the 10-acre property.

Tinicum Township bought the site in July 2005, saving it from demolition, but the town's development plans have caused a stir among preservationists. In April, a task force formed to advocate for an alternate location for the fire station complex.

"The township did a good thing buying the area," says Randy Cotton, associate director of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, "but the firehouse complex is probably too large for the site."

The archaeological studies, funded by a $50,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, found sites indicative of foundations and debris as well as excavations or trash pits, according to a commission report. The most striking discovery may be the area at the far northeast corner of the site that may contain human remains. Experts believe the approximately 60' by 110' area may be the Lazaretto cemetery, which was used for about a century.

While the planned fire station complex would not affect that area of the grounds, some preservationists are still opposed to the new construction.

"[We] are hopeful that there are alternative locations that can be found for this facility," says Adrian Fine, director of the National Trust's Northeast Field Office.

The Lazaretto quarantine station was erected in 1799 in response to the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793 and included a large main building, several outbuildings, and a graveyard. Immigrants traveling up the Delaware River were examined there for communicable diseases and quarantined if necessary.

The archaeologists' preliminary report says construction of the fire complex as planned would be appropriate but recommends further study of the possible cemetery if the town plans to build there.