Assault on historically significant New Road property

June 8, 2018

The development site plan for Tower Hill Farm (aka the Groome property) with 293 housing units profiled in Nick Roth's Cape Gazette May 22 article is absolutely horrendous considering its impact on significant cultural and historical Native American and Colonial sites on the property.

Despite clearly articulated concerns expressed in many forums beginning in 2015, we arrive here today. It cannot be accepted!

The proposal fully obliterates the known historical and archaeological sites, and establishes water retention basins encroaching on the known family burial ground - of my ancestors. Yes, a Phase 1 archaeological preliminary assessment was done, but only a thorough Phase 2 professional archaeological exploration will reveal the true extent of what historical, cultural, and yes - human remains - may be on site. Not reporting human remains when dug up is a criminal offense (Delaware Title 7, chapter 54).

Private development will destroy one of the most significant archaeological sites in the state of Delaware as publicly stated by both the current director of the state Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, Tim Slavin, and the former director, Dan Griffith.

This property along with the adjacent Hercules Farm (on the National Register as Hell's Neck) was part of Checonesseck, a Native Siconese Indian village that stretched from the lower Great Marsh southeast to Pot Hook Creek. Never heard of Checonesseck? That is because it was not in our history books - a victim to the repression of the significance of thousands of years of native culture and history present in the Americas before European colonists wiped it out.

In the early 1950s, archaeological studies established the existence of what is known as Ritter 1. This site is between Lynn Road and the branch of water which defines the southwestern borders of the Hercules Farm and adjoining Tower Hill Farm lands. Native human remains and other important artifacts were discovered, but the study was by no means complete or exhaustive.

In 1992, there were 11 prehistoric and 10 historic sites identified in this general area. An additional one was added in 2006 - my family's known unmarked burial ground.

Tragedy rules - all the time, energy, negotiations, and consultation that so many community members provided appears to have been ignored. It doesn't matter that this was a home site of Native Americans for thousands of years prior, that it provides wildlife habitat and abuts the globally significant Great Marsh, that stormwater is absorbed here to prevent flooding of New Road and nearby homes, that it provides quality-of-life vistas for residents and tourists, or that development is causing oversaturation of the Lewes area.

This proposal is instead all about increasing profit margin for the developers on environmentally sensitive and archaeologically significant land.

How can a Christian Methodist church in Lewes let this happen on property under its stewardship? Where is the Peninsula Conference of the United Methodist Church? How can they ignore UMC principals on environmental stewardship and their support of Native Americans, indigenous peoples and their traditions?

Lost for years to history - the extent of Checonesseck must be documented. It could hold further secrets of our Delaware Natives waiting to be told - much like was found at a site once inhabited by Paspahegh Indians, the Powhatan tribal group closest to Jamestown, Va., that led to the re-created Powhatan Indian Village. This Sussex land should be preserved to allow for an opportunity as has been done in Virginia.

"Whether you're talking about archaeology at Jamestown or the restoration at Montpelier, this is the top tier of preservation work in the country. Tourism is a resource-based activity, and with Virginia's great historic and natural resources, we've got to work to make sure they remain that way. They define Virginia, and they're the reason people come here," said Kim A. O'Connell, based in Arlington, Va., who has written widely on conservation and preservation.

How about our doing this in Sussex?

Ralph W. Prettyman


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