TRENTON – State and Mercer County officials cut the ribbon Tuesday on the $1.8 million Petty’s Run archaeological site adjacent to the Statehouse here.
Fifes and drums played as lawmakers and Cabinet officials dedicated a project that celebrates more than 300 years of history.
The six interpretive signs surrounding the site behind the Old Barracks tell of 19th-century row homes, early 18th-century industrialization, and the stream that fed the pre-Revolutionary War businesses.
The most important one may have been the 1750s-era steel furnace, one of only five operating in the colonies at that time, one whose very existence was an act of defiance to England, according to Ian Burrow, archaeologist and historian.
As well as being a sign of economic independence, the furnace produced bayonets and other colonial weapons, Burrow told a crowd of approximately 80 people.
“This fantastic hole in the ground,’’ as Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes called it, can now “inspire and spark the imagination.”
The path to today’s ceremony was complicated and at one point uncertain.
The project began in 2008 during the Corzine administration as part of a much grander vision for the area, but cost concerns brought it to a halt as administrations changed.
Under the Christie administration, an arrangement was reached with Mercer County to split costs on a scaled-down version.
When it seemed as if politics and economics would endanger Petty’s Run, local historians and legislators worked to publicize the cause and prevent it from being covered over and forgotten.
“It’s not easy saving history,’’ said Bob Martin, Department of Environmental Protection commissioner. But now, he said, Trenton’s “unique manufacturing role’’ during a pivotal moment in history is preserved.
Fifteenth District Sen. Shirley Turner and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, county Freeholder Anthony Carabelli, and Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff also participated in the grand opening of the site.