History

Michigan Archaeological Society Meeting, Thursday, 5 October 2017

Somehow the days have gotten away from me this month, so this notice is rather last-minute. Nevertheless, all are invited to the October meeting of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society. The meeting is tonight, 5 October 2017,  at 7:00 pm, here at the Castle Museum. For the evening’s program, I will be providing an update on our work at the Steltzriede Farm site in Saginaw Township. The official announcement from the chapter is copied below.

Nick and Julia excavating at the Steltzriede Farm site in Saginaw Township.

The October meeting of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society will be on Thursday, October 5, 2017, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m., in the Morley Room, of the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History, 500 Federal Ave., Saginaw, MI 48607.
Jeff Sommer will give an update on the third season of excavations at the Steltzriede Farm site where, in 1838, German immigrants Henry and Katherine Steltzriede settled, established a farm, and began raising a family.
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Fieldwork Update – more from the Steltzriede Farm site.

Progress has been slow but sure at the Castle Museum’s archaeological investigations at the Steltzriede Farm site in Saginaw Township, so I think we are due for another update. We noted previously (here) a need to expand our excavation in order to expose the northwest corner of the presumed cabin cellar. The hassle of dealing with bushes and utilities notwithstanding, we have expanded the excavation block and the corner of the cellar is now clearly visible.

The northwest corner of the cellar at 90 cm. Note brick fragments and abundant chinking.

Other than hundreds of fragments of chinking, several brick fragments, and a few square nails, artifacts have been sparse in the cellar fill. This brass buckle is one of the few non-structural items so far recovered within the cellar. Unfortunately, unlike some 19th century buckles, this one does not appear to have a patent date impressed into it.

Brass buckle found in the cellar.

One of our goals has been to determine the overall size of the cellar. Using a small coring tool, we have attempted to trace the extent of the dark cellar fill. It appears that both the north and west walls of the cellar extend to the edge of, or under, the asphalt driveway. Cores show no evidence that the cellar extends all the way across the driveway. Therefore, if we assume the cellar maintains a rectangular shape, and assume our interpretation of the core samples is accurate, the cellar must measure approximately 12′ X 16′.

Projected size of the cellar.

Work has also continued in what we refer to as the “midden” area of the site. This is a trash disposal area in what at the time was a fairly steep slope leading down to a small pond. The pond has long since been filled in (sometime prior to 1954). Recent finds in the midden area include fragments from several ceramic vessels and numerous animal bones. Ceramic types include blue-edgewares, red transferware, black transferware, and hand-painted polychrome, all of which fit well in an early to mid-19th century context. Many of the animal bones appear to be from pigs, but cow (including most of a skull) and duck have also been identified.

Fragments of a small blue-edgeware plate from the midden area.

Assorted ceramics from the midden area.

Fragments of a cow skull in situ in the midden area.

That’s it for now, but for those interested and in the area, I will be sharing the results our work at the Steltzriede Farm site as part of the Thirty-Seventh Annual Saginaw Humanities Lecture Series on Tuesday, Oct. 3rd, at the Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy (SASA), 1903 N. Niagara Street, in Saginaw. SASA students will perform a musical prelude beginning at 7:00 PM with the lecture beginning at 7:30 PM. There is no admission fee.

Fieldwork Update – Work Continues at the Steltzriede Farm Site

The Castle Museum archaeology crew continues to make progress at the Steltzriede Farm site in Saginaw Township. We have been working on exposing more of the north side of the cellar and at the 70 cm floor can clearly see a portion of the north wall. At this point, the wall appears to have been lined with horizontal wood planks. However, the nature of the wall is obscured by what seem to be rotted tree roots that grew parallel to and through the wall. The roots were probably attracted to the organic content of the rotting wall boards. It is also becoming obvious that we will need to extend the excavation a bit to the west to expose the northwest corner of the cellar. Unfortunately, to do so will require working around buried utility wires and a large shrub. A hassle to be sure, but much better than the eastern side of the cellar, which appears to be entirely covered by the paved driveway!

The edge of the cellar at 70 cm floor.

As expected, we have not been finding a lot of artifacts in the cellar fill. Material we have found includes several square nails, a few fragments of window glass, plaster/chinking fragments, and several ceramic sherds. The ceramics appear to be from early to mid-19th century vessels including a black transferware plate, a blue edgeware bowl or soup plate with an embossed (beaded) rim, and a blue edgeware plate with a scalloped rim and curved impressed lines. Based on what we found in adjacent units last year, we can expect artifact density to increase as we approach the floor of the cellar.

Ceramics from the cellar fill.

Meanwhile, we have also been working in an area of the site where 19th century midden (trash) deposits were previously identified. We have progressed through the upper layers of 19th and 20th century fill that cap the area and are now into the 19th century midden deposits. Artifact density is much higher in this portion of the site, which means lots of measuring, mapping in artifacts, and recording notes!

Nick and Julia measuring and recording data.

Artifacts from the midden area include bricks, ceramics, bottle fragments, animal bones, lead shot, and even a couple of glass beads. One of the glass beads (shown) is a dark blue faceted bead. The other is a tiny clear glass “seed” bead. Similar beads were found in early 19th century contexts at the Cater Site in Midland County (Beld 2002), but these styles likely persisted through the mid and late 19th century. Fragments of two small aqua glass bottles were found including the neck and shoulder portion of a rectangular medicine bottle and the base of a slightly melted round (cylindrical) bottle with an open pontil scar. Ceramics include fragments of both green and blue edgeware vessels with scalloped rims and both red and black transferware vessels. The red transferware vessel shown below is a bowl or other hollow vessel decorated on both the interior and exterior surfaces. The pattern has not yet been identified, but there may be enough for one of the ceramic gurus out there to figure it out.

Selected artifacts from the midden area.

We will continue working at the Steltzriede Farm site throughout the summer and into the fall, so stay tuned for more updates!

Fieldwork Update – Getting Started at the Steltzriede Farm Site

Nick and Roxanne ready to get started.

The Castle Museum Archaeology team has been busy and the 2017 field season at the Steltzriede Farm Site (20SA562) is now well underway. During the 2016 field season we located a mid-19th century midden zone (trash deposit) and what we believe is the cellar of the original house/cabin built on the site. Readers familiar with the project will remember that the Steltzriede family is said to have built a log cabin when they settled at the site in 1838. They moved to a frame house, which still stands on the property, in 1848. New readers can learn more about the project here, here, here, and here. Our work this year will, at least initially, focus on uncovering more of the cabin/cellar to learn what we can about the size and nature of the structure. We will also expand our excavation in the midden area to obtain a larger sample of artifacts and subsistence remains from the early decades of the Steltzriede’s occupation.

Julia, Nick, and Brad excavating in the cabin/cellar area.

We have opened up three 1X1 meter units in the cabin/cellar area and are slowly working our way through the upper fill layers toward the cellar floor. Two of the units contain clusters of mortar/chinking, but little else, and no sign yet of the expected wall of the cellar. This is probably due to the way the cellar deteriorated, collapsed, and was filled in – a process that, through careful excavation, we may be able to tease out. The third excavation unit in this part of the site was previously excavated (in 2015)  down to 40cm in north half and 50 cm in the south half. At that point there was no clear sign of a structural feature so the excavation was halted and backfilled. Given what we learned last year about the location of the cellar and what the collapsed and filled in area above the cellar looks like, I decided to reexamine the previously excavated unit and go a bit deeper to see if we had given up on it too soon. This may have been a good decision because at the 60cm floor we can now see what appears to be the north edge of the cellar!

Probable north wall of cellar. A rotted root runs along the edge.

Artifacts have been pretty sparse in all three units. Other than the previously mentioned mortar/chinking, we have found a few nails, bone fragments, one or two small ceramic sherds, and a couple of glass fragments. One glass fragment is from a pressed glass goblet or tumbler with the “Wildflower” pattern by Adams and Co. More research is needed, but a quick internet search indicates that the Adams and Co. began producing the pattern in the 1870s and it was widely reproduced well into the 20th century. Regardless of whether this is a 19th or 20th century example, it clearly post-dates the occupation of the cabin.

Pressed glass – “Wildflower” pattern.

Monday, we also opened up two excavation units in the area above the 19th century midden. This part of the site is capped with approximately 50cm of sod and topsoil and clay and gravel fill. We shoveled out these relatively recent (probably mid-20th century) fill layers and are now ready to begin excavation of the 19th century deposits.

Fieldwork Update 3 May 2017

Nick Bacon and I took advantage of a window of nice weather and spent Wednesday working in the Swan Creek study area. We revisited one of the 19th century artifact clusters we initially found two years ago. Previous posts about the study area can be seen here, here, here, and here. We spent the morning flagging artifacts and the afternoon plotting coordinates and collecting the specimens. Here’s Nick hard at work recording provenience data on the collection bags.

Nick filling out collection bags.

Despite making two previous “total” collections of this artifact cluster (in 2015 and 2016), we continue to find new classes of artifacts, and new styles of previously collected artifact classes. We may eventually  reach a point of diminishing returns in terms of broadening our understanding of the range of materials present in this cluster, but I don’t think we’re there yet.

A selection of artifacts from Area 2, Cluster 1.

Structural debris was limited to window glass, nails and one or two small brick fragments. Household/domestic and personal items were more varied. We found several types of decorated ceramics including blue, black, green, and purple transfer-printed wares; blue edgeware; red, blue, and red and blue sponge-decorated (including one sherd with a green hand-painted band around the rim); and hand-painted polychrome (sprigware). We found a few white clay smoking pipe fragments including one with a cross-hatched bowl and a circle of stars. Although it’s missing the initials, this pipe is probably a fragment of a “Patriotic T.D.” pipe, which was a common style during the third quarter of the 19th century (Anderson 1982). We found one molded, white, four-hole, prosser button.  Prosser buttons post-date 1840 and were still being made into the mid-20th century (Sprague 2002). We also found one bead, a black glass, or jet, specimen, rectangular in outline, flat on one face and rounded on the other, and beveled on both ends. The bead has two holes, one on each end of the long edge. Finally, we found a French “blade” gunflint. According to Beld (2002), by 1850, most guns in the Saginaw Valley had been converted over to the percussion cap firing mechanism, so this artifact probably dates to the first half of the 19th century.

All in all, it was great start to the 2017 field season! Stay tuned for more updates as the season progresses.

More from the lab…

The piles are getting smaller!

The Castle Museum Archaeology lab crew (Jana, Nick, Rachel, and Roxanne) had a productive week processing artifacts from last year’s excavations at the Steltzriede Farm site. Here is a bit of their handiwork…

Freshly washed artifacts and faunal remains from the 19th century midden at the Steltzriede Farm site.

The 19th century midden area at Steltzriede produced a number of large mammal bone fragments and some smaller items including a few fish bones and even some egg shell fragments! Many of the bone fragments show butchery marks and a few show gnaw marks – likely from the family dog(s). This snapshot also shows a couple of ceramic sherds, a cinder, a brick fragment, and a piece of a white clay smoking pipe… enough variety to keep any historically-minded archaeologist happy!

Saginaw Valley Archaeologists: Contributors to the Field III – Ralph W. Stroebel

Note: As the title implies, this series of occasional posts is intended to highlight individuals who have made significant contributions, in one way or another, to the archaeology of the Saginaw Valley. Subjects of previous posts include Fred Dustin and Harlan I. Smith.

 

Ralph Stroebel has been mentioned at least three times previously on this blog (here, here, and here), so a post describing and honoring his contributions to the archaeology of the Saginaw Valley is probably overdue. Much of the following biographical information was compiled by Ira W. Butterfield and published in The Michigan Archaeologist (Butterfield 1988).

Born 17 July 1899, Ralph Stroebel grew up on a farm in Saginaw Township, not far from the home of his maternal grandparents, Henry and Katherine Steltzriede. [As followers of this blog are well-aware, the Steltzriede Farm site has been the focus of two seasons of archaeological research by the Castle Museum. Our interest in the site and our knowledge of its history can be traced directly to stories and research shared by Ralph.] Stroebel’s interest in archaeology and history was sparked early in life and as a child he collected artifacts he found on his father’s farm. While still a teenager, Stroebel had the good fortune to meet Fred Dustin, with whom he forged a friendship lasting until Dustin’s death in 1957. Under Dustin’s guidance, Ralph learned to document site locations and to number and catalogue the artifacts he collected.

Both on his own and together with Dustin, Stroebel discovered and explored many archaeological sites throughout Saginaw County. Among the thousands of artifacts he collected was a cache of 42 roughly chipped Bayport chert “blades” (including bifaces and flakes) now known as the Watson Cache (20SA420). Ralph published a description of this find in the journal American Antiquity (Stroebel 1937). Over the years, Ralph donated much of his well-documented collection to the Museum of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. A portion of his collection was also donated to the Historical Society of Saginaw County.

stroebel2

Ralph Stroebel standing in a cache pit along the Cass River in 1934. Photo by Fred Dustin.

The Michigan Archaeological Society was first organized in the 1920s and Ralph Stroebel was a charter member. While the institution languished during the depression and war years, Stroebel, Dustin, and a small group of like-minded individuals continued to meet informally to discuss local archaeology. When the society was reestablished in the 1950s, this group formed the core of the Saginaw Valley Chapter. Stroebel was active in the Chapter and served several terms as President of the group. He was looked upon by many as an informal mentor, always willing to offer guidance and encouragement to those just beginning to pursue their archaeological interests.

Stroebel’s interests weren’t confined to archaeology. As the years passed he devoted himself more and more to historical research and he was one of the founders of the Historical Society of Saginaw County. He assembled an extensive reference collection containing newspaper clippings, photographs, library references, and other scraps of information organized into files covering hundreds of topics on local history. He collected oral histories, scoured public records and archives, and compiled data into usable formats. Two of his larger research projects included locating all known cemeteries and burial plots in the county and identifying every sawmill and associated company that operated along the Saginaw River. Ralph amassed a substantial collection of tools and other items related to lumbering, farming, and the day to day activities of previous generations. Through library research and interviewing “old-timers” he learned how the various tools were actually used. Ralph became widely known as THE historian of Saginaw County and was named the official County Historian for the Saginaw County Board of Commissioners.

Teaching the next generation, 1969.

Ralph at home, teaching the next generation, 1969.

Perhaps Stroebel’s greatest contribution was demonstrating his belief that artifacts, knowledge, and information gained through research are only valuable when shared. He gave dozens of presentations to groups of school children and adults, he spent countless hours helping to develop exhibits at the Castle Museum, he researched and responded to hundreds of inquiries regarding local history, and he donated copies of his research materials to several local libraries and historical societies.  Ralph Stroebel’s efforts in the fields of history and archaeology continue to be widely recognized and greatly appreciated. His contributions of collections, original research, and archival materials to the Historical Society of Saginaw County are still very much in evidence at the Castle Museum today.

Exhibit honoring Stroebel at the Ralph W. Stroebel Archives located in the Castle Museum Annex.

Exhibit honoring Stroebel at the Ralph W. Stroebel Archives located in the Castle Museum Annex.

Stroebel received recognition and a number of awards from local, state, and national organizations including an Award of Merit from both the Michigan Archaeological Society and the Historical Society of Michigan. The citation that perhaps best exemplifies Stroebel’s lifelong dedication and contributions to knowledge and understanding is the Robert H. Albert Community Service Award from the Greater Saginaw Chamber of Commerce.  The award states “What a man does for himself dies with him; what he does for his community lives forever.”  It is a fitting tribute to an extraordinary person. Ralph Stroebel died in Saginaw on 12 December 1987.