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NJ State Archives
P.O. Box 307
Trenton, NJ 08625-0307

Office Address:
225 West State Street - Level 2
Trenton, NJ

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1796 Archives Rediscovered

Archaeologists have located the original building constructed in 1796 to house the archives of the colony and the then-new State of New Jersey. Excavations along West State Street in front of the State House have exposed portions of the stone foundation of a fireproof structure specifically designed for the preservation of the State’s most valuable public records.

The discovery occurred as a current building security enhancement project outside the State House required the demolition and excavation of the concrete sidewalk, handicapped access ramps and curbing in front of the capitol. The remains of the historic 1796 structure began to emerge inches below the existing grade, just east of the State House’s front entrance.

Authorized by the legislature in 1795, local architect Jonathan Doane designed and constructed the building to house the Secretary of State and the Clerk of the Supreme Court, the original custodians of the State’s public records and archives. It was the second major public structure built by the State, after the State House itself, which Doane also constructed in 1791-92.

The archaeological excavation was unveiled to the public at an event on Thursday, April 6, 2006.

Site plan and Conjectural Floor Plan [PDF]

Authorizing Legislation, 1795 [PDF]

Press Articles

State Archives Collections pertaining to State House Construction

 

Circa 1800 Map of State House and Surrounding Area

The only known image of the 1796 archives building appears on the map, "A Plan of Sundry Lots of Land the Property of Daniel W. Coxe, Esquire, Part of his Bloomsbury Estate," drawn circa 1800. A photostatic copy is located at the New Jersey State Archives. The source of the original is uncertain.

Enlarged view of State House circa 1800. The Secretary of State/Clerk of the Supreme Court's Offices are located at the bottom left corner of the lot. An image of the entire map is below. Click on the images to view an enlarged version.

 

Photos of the Site

The discovery of the 1796 Secretary of State/Supreme Court Clerk building occurred during the current security enhancement project at the State House, which required the demolition and excavation of the concrete sidewalk, handicapped access ramps and curbing in front of the capitol. The remains of the historic structure began to emerge inches below the existing grade, just east of the State House's front entrance.

Below are images from the site excavation. Click on the images to view an enlarged version. Photos courtesy of Hunter Research, Inc.

 

Excavation Unit 3 of the 1796 Secretary of State/Supreme Court Clerk building, showing the foundation of the east wall; West State Street in background.

 

 
Excavation Unit 3, showing the foundation of the east wall; State House in the background.
 

Profile of Excavation Unit 2 showing southwest corner of foundation wall (right) at the bottom of unit.

 

 
Excavation Unit 3 showing east wall foundation; West State Street (and Hunter Research office) in background.
   
Profile of Excavation Unit 1 showing privy probably associated with the 1796 building.