Unearthing the Future: the Art of Reverse Archaeology – Interstate 280 in Orange, NJ

Interviews with Christopher King & Mindy Fullilove, MD


By Patricia Rogers

Usually, archaeologists dig into the ground to uncover the stories of the past.  In Orange, we already have a hole in the ground where the highway runs through town.  A lot has changed about Orange since the 1960s when Interstate 280 divided the city in half.  To build the interstate, hundreds of homes, shops, and community spaces were torn down, and many people left Orange for other towns.  Our team is doing a “Reverse Archaeology” of I-280 to discover the stories of Orange.  What was Orange like before the highway?  What drew current residents to Orange after so many people left?  What do people need to stay in Orange?  Together with residents of Orange, we want to look past the divided city and understand the Orange as a whole — past, present and future.

Meet some of the team: 

Meet the Archaeologist :: Christopher King

I am Christopher King and I am a Reverse Archaeologist.  I have been involved in Unearthing the Future: The Art of Reverse Archaeology - Interstate 280 in Orange since October 1st of 2015, and since then I have learned so much about my hometown. 

What surprises me the most is the fact that Interstate 280 is a relatively new structure that has had a tremendous impact on Orange and the surrounding region.  My job is to figure out what life was like in Orange before the roadway and during its construction.  Like conventional archaeologists, I am searching for clues from the past to discover how people lived. 

The artifacts I uncover are stories, photos, and the emotions of the people I interview who can recall life before the highway and during its construction.  It is the responsibility of the reverse archaeology team to archive and showcase our findings to the community in order to start a conversation about how do we replace what was lost and what will people need today to stay and raise a family. 

"It is the responsibility of the reverse archaeology team to archive and showcase our findings to the community in order to start a conversation about how do we replace what was lost and what will people need today to stay and raise a family." 

— Christopher King

So far what concerns the people I've interviewed the most was the destruction of two "colored" youth centers that were once in that path of the interstate.  These youth centers served as an important part of growing up, being productive, learning common values and having a safe place to socialize.

Through reverse archaeology in Orange, we all can expect to learn about how the community functioned before being split in two, what kinds of aspects and practices of community did we loose and how can we apply those lost practices in today's society to fill this physical and social void.  By uncovering and celebrating influential people and places from Orange, we can expect to develop a new appreciation for the place we call home.  This new appreciation has potential to influence social engagement, civic engagement and participation in planning for our future in Orange, New Jersey. 

The Doctor is In :: An Interview with Mindy Fullilove, MD

Dr. Mindy Fullilove, is the board president of University of Orange, and on the community engagement team for the Reverse Archeology, I-280 in Orange project.

How do you want this project to restore Orange pride?

We learned from Professor Ron Shiffman, speaking at Placemaking 6, "Communities are built on memory — it is the foundation for the future."  I believe that this story of Route 280 helps us understand the fracture that undermined Orange and can point us in new directions for becoming strong.

What has surprised you so far in the project? 

I have really appreciated that Oakwood Avenue was a very important street for the African American community and it really lost many important institutions, like the two "colored" Y's.  The highway passes Oakwood Avenue, so it lost its role in the city’s network of streets.  I wonder how this can be fixed.

Talk about the concept of reverse archeology

Reverse Archaeology is great concept — we have a ditch and we want to piece together what was there before the highway came through.

What can we expect?

We can expect all kinds of interesting stories!  It seems everyone has a "freeway" story.  We are making a "lemonade stand," like the one Lucy had in the comic strip Charlie Brown.  It had a sign that said "The Doctor is IN."  I'm going to be the "doctor" (and I AM a doctor!) at the lemonade stand — we're going to take it all over town.

Learn more about Mindy here: https://mindyfullilove.contently.com/ & University of Orange www.universityoforange.org & The Reverse Archeology 1-280 in Orange project www.280inorange.org

About the Writer

Patricia Rogers, #ValleyGirlNJ, lives in New Jersey's Valley Arts District. The native New Yorker works as a writer, blogger and community activist.  Starting Masconsumption Media in 2012, she has been passionate about capturing the stories of the vibrant up and coming Valley Arts District neighborhood through her blog, zine, events and more.  She blogs for Jersey Indie, Luna Stage, and Hat City Kitchen and offers many creative media services.  Visit her blog www.masconsumption.com and keep up with your favorite Valley Girl on social media at @valleygirl_nj (Twitter / Instagram).