Before workers move ahead on bringing parts of Constitution Square Park into the 21st century for its new tenants, they will first have to delve beneath the park’s centuries old surface.
The state historic site was officially turned over to Boyle County Fiscal Court in March after the county targeted the historical buildings on the perimeter of the park for a $500,000 federal economic development grant.
The money will be used to retro-fit the buildings for use by the organizations that make up the Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership, including adding an up-to-date phone and Internet system.
Before the work can begin, though, the grant requires an archaeological study of the areas where crews will be digging trenches to bury phone and data lines. The county has hired the environmental consulting firm AMEC to conduct the study.
The county has budgeted $7,500 to come from the grant money and approved spending up to $15,000 of the funds if additional investigation is necessary.
“What they are trying to locate is mainly the footprints of the buildings,” said Boyle County Public Works Director Duane Campbell. “We are trying to see where we will be most likely to not hit a foundation.”
The man tasked with researching the site and conducting the study is no stranger to Constitution Square. Rich Stallings, a senior archaeologist with AMEC, lives near Perryville.
Stallings has completed extensive research of the site, which became part of the state parks system in the late 1930s. Some of what lies beneath the earth is known but has never been fully explored.
“A lot of it goes clear to the founding of Danville,” Stallings said of the site where the 1792 signing of the state’s constitution is memorialized. “There are things that could potentially date back to late 1700s.”
So far to research the park, Stallings said he has used everything from woodcuttings to early photos. He is also searching archival material in the Boyle County and Mercer County public libraries. Maps from 1886 show a mixture of commercial and residential buildings. The Presbyterian Theological Seminary was situated near where First Street used to cut from Main Street to Walnut Street.
It isn’t a sure thing Stallings will find something, and it actually will be cheaper and less time-consuming if he doesn’t. Campbell is working with Stallings to try to find paths that likely will miss any buildings.
Stallings will look only into what is found where the trenches are being dug, so the study won’t give a comprehensive picture of what life at the site was like at any given time. However, there are a number of possible structures and areas rich with artifacts that would be trickier to predict than a building’s foundation.
“You would expect you might find things like privies, wells and trash pits that wouldn’t necessarily be recorded,” Stallings said. “There also could be henhouses, smokehouses or other outbuildings. People during certain periods would have had urban farmsteads, where they may have had room to graze some cattle.”
The EDP organizations have been eager to move into what is being viewed as a kind of one-stop economic development village since the possibility arose in early 2011, and Judge-Executive Harold McKinney had hoped the project could be wrapped up by the beginning of next year.
It’s unclear exactly how the study will impact the overall timeline, but Campbell said work likely won’t begin until following the upcoming vice-presidential debate at Centre College on Oct. 11.
Other parts of the project are still ongoing, with officials beginning to review some plans drawn up by the project architect CMW Inc. of Lexington.
Boyle County Industrial Foundation and Chamber of Commerce are planning to locate in buildings on Fisher’s Row. The School House will be used as a conference center, while the Heart of Danville is slated to go in the Goldsmith House. The Watts-Bell House may be used for additional office spaces for other organizations or a rent-free incubator space for start-up businesses. The Danville-Boyle County Convention and Visitors Bureau is already housed in Grayson’s Tavern.