August 4, 2014 01:05AM
By Dan Brechlin
MERIDEN — Workers excavating at the Meriden Hub site were bound to dig up some type of history at the downtown parcel as they make it into a park. The 14.4-acre site has seen close to 100 buildings on the property come and go, and as structures came down, some items were left behind.
LaRosa Construction workers have been sifting through the soil from the site, already uncovering everything from a headstone to brownstone. LaRosa, the general contractor for the project, will continue to sift and sort out piles of material found on the property, said Robert Bass, the city’s public works director.
“There’s regular rock, there’s brick, here’s some wood,” Bass said, picking through a pile of findings toward the north end of the site last week. “We have some concrete, they pulled out an old set of stairs ... just all of this old stuff that was left behind.”
LaRosa is responsible for hauling away the soil, much of which is contaminated. The city is charged by the ton, but it does not have to dump the building materials in a specific location. By sifting out the heavier items, the company will save the city money and can also reuse some of the clean soil on the site.
An old headstone was easily the most unique find, Bass said. The marble tombstone was that of Josie Viola Hubbard, who was born Feb. 12, 1883, and died just three years later, according to the engraving. Josie was believed to have lived in Massachusetts, so it perplexed both the workers and historians when the item was found. Local historians continue to conduct research in hopes of finding out where it rightfully belongs.
Two oil tanks were discovered unexpectedly most recently — one in the southwest corner of the site and another in the southeast. The 4,000-gallon tank near the corner of Pratt and East Main streets came not only as a surprise because officials didn’t know it was there but also because there were still about 1,200 gallons of fuel inside. The tank has since been removed, Bass said. He wasn’t sure how long it had been there.
City Councilor Cathy Battista said members of the Meriden Historical Society are researching the history of the area. It’s possible the tank could have belonged to the former Petrose Hotel, which stood at 12 Pratt St. The hotel, which dated from the 1800s, was demolished in 1964.
“The location isn’t exact, but based on the size of the tank it would make sense it would belong to a hotel. We think there’s a connection,” she said.
Battista took a tour of the project recently with other city officials. She was impressed by the amount of history being uncovered.
“I would love for someone to be able to go out there when they aren’t working to look through the piles,” she said. “It’s an opportunity we’re not going to have again and it’s a great opportunity to get some information about Meriden and its history.”
The tank near the corner of East Main and State streets leaked, which meant that workers had to dig out a large area around the tank. The soil from the area was moved to the north end of the Hub and remains in storage containers while city officials await contamination test results.
“We have no idea when these are from,” Bass said. “The site has been through so many transformations. The Meriden Britannia Co. was here and there was housing and general businesses, so who knows. Back in the 1970s, when some of this was done, and before that, people weren’t paying attention to the backfill of holes. People did things and didn’t think of it.”
Toward the north end, the large piles of dirt will be moved soon so workers can continue digging the new channel for Harbor Brook, Bass said. The southwest corner will follow in another month or so, Bass said.
Bass expects LaRosa to continue finding various items, whether it be chunks of wood, concrete foundations from former buildings or more brownstone.
The Water and Sewer Department and the Parks and Recreation Department both claimed “four or five” truckloads of the brownstone for future use, Bass said. Otherwise, the brownstone would have been disposed of, but Bass said it made sense to save for future projects.
A stone product was excavated in the area of a former parking lot. The stones are being tested, but Bass said if they are clean they could be reused on the site underneath sidewalks.
“It’s a win-win,” Bass said. “We save some money and are able to reuse some of what we found.”
The Hub was also once home to two side streets that connected Pratt and State streets. While the streets are long gone, some abandoned piping and conduits were left behind. LaRosa plans to sell the pile of unused metal, Bass said.
The project remains a year away from completion, but it is progressing on schedule and on budget, Bass said.
He said he’s glad the project has become more visible for those passing by, but noted there is no view like being on the site. Walking from one end of the Hub to the other, he points out that the center of the property is several feet lower than the adjacent streets, which is not as apparent at street level.
“As you get to the center, you realize how low you’re actually going to be as you look out toward Pratt Street or East Main Street. You look at State Street and it’s above you,” he said. “It’s deceiving how much lower you are until you look up and see there’s a pretty significant change.”
As Larosa excavates, workers are digging one additional foot lower from what the site will eventually be. This, Bass said, allows for installation of an irrigation system, plantings and electrical conduits and not have to dig after the site is prepared.
Once the site is at the right level, LaRosa will begin opening the concrete culvert that runs alongside State Street for much of the property. The uncovered brook will be moved slightly to the east and meander throughout the property for two reasons: flood control and aesthetics.
“We want to make the park look nice and with a straight line for a brook I’m not sure it does that,” Bass said. “If it’s curving, the brook won’t move as fast, either, and at the end of the day, we want the whole place to look nice and we think it will.”
The Hub will include a large pedestrian bridge connecting Pratt and State streets, along with two smaller pedestrian bridges that allow access over Harbor Brook. An amphitheater will be built on the northwest corner of the site and trees and shrubs will be planted throughout. The site will double as an area for flood retention in the event of a significant rainstorm.