History

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.

Michigan Archaeological Society Meeting 5 January 2017

Please join the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society here at the Castle Museum on Thursday, 5 January, for their first meeting of the new year. Kyle Bagnall, Manager of Historical Programs at Chippewa Nature Center, will present the evening’s program. He will describe a period of Michigan’s history (1840) between the close of the fur trade and the onset of the lumbering period. Those who follow this blog will recognize that this time frame overlaps nicely with establishment of the Steltzriede farm site (1838), where the Castle Museum has been conducting archaeological research over the past two years.  Kyle’s program will provide an interesting perspective on what Michigan would have been like as Henry and Katherine Steltzriede built a cabin and began establishing their farm and starting a family on the outskirts of Saginaw.

As always, the public is welcome and encouraged to attend the meeting and program. The official announcement from the Chapter is copied below.

 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

7:00 p.m. – 9:00
Castle Museum of Saginaw County History
500 Federal Avenue, Saginaw, MI 48607
 
Kyle Bagnall, manager of historical programs Chippewa Nature Center.
The In-Between Day:
What was Michigan like as the fur trade came to a close after 200 years of frenetic activity? Only three years old in 1840, our new state was a wilderness of virgin forests, filled with surveyors, explorer, settlers and small towns popping up on the frontier. Join Kyle Bagnall in an intimate look at this exciting time of great change in the history of Great Lakes State, before the day of lumbering transformed our landscaped forever.

Michigan Archaeological Society Meeting 3 November 2016

The November meeting of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society will be held here at the Castle Museum on Thursday, 3 November 2016. I will be presenting a talk on our recent work at the Steltzriede Farm site. We have previously highlighted our work at the site here, here, here, and elsewhere on this blog. Now is your chance to get the most recent up-to-date information in person! The meetings are free and, as always, the public is welcome and encouraged to attend. The official announcement is copied below.

 

Ashleigh Travis Patrick

 

Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society
November meeting
Thursday, November 3, 2016
7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Castle Museum of Saginaw County History

500 Federal Avenue, Saginaw, MI 48607

Jeffrey D. Sommer will give a presentation on the Steltzriede Farm site located in Saginaw Township. According to family history, the Steltzriede’s purchased the land and built a log cabin on the site in 1838. A frame house, which still stands was constructed in 1848. The program will chronicle our efforts to locate evidence of the log cabin and highlight our findings from the past two field seasons.

Steltzriede Farm Program 27 September 2016

September is flying by and it has been weeks since the last update on our fieldwork at the Steltzriede Farm site. We have been busy exposing more of the stone and mortar foundation discovered in 2015 and expanding our excavation in the cabin/cellar area. I don’t have time for an in-depth update now, but I will be doing a Lunch and Learn program on our work at the site next Tuesday, 27 September, at noon, here at the Castle Museum. It should be a fun program and there might be treats! So, if you’re in the area and want to hear more about the project, please join us.

Caitlin and Travis getting to the bottom of things.

Caitlin and Travis getting to the bottom of things.