Archeological dig at Norwich Burger King site finds no evidence of burials
Norwich — An archaeological dig in March at the site of a planned Burger King restaurant on Town Street uncovered numerous household and daily life artifacts dating back to the 1700s, but no signs of burials from the abutting Colonial burial ground.
Three small houses from the 1920s now sit on the property at 61-65 Town St., where the Providence-based Amaral Revite Corp. plans to build a Burger King restaurant with a drive-thru lane. The project was controversial when proposed in 2018 for its proximity to the cemetery, where headstones stand just inches from the rear stone wall that separates the properties.
The Norwich Historical Society November 2018 reached an agreement with the developer for an enhanced buffer zone, additional plantings to improve the separation between the two properties and support for the state archaeologist’s recommendation to conduct an archaeological dig to ensure there was no evidence of Colonial-era burials.
The report, done by Historical Perspectives Inc. of Westport, stated the only bones discovered buried on the properties were food-related butchered animal bones and a tooth. Most of the artifacts uncovered were either building materials — including possibly the entrance stoop stone from the mid-1700s house on the property — food related items and other household items, such as medicine bottles and broken ceramics.
The group dug several trenches throughout the property but avoided the area within 20 feet of the Old Norwichtown Burial Ground “in compliance with the established buffer zone,” the report stated.
“Personal items consisted of children’s toys (rifle, plastic paratrooper, bisque doll’s head); bottles and jars for creams, lotions and perfumes; milk glass clothing buttons; and even a pair of fragmented leather shoes,” the report stated.
In the trench that ran parallel to and closest to the buffer zone, the report said the archaeologists found: “bottles, ceramics, corroded metal, coal ash, brick, clam shell and other miscellaneous historic period artifacts which dated from the early twentieth century.”
The group identified 19th century bricks from the Tuttle Co. of Middletown, one of the largest building brick companies in the state, the report said. They identified a French’s Mustard jar from 1915; a Bisket & Pitcher Pharmacy bottle, a company listed in the Norwich directory in 1907, the report said; a California Fig Syrup Co. bottle from the 1917-27 range, and more modern household food bottles, including Heinz ketchup, Vicks, A-1 sauce, Gulden’s mustard and perfume bottles.
The group uncovered a large rectangular cut rock with the initials R.N., A.O and P.R. carved into it. The archaeologists said the stone appeared to be a front stoop, possibly from the original house built on the property in 1761, although the initials did not match with the owners of that house.
Historical Perspectives recommended the large stoop stone be moved to the cemetery buffer area to protect it from “inadvertent construction damage” and suggested the Norwich Historical Society or other local group might want the stone for a landscaping feature or exhibit.
“No further archaeological field work is recommended for the (Area of Potential Effect), except for monitoring of below-grade disturbances within the 20-foot buffer along the Old Norwichtown Cemetery,” the report concluded.
The project plan calls for demolishing the three houses and excavating the front portion of the steeply sloped property to the Town Street level to build the Burger King. The properties are surrounded by chain link construction fence, but no demolition or construction has begun.
Project attorney William Sweeney said Friday the developer is in the process of applying for demolition permits now, and construction is expected to begin later this summer.
Norwich Historical Society Executive Director Regan Miner said Friday she hadn’t yet read the archaeological report but was pleased the two parties found an amicable solution to the conflict over the development.
“I'm glad that the Norwich Historical Society has been working well with the developers in following through on the recommendations we both agreed upon back in 2018,” she said.