Archaeologists Bring Up World War II-Era Rescue Boat, Horse-Drawn Wagon Wheels And More As Lawmakers Contemplate Site's Future

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A massive project is underway to clean up one of the countries most polluted waterways: the Gowanus Canal, which flows through Brooklyn.

Crews have discovered some old treasures, but most of them are covered in toxic sludge, CBS2’s Natalie Duddridge reported Thursday.

As they wash down the once oil-slicked shores of the canal, clean-up crews are also scouring the many layers of muck at the bottom and turning up all kinds of century-old treasures, like a World War II-era rescue boat.

“It’s really been neat in what it tells us about the history of this section of Brooklyn for the past 150 years,” archaeologist Jonathan Bream, of Archaeology and Historic Resource Services, said. “We have found pretty much everything down in there, even the kitchen sink.”

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Archaeologists did find a 1950’s kitchen kettle, a fishermen’s anchor and hundreds of tires and old wheels from horse-drawn wagons, once used to transport coal.

During the Industrial Revolution gas refineries would dump toxic waste and raw sewage directly into the canal, making the water and the items in it poisonous.

“Don’t want to get it on your skin. First it will blacken your skin, it leaves its mark let’s just say,” Bream said.

That’s why the Environmental Protection Agency embarked on this $500 million federal superfund cleanup.

Crews are first focusing on a small section of the 4th Street turning basin and eventually will cleanse the entire 1.8 mile-long canal.

One of the most noticeable changes so far is the smell.

“When this was not clean sometimes the smell, y’know, bad, really bad,” one resident said.

As the clean-up continues local leaders are already planning ahead to building the community around the canal. They’re calling it “Bridging Gowanus.”

“We think there’s room for several thousand new houses around the canal,” City Councilman Brad Lander said. “You could get down to the water. You could be able to boat.”

But before that happens, this project, which has mostly been paid for by taxpayers, will take another decade to complete. And in that time, who knows what surprises will be discovered beneath the surface?

So far, none of these artifacts have been determined to be worth much money, but experts say their historical value is priceless.