Elmira Archaeology Students Explore Mystery Structure at Quarry Farm
During Term III, as part of the “Introduction to Archaeology” course, 12 students under my direction excavated the area on Quarry Farm where there are remains of a chimney. The chimney is located about 100 yards west of the cistern against the quarry wall, next to which the Mark Twain Study was originally located.
First the area was cleaned. Surface finds during cleaning included many glass shards, window glass and nails. After cleaning, three 1 m. square test trenches were set up. Trench A and C to the right and left respectively of the chimney with the purpose to maybe hit onto some stone foundations of the building. Trench B was located in the middle of the mound of debris in front of the chimney. Later all the trenches were extended: trenches A and C towards the quarry wall and Trench B to a 3 X 2 m. rectangle. In addition, another Trench D was set up against the front wall of the chimney.
Trench B consisted of nothing but a yellowish brown clayey soil with lots of rocks fallen from the quarry wall with few finds, all found on the top soil level. Because of the lack of finds in this trench, another trench, Trench D, was opened in front of the chimney wall. At a depth of 20 cm, we reached the foundation of the chimney with the remains of a clay water pipe (heading towards Trench A) and three bottles, two Heinz bottles which used to contain sour onions with a date range between 1920-1943 and a medicine bottle (the number on which indicates a date between 1850-1920. The clayey soil of the type found in Trench B was found on the south side closest to Trench B. This indicated that the chimney was built into the clayey natural deposit found in Trench B. This is also evidenced by the same clayey layers in Trenches A and C found at the base of the chimney, where the bottom of the chimney was also reached.
The structure was erected on top of the natural clayey deposit (Trench B), into which the chimney was built. Once the chimney was built, the foundation area was filled with soil and rock. The floor of the structure was built on top of the clayey natural deposit.
Two areas of burnt deposits were uncovered in trenches A and C, wherein most of the artifacts were found. In trench C, in the northeast corner against the Quarry wall, the deposit consisted of very dark loose soil with carbon remains and lots of glass shards as well as some ceramic and metal artifacts, including a part for a water pump. In Trench A, at the eastern another deposit of burnt debris was excavated, wherein was found mostly burnt wood, nails, window glass and few glass shards.
The evidence clearly indicates that a structure, probably with wooden exterior and windows, existed and that it was destroyed by fire. However, the finds were few when compared to what one might expect from a burnt building. It is evident that after the building burnt down, the area was swept clean, with the exception of the two burnt deposits in trenches A and C.
In total, Trench A produced 1,242 pieces of window glass, 399 pieces of bottle glass, and 249 pieces of nails.
Most bottle glass was found in Trench C and consisted of milk bottles, one from the Quarry Farm dairy, many pieces of mason jars and their lids, and soda bottles.
When I directed the excavations of the cistern, we also found much burnt debris, glass, nails, a water boiler, metal and ceramic pieces (all on display in the QF barn). It is likely that when the Chimney building was burnt down much of the debris was thrown into the cistern and that other than the QF milk bottles, the artifacts belonged to the building west of the cistern.
The question remains as to the date of the building. Based on the dates obtained through the glass bottles, preliminary observations indicate that the building was erected and destroyed between 1920’s – 1940’s or slightly later. The building was used as a home perhaps for the people working for the Langdon family.
The team of students who participated in the dig:
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Congratulations and feeling proud…. Lisa Doelp and I thought we were the end of the Elmira college archaeology department in 1984 wrapping up the bluff dig as independent study… after the department closed. I am glad the department is back!