Volunteers Continue Excavation Of Fenton Property

The Fenton History Center is digging up more of its own story again this summer.

A lunchtime lecture Wednesday, presented by Fenton trustee Tom Greer, M.D., took an in-depth look at the Walnut Grove archeology project that has been taking place on the Fenton Park property since June 2012. The project is continuing this summer with more focused excavations and artifact processing. Greer spoke at the lecture on the history of the building, as well as the newest findings of the dig.

According to Greer, relatives had basically boarded up the Fenton house until 1912 when they decided to put it on the market. Throughout that time, the home and property were more or less in a state of decay. The city of Jamestown then bought the home and property in 1919 in order to use it as a soldiers’ and sailors’ park. The city still owns the property and house today. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, there were several other buildings on the property as well, including an attendants’ house, greenhouse and carriage house.

“We had an archeological survey completed on the property,” said Greer. “An archeological survey is basically where we take samples from the soil to try to determine what might be in it. We set up a grid system, and everywhere that the lines intersected, we dug a test pit.”

The test pits, each roughly 2 feet wide and 3 feet deep, were then excavated, and the soil from them was screened through mesh so that artifacts could be extracted. The artifacts were then cataloged, and the process was repeated at the subsequent pits.

“You can then go back and use what you found in each test pit to start deciding where more digging needs to occur,” said Greer.

Now that excavations have resumed for 2013, the team is working to decipher what type of building was actually located in the spot where they have been searching for remnants of the greenhouse. During the lecture, Greer said signs show there may have been another building on the property at some point for which the Fenton History Center has no documentation.

“Everything has been a surprise for us so far this year,” said Greer. “Nothing has been quite what we expected.”

Currently, there is a small team of volunteers working to continue the excavations that were begun last year, as well as expand the search. Volunteers include an anthropology professor from Jamestown Community College, two JCC students, a volunteer from Buffalo and two area residents.

“On any given day, there’s an average of about four people working on the dig,” said Greer. “It’s a small-scale operation, which helps us keep it all under control. At this point it’s very open-ended, too. We’re basically running on a zero-dollar budget, which is the primary reason that I took over leadership for the project this year. All of the work is being done by volunteers, and all of our equipment was donated by Home Depot. There’s no money problem, so as long as there’s continued interest, I think that we’ll keep digging.”

According to Greer, one thing that surprised the dig team was the lack of refuse in the dig sites.

“Usually, for this time period, we expect to find a lot more trash in the yard,” said Greer. “It may be that Fenton was more fastidious or cautious because he was close to a populated area, so he may have actually had his trash removed from the site of the home.”

When asked what the most interesting artifact the team had found so far was, Greer told The Post-Journal that a piece of china that matched a set owned by the Fenton family was his choice.

“That piece of china let us know that there were actual Fenton artifacts in the ground here,” said Greer. “It was something that was identifiable for us and gave us a distinct answer about whether we would find artifacts from that time period.”

Information about participation in the excavation this summer is available on the Fenton History Center website, www.fentonhistorycenter.org.