GIS Applications: Historic New London Waterfront

    ACS evaluated the Bank Street section of the New London Waterfront for a revitalization project targeting the reconstruction of existing piers and the construction of a promenade along a stretch of bank which was the focal point for the development of New London as a critical maritime port in the history of New England. Employing GIS technology and historic research, ACS was able to demonstrate the historic changes to the waterfront and a lack of substantial impact to existing subsurface and underwater cultural resources by the proposed development.


1850 map of the Bank Street section historic New London waterfront.


    A detailed site inspection revealed a significant amount of late historic fill of undetermined extent beneath existing structures and paved surfaces lining the bank. ACS took the initiative to construct an archaeological assessment research design largely based on the application of geographic information systems (GIS) technology to historic maps and current development plans in order to more precisely project the potential impact of the proposed development on potential cultural resources. GIS is the digitization of geographic data into a software package that allows for a wide range of applications. "Rubber-sheeting" or the stretching and fitting of overlying images with common reference points is one important tool available in GIS when comparing current development plans with historic maps that were not typically made with the same degree of precision.


Site survey map with extent of historic bank and associated wharves shown as dark dashed line. A GIS application was used to superimpose the historic bank from the 1850 map shown above, employing common reference points and a 'rubber- sheeting' technique.


   For this project, maps dating back to the mid 19th Century were scanned and superimposed on development plans, the analysis of which revealed an extensive amount of fill added to the Thames River bank for more than 150 years. The GIS study indicated that the bulk of the proposed impact would occur seaward of the original extent of the majority of historic wharves and related structural sites, a contention supported by the results of previous archaeological studies revealing maritime structural remains well landward of the project area alignment.


    ACS also conducted terrestrial and underwater surface surveys of the project area. This part of the survey confirmed an extensive amount of fill mostly attributed to the realignment of railroad tracks in the 1980s.  The partial remains of three historic piers were represented by vertical wooden support piles and an abundance of coal or other early 20th Century debris reflecting the late historic use of the waterfront after the mid 19th Century arrival of the nearby railroad tracks and train station. Historic research indicated a number of boom and bust cycles for the port in general, starting with small ship-building and West Indies trade efforts of the early 18th Century, the whaling era that peaked in the mid 19th Century, and the eventual decline of the waterfront after the railroad physically and economically cut off the bank from the commerce of downtown New London and other parts of the Northeast United States.


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