Tuesday, May 18, 2010
The New PNC building in downtown Pittsburgh holds bank offices, a bank branch, law offices a coffee house, a hotel and the city’s newest display of artifacts. It all began a few years ago when PNC announced plans to tear down a block full of buildings to make way for its newest skyscraper. Architect and urban archeologist Christine Davis says her interest was piqued because she knew there had to be some interesting artifacts buried under the site. She says it was not difficult to sell PNC on the idea of letting her dig around while construction was underway. Her hunch was right.
In all 25,000 artifacts from the 1840’s - 18 60’s were found and preserved. About 500 objects are now on display in the hotel that is part of the new PNC Building. All ten of the floors hosting hotel rooms have a few items on display, each suit features a select object and several artifacts are on display in the hotel’s lobby and on the second floor in the hallway between the restaurant and the business center. Davis says they found a slew of ties between the old use of the land and the current building. In the 1860’s the street held several banks, which she equates to PNC’s operation, a boarding house which Davis ties to the hotel, a tea room that she compares to the coffee house and a botanical and seed store run by the nephew of the founder of the law firm that now has several floors of offices in the building. Jeremiah Knox owned and operated that seed store. Davis ties many of the artifacts to that store. Including seeds that survived the last 150 years 22 feet below street She also found something called a Lithopnane. At first the tiles look like small white relief carvings with few details but when the light is shined through them they take on a whole new look filled with details like a black and white photograph.
Like many of the objects the lithopanes were found in an old well. Also down the well were a few bottles embossed with the name “Doctor Warner’s, Indian Physician Syrup.” Davis tracked the Indian Physician of the 1860’s to doctor Robert H. Warner who is an ob-gyn in Mt Lebanon. Robert Warner says every generation that came after Elisha has included a doctor. The family still has old journals kept by the so-called “Indian Physician” but Robert Warner says they have never seen any of bottles like the one found during this dig. Davis was able to find an old advertisement for the syrup.
Some of the more fragile objects are being preserved by PNC in their archives. PNC’s Gary Saulson says the hotel has jumped on board beyond designating space for the artifacts and a printed guide to a cell phone tour can be picked up at the front desk.
Pictures of more items on display Facebook page.
Listen to a longer version of this story aired on 90.5FM WDUQ.