Last year, at about this time, we were busy planning a shovel-testing project of Borchard Park, here in Saginaw. You can read previous posts about the project here, here, and here. While we didn’t find the intact early 19th century deposits we were hoping for, we did find a few artifacts and we learned a bit about the land use history of the park. For those interested, a brief report on our 2014 fieldwork at Borchard Park is now available in the “Archaeology” section of the Castle Museum’s website.
Tuesday, August 19th, we began our second week of shovel-testing at Borchard Park. The day’s field crew consisted of Brad Jarvis, Ken Kosidlo, and Barry Wittig. Following a morning interview with WNEM TV 5’s Alana Holland, we got to work excavating shovel-test pits (STPs) 6 and 7. We hoped to beat the rain, but didn’t! It was a long soggy day! The weather was better the rest of the week and Ken and I excavated STPs 8 and 9 on Wednesday and Thursday and STPs 10 and 11 on Friday.
Although each STP was unique, the general pattern of the stratigraphy was similar. The upper 10-15 cm consisted of sod and dark sandy silt topsoil with relatively few artifacts including plastic and other modern debris. This was followed by a slightly darker layer of fill extending down to 20-30 cm. This level generally contained an abundance of slag/cinders along with round and square nails, flat glass, bottle glass, a few ceramic sherds, brick, mortar, foil, etc. In STPs 6 and 8 the subsequent 10-12 cm level contained lumps of clay in a sandy silt matrix along with low numbers of brick and mortar fragments, glass, coal, and nails. The other STPs (7 and 9-11) contained a more substantial, approximately 20 cm thick, layer of clay fill. Below the clay, or mixed silt and clay, fill layers there were two or more layers of silt or sand above the basal clay. The generally abrupt transitions between the silt/sand layers indicate that they were scraped and re-deposited, otherwise disturbed, and/or consist of fill. Basal clay was reached at a depth of between 63 and 88 cm below the surface.
The sand/silt layers below the clay fill did contain a few artifacts of 19th century origin. Some noteworthy items from STP 7 include a paneled glass bottle fragment with an applied finish, a blue transfer-printed white-paste earthenware sherd, and a mandibular third molar likely from a sheep or goat (our comparative faunal collection is sorely lacking in domesticated species so the ID is tentative). STP 8 yielded a white clay pipestem fragment and several pieces of glazed red-paste earthenware. Finally, several additional white clay pipe fragments, most of which refit, were found in a compacted layer of medium to fine sand below the layer of clay fill in STP 11. The bowl is plain save the unfinished mold seams and the embossed initials T D. Unfortunately, while these initials may have originally referred to a specific pipe maker, “T D” pipes became very popular and were produced by numerous manufacturers over many decades.
Our hopes of finding intact, or even relatively intact, archaeological deposits at Borchard Park have not yet been realized. Given the extent of fill and disturbance we have already documented, there appears to be little chance of locating undisturbed early 19th century or older deposits at this location. Therefore, we will not be conducting any additional testing at this time. Many thanks to all who participated in the fieldwork!
We will now shift our focus to processing the artifacts we have recovered. Indeed, John Heintz and Ken Kosidlo have already made significant progress in getting the material washed. Sorting and cataloguing are soon to follow.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
I am pleased to announce that, weather permitting, the Castle Museum’s upcoming archaeological shovel-test survey of Borchard Park will be conducted from Tuesday, August 5th through Friday, August 8th. In the photo below, the building in the foreground is the County Jail, the open area to the right is what is now Borchard Park. Another view of the jail and town square can be seen here.
Why, one might ask, do we want to conduct a shovel-test survey of Borchard Park? Good question! Here are a few reasons…
First, according to Mills’ History of Saginaw County Michigan (Mills 1918), Borchard Park is situated in the general vicinity of several events and locations important to the founding and earliest decades of the City of Saginaw. In 1816, Louis Campau established a trading post and residence nearby. In 1819 the Treaty of Saginaw was negotiated and signed at a “council house” built by Campau adjacent to his trading post. Following the Treaty of Saginaw, in 1822, Fort Saginaw was constructed just a stone’s throw from what is now Borchard Park. Although the precise locations of these buildings are not known (and recognizing that Mills is a secondary source at best), it is clear that Borchard Park is centrally located with respect to early 19th century activities in the nascent community.
Second, the area of Borchard Park has been part of a Public Square, or Town Commons, continually since the 1830 Dexter Plat was surveyed. As far as we know, other than being the temporary location of the old Court House while a new judicial building was being constructed, no permanent large-scale architecture has been erected at this location. Smaller constructions such as bandstands, walkways, gardens, etc. were certainly (and continue to be) present. In the midst of an urban setting, there are few locations that have not been built upon.
It follows from the first two points that Borchard Park may be our best hope for finding relatively undisturbed archaeological deposits in this part of the city associated with the earliest Euro-American residents of Saginaw as well as their Native American contemporaries and predecessors. Assessing the potential for such deposits is certainly warranted.
With luck, the Borchard Park project may become a springboard for the development of a program of “Settlement Period” research at the museum in which we can use the tools of archaeology and historical inquiry to learn more about the earliest years leading up to the establishment of the City of Saginaw and other communities across the county.