Steltzriede Farm

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.

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!

A Quick Update from the Archaeology Lab…

Even as we begin to gear up for the 2017 field season, lab work is still moving along full speed ahead! Over the past few weeks we’ve had a reunion of sorts with the reappearance of long-lost volunteers Nick and Jana. They, along with two relative newcomers to the lab, Rachel and Roxanne, have been busy sorting and washing last year’s finds from the Steltzriede farm site. Much remains to be done, but the piles are definitely getting smaller!

Nick and Jana hard at work.

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.

HSSC Archaeology Update 15 August 2016

The past two weeks at the Steltzriede Farm site in Saginaw Township have been productive and, dare I say, exciting for the Castle Museum Archaeology team! So, what, you may ask, has piqued our interest and raised the level of excitement at the site? Believe it or not, initially it was this unassuming lump of sand and lime…

Chinking from Feature 4.

One of our primary goals has been to locate the original cabin built by the Steltzriedes in 1838 and it’s quite possible we have succeeded! In the previous update (here), I shared a picture of Feature 3, the corner of a square/rectangular pit, visible at the 55 cm level in the northeast corner of unit 535N 489E. As we continued excavating, it became apparent that Feature 3 is intruding into a much larger feature with a fairly straight edge cutting across the entirety of the unit. The larger feature, which we’ll call Feature 4, contained a few square nails, fragments of flat glass, a few ceramic sherds, and, in the 85-90 cm level, a few small pieces of the sandy, limey material pictured above. A close look reveals wood impressions on the face of at least one fragment, indicating that it may well be chinking from the wall of a cabin. The 90-95 cm level revealed larger fragments of chinking, some brick fragments, two nails, a piece of window glass, patches of grey clay, and three pieces of rotting wood. One piece of wood forms the west wall of the feature, the other two lie parallel on the 95 cm floor. Because they are so poorly preserved, it is not clear if the wood fragments are from split logs, whole logs, or cut boards.

Feature 4 showing rotting wood, chinking, bricks, and clay.

Feature 4 showing rotting wood, chinking, bricks, and clay.

Warning, premature and unwarranted speculation follows!

So, what is this whole Feature 3 – Feature 4 mess? Hard to say, but we could point out that what we have found matches pretty well with the oral history we have for the site. We’ll remember that the location of the original cabin was reported by Ralph Stroebel, who, at some unspecified date, is said to have confirmed the location of the cabin by digging a test pit and finding the wall and/or cellar of the cabin along with a few artifacts, including several fragments of chinking. Mr. Hoover, the current owner of the site, retains several fragments of chinking and other artifacts given to him by Stroebel, who stated they were from his test pit. A comparison of the chinking found by Stroebel to our recent finds reveals a  match in the material. Clearly, Feature 3 intrudes into Feature 4 and thus post-dates it. In fact, though it is difficult to see in the photograph, the north end of the wood fragment located along the east wall of the unit appears to have been cut through by Feature 3. If we wanted to go way out on a limb we could suggest that Feature 3 is the edge of Ralph Stroebel’s test pit and Feature 4 is the 1838 cabin/cellar we have been searching for. (We could even note the curved shape of the rotted wood where Feature 3 cuts through it and suggest that Stroebel used a round, rather than square-bladed shovel!) Or, we could be more appropriately cautious and remember that we have only uncovered a small part of the edge of two features. So, while the preceding interpretation is possible, and perhaps even plausible, we’ll need to gather a bit more evidence to support the claim.

Meanwhile, work also continued in another area of the site where we have been busy uncovering more of the Feature 2/midden/fill zone. As of the end of July, it appeared that Feature 2 may actually be a midden/fill zone on top of the former land surface, rather than large pit of some sort. We have not found anything during the past two weeks to change that interpretation. We have found some interesting material though, including a few items that help to date the deposit. One such item is a fragment of a hair comb impressed […RS PATENT MAY 6 1851]. This refers to Nelson Goodyear’s patent for improvements in the manufacture of “India rubber,” a  hard, plastic-like substance commonly used to make combs, buttons, and other objects in the mid to late 19th century.

Hard rubber comb with impressed Goodyear Patent 6 May 1851.

Hard rubber comb impressed with Goodyears Patent May 6 1851.

We also recovered a number of ceramic sherds including at least three varieties of molded blue-edgeware with scalloped rims, a hand-painted polychrome sherd with dark green leaves and red flowers, a brown transferware vessel, and a dark blue transferware paneled plate.  The latter sherd, pictured below on the bottom right, has been tentatively identified by Tim Bennett as the “Athens” pattern made by William Adams and registered in 1849.

Ceramic sherds from the Feature 2 midden/fill zone.

Ceramic sherds from the Feature 2 midden/fill zone.

Other material from the Feature 2 midden zone includes a couple of charred corn cupules, numerous animal bones (many of which exhibit butchery marks), brick fragments, nails, a few pieces of glass, and slag.

Faunal remains in Feature 2 midden zone.

Faunal remains in Feature 2 midden zone.

Given the finds of the past two weeks, it appears that the Feature 2 midden zone probably accumulated between 1838, when the site was first occupied, and ca. 1870 when the area was capped with relatively sterile sand fill – probably derived from digging a basement for an addition to the frame house.

Although we are beginning to develop a few tentative interpretations, at this point we are generating far more questions than answers. Have we found the cabin, or cellar? If a cellar, was it under the cabin or a separate structure? How large was cellar/cabin? How was the dwelling constructed? How has the landform changed/been altered since the initial settlement? Was all food grown/raised on site, or was it brought in from elsewhere? Were wild foods important in the early years? These and many other questions will guide our research as we continue to work to understand the Steltzriede family and their place in the early development of the Saginaw community.