Borchard Park Fieldwork: Week 1 Update

After a weather-delayed start to our fieldwork, the much anticipated shovel-testing project at Borchard Park got underway last Wednesday with a field crew consisting of Ken Kosidlo, John Heintz and Remington Kissack. Before digging could commence, we needed to establish a grid system over the site so our Shovel-Test Pits (STPs) could be assigned locational coordinates. To accomplish this, we arbitrarily selected the point where the north edge of the sidewalk along Court Street intersected the east edge of the parking lot as the site datum and labeled this point 500N 500E. For the purposes of our grid, the east edge of the parking lot will be considered a north/south baseline. In actuality, this line has a bearing of approximately 47.6 degrees – nowhere close to true North or Magnetic North – we’ll call it Grid North. All of the STPs at Borchard Park will be numbered sequentially and labeled with grid coordinates indicating the number of meters north and east of the datum.

Our first shovel-test, STP 1, is located at 503N 520E. Just below the sod, mixed in with the topsoil, we encountered a layer of “clinkers”, or coal cinders, extending down to 18 cm. This material, detritus from coal-burning furnaces, was frequently used on paths or roadways or simply as fill. Other artifacts in this upper level included a couple of glass bottle fragments, a wire nail, and a red plastic reflector. At the bottom of this level we found a black PVC pipe, perhaps part of a sprinkler system, crossing the pit. A layer of fill, comprised mostly of brick and mortar rubble, extended from the base of the previous level down to approximately 40 cm in the south half of the STP and down to 80+ cm in the north half. Thus, it appears that STP 1 intersected the edge of a rubble-filled pit or trench. Other artifacts present in the fill zone include a couple of square nails, some window glass fragments, a white-clay pipe stem fragment, part of a glass lamp chimney, a scrap of stamped brass (possibly from a lamp), a slate pencil fragment, and a sherd of yellow-paste earthenware. In the south half of STP 1, below the fill zone, there was a layer of dark sandy silt down to 52 cm followed by sandy clay down to 80+ cm. No cultural material was recovered in either of these levels.

Our first STP at Borchard Park. Note PVC pipe at right.

Our first STP at Borchard Park. Note the PVC pipe at right.

Top row: Yellow-paste earthenware and slate pencil fragment. Bottom row: glass lamp chimney and stamped brass.

Top row: Yellow-paste earthenware and slate pencil fragment. Bottom row: glass lamp chimney and stamped brass.

On Thursday, Ken and I were joined by Brad Jarvis and Karly and Mark Simerson. We excavated STP 2 at 503N 503E and STP 3 at 515N 510E. STP 2 was quite similar to STP 1 in terms of the soil profile and contents. The upper level contained numerous clinkers, a couple of screws, a small clay marble, some scraps of plastic, and a pull-tab. Instead of a PVC pipe, we found a cable crossing STP 2. The rubble/fill layer extended down to 50 cm over much of the STP, but down to 80 cm along the east edge. Five spent .22 caliber cartridges were found in the fill zone of STP 2. Away from the east edge of STP 2, a layer of sand fill extended from 50-60 cm followed by dark silt from 60-65 cm and silty clay from 65-80+ cm. No cultural material was recovered from any of these lower levels.

Foreground: Karly and Mark Simerson. Background: Ken Kosidlo and Brad Jarvis.

Foreground: Karly and Mark Simerson excavate STP 3. Background: Ken Kosidlo and Brad Jarvis excavate STP 2.

Note light and dark sand below brick and mortar fill layer.

Note the cable crossing STP 2 and dark and light sand fill below brick and mortar fill layer.

The soil profile of STP 3 included four fairly distinct levels. The upper sod and topsoil level was similar to STP 1 and 2 but contained relatively fewer cinders. I’m not sure how she did it (chalk it up to young eyes), but Karly managed to pull a tiny white glass seed bead out of the screen before it fell through! Other items in the upper level include a piece of glass, some scraps of plastic, and a few corroded metal objects. The main fill zone extended from 17-52 cm and contained brick and mortar fragments, lumps of clay, a few pieces of charcoal, and a few corroded square nails. From 52-74 cm there was a layer of dark sandy silt, which may be a natural soil horizon. Few artifacts were present in this layer including a piece of thin window glass, a small sherd of glazed red-paste earthenware, and a few badly corroded nails/iron scraps. This layer was followed by sandy clay extending down to 80+ cm.

The dark layer below the brick and mortar fill may be the original land surface.

The dark layer below the brick and mortar fill may be the original land surface in STP 3.

The Friday field crew included Ken Kosidlo, Ivan Blevins, Barry Wittig and two of Barry’s students from Valley Lutheran High School, Rocky and Lanie Frazier. We excavated STP 4 at 510N 530E and STP 5 at 520N 530E. The soil profile of STP 4 is quite similar to that of STP 3. The upper level (sod and topsoil) contained plastic scraps, a few brick and mortar fragments, cinders, and a glass bottle fragment. The bottom edge of the bottle is embossed with the name Duraglas. According to the glossary page of the “Historic Glass Bottle Identification and Information Website” of the Bureau of Land Management and the Society for Historical Archaeology, this indicates it was manufactured sometime between 1940 and the 1950s. The subsequent fill zone, from 20-42 cm, contained brick and mortar fragments, glass, square nails, a spent .22 caliber cartridge, a white “Prosser Patent” button, and a couple of decorative brass items including a possible jewelry fitting and perhaps a harness or upholstery embellishment. Prosser buttons were invented in the 1840s and are commonly found on mid to late-19th century sites. An iron water (?) pipe crosses the STP at the bottom of the fill zone. Below the fill level, from 42-53 cm, is layer of dark silt, possibly representing a natural soil horizon. A few artifacts were recovered from this level including a white-paste earthenware sherd, a glass fragment, two brick fragments, and a Bayport chert flake.

Note the iron pipe crossing the STP. The dark layer below the fill may be the original land surface.

Note the iron pipe crossing STP 4. The dark layer below the fill may be the original land surface.

Level 1 includes the sod and topsoil above the brick and mortar fill layer. Level 2 is the brick and mortar fill.

Level 1 in STP 4 includes the sod and topsoil above the brick and mortar fill layer. Level 2 is the brick and mortar fill.

Artifacts from below the fill layer. Left: white-paste earthenware plate fragment. Right: Bayport Chert flake.

Artifacts from below the fill layer in STP 4. Left: white-paste earthenware plate fragment. Right: Bayport Chert flake.

Like STP 2, STP 5 contained an upper sod and topsoil layer, a layer of brick and mortar rubble fill, and a layer of sand fill. A cable and a black PVC pipe cross STP 5 at the bottom of the upper level. Several glass fragments, both bottle and flat, and a couple of iron fragments were recovered in the upper level. The brick and mortar fill zone contained a slate pencil, sharpened on both ends, and some corroded iron fragments. An iron pipe crosses STP 5 at the bottom of this fill level. The layer of sand fill extended from 40-60 cm. Artifacts recovered in the sand layer include a saw-cut bone, two small white-paste earthenware fragments, a couple of fragments of grey slate, glass, iron, and charcoal fragments. Below the sand fill is a layer of dark silt from 60-80 cm. No artifacts were recovered in this layer.

Note the iron pipe between the layers of brick and mortar fill and the sand fill in STP 5.

Note the iron pipe between the layers of brick and mortar fill and the sand fill in STP 5.

With the limited testing thus far completed, it is certainly premature to make any pronouncements about the site. However, given the opportunities we’ve had to share a bit about the history and archaeology of Saginaw with curious passers-by, and the chance to give some hands-on experience to several participants new to the field, the project as a whole has already demonstrated a large measure of success. Although it’s too early to reach any conclusions, we can make some tentative interpretations/speculations about the site from what we have observed. I think there is both good news and bad. The good news is that it does appear that there are some at least partially intact deposits that could relate to the mid-19th century and earlier. The bad news is: 1) the landscape appears to have been more heavily modified/disturbed than initially expected (or hoped); 2) the earlier deposits are buried beneath two or more layers of fill; and 3) there seems to be very little cultural material in the earlier deposits. The origin of the brick and mortar fill layer is not entirely clear. It may be related to the old courthouse that was temporarily on the site between 1883 and ca. 1885, it may be from the bandstand/gazebo that once was located on the south end of the park, or, perhaps more likely, it may be material derived from the jail that once stood where the parking lot now is located. If we can date the fill layer(s) by the types of artifacts present within them, then additional research into the timing of the demolition of these various structures may help resolve this question.

A HUGE thank you to the field crew! This project would not be possible without your hard work. We’ll be back at the site next week to see what more we can learn. Feel free to stop by and see what we’re up too.

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