Archaeologists Trace Mystery Wall Not to War, but to Beer

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Not enough to have fired a shot, but quite enough to have fired a few imaginations, a fortresslike 19th-century wall came to light briefly in recent weeks under a construction site at West End Avenue and 59th Street.

Old foundations are exposed all the time as New York perpetually rebuilds itself. But this was something different. About 30 feet deep and 100 feet long, the wall was composed of stones laid with evident care and skill. Most intriguingly, its roughhewn face was punctuated by two straight rows of seven large square openings.

For cannons, perhaps? Was this some extraordinary vestige of the War of 1812? A reminder of the time when the Hudson River shoreline was only 100 yards away?

To Kevan Cleary, a lawyer who lives nearby and has been playing sidewalk superintendent with his 12- and 15-year-old sons, the mystery wall recalled somewhat the Castle Williams fortification on Governors Island. ''I could see it chasing off ships that were unfriendly,'' he said. So could his boys.

Clearly, this was a case for the historical detective squad.

''Who would have built a fort like that, that no historian has ever talked about?'' asked Joan H. Geismar, one of several urban archaeologists in New York -- Amanda Sutphin, Mary Habstritt and Diana diZerega Wall were others -- who looked into the mystery.

They traced the wall to the Clausen & Price ale and porter brewery, which stood on the spot from 1871 (when the company was known as Clausen & Bauer) until 1910.

At the turn of the 20th century, Clausen & Price's neighbors included railyards, stockyards, gas tanks and the Interborough Rapid Transit subway power house, which still stands. Most recently, a gas station was on the property, where a 31-story condominium apartment tower is to rise in coming months.

Finally, the puzzle made its way from Ms. Sutphin, the director of archaeology at the Landmarks Preservation Commission, to Susan K. Appel, an art history professor at Illinois State University in Normal, Ill., whose expertise is in pre-Prohibition breweries.

''It seems to me clear that the wall in question was part of the Clausen & Price brewery,'' Dr. Appel wrote in a five-page report, ''and that it was likely built more or less when the brewery was established.''

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