Monday, November 29, 2010

Brownsville Redevelopment

A visitor walking through the streets of Brownsville with no prior
knowledge of the town,would be struck by a series of feelings.
One of these feelings might be of wonder as they try to piece the
broken picture of the town together in their mind of what it might have
looked like in its heyday. Another thought would surely be of its present
day condition, ruined, empty,and quiet. How they would think, could a
town with such beautiful architecture be in such a deplorable condition?
They may in that instant, understand the immense history of this place,
a history that is hidden to most in the windowless buildings, the empty
facades, and theghost town appearance that Brownsville reflects.

As an industrial archaeologist who was born and raised in Brownsville,
the town's history is my history. I have tried to help out where ever I
could, and in my research for my dissertation, I have talked to many
folks who lived in town when it was seemingly booming. I have
encountered two types of people who live in our town, those that want
to preserve it, and those that want to tear it down. Rarely do the two
ideologies meet in the middle.
To both sides, I ask this, “what is the largest industry in the world?”
The answer is heritage tourism. By and large, throughout the world,
especially in Europe, small towns that suffered economic disasters
realized that tourists like to see old buildings especially if you could
tie an interesting history to them. Take for example in Sweden
where they reuse old dilapidated industrial buildings by turning them
into apartments. Closer to home in Michigan's Upper Peninsula,
the copper mining patch towns are realizing that there are people
from around the world interested in mining and who
travel there just to see how copper was mined.

Brownsville has three focal points to heritage tourism.
The first one is the Dunlap's Creek Bridge. As an industrial archaeologist,
I have been to conferences where the main draw is bridges and bridge
construction. Currently, most of the span is covered by previous construction.
This is not really an issue. The issue is the invasive knotweed that covers the
banks. Cooperation to have that removed during the 2009 July 4th celebration
was met with hostility from the governing body of the town. The focal point that
would generate the most tourism interest should be the bridge. People identify
easier when they are told that something is the first of its kind. The second
focal point is Bowman's Castle. It is the most easily recognized structure
on the landscape as people come across the bridge. The third resource
Brownsville has in its favor is the Monongahela River. The promotion of
the history of the river in the development of the United States cannot
be over stated, and yet in our town, few people fully understand
how Brownsville contributed to western expansion. The invention
of the western steamboat to funding the locks and dams on the
Monongahela River, Brownsville was the center of it all. Yet there is little
that a visitor new to the town would be able to discover on their own.

So what is the solution? How do we pull in visitors who may want to stay
and invest in Brownsville? First, we need local history
(with a Brownsville focus) taught in our schools with knowledgeable
people talking to the students. Second, we have to put ourselves out there.
There should be an advertisement in historical magazines touting the first
cast iron bridge in the United States. We cannot wait for development to
find us --but we have to seek it out. Third, cut the petty infighting and political
nonsense between the City of Brownsville, BARC, and the Historical Society.
This town needs collaboration not division. We can see what division has done
already and it is not an alternative. I think we need to have someone documenting
the town and coming up with a car tour or walking tour. If the building isn't there,
so what? Have a picture of it and its importance. Our town's heritage was
steamboat building, we built over 800 of the boats. We are ground zero for western
river steamboat innovation and development. Let's devise a tour based on
that, where people can see where prominent captains, workers, and boat builders
were. However, we first have to see value in what we have. If we don't feel that
Brownsville is valuable, then it has no worth. We will have a parking lot and not a
single reason to park there.

I want to invite people from all around the world to visit Brownsville,
Pennsylvania. Relish in its industrial 19th century history, and be absorbed
into its decay. Yes, that's right. I want you to come and see the decay the
20th century and its deindustrialization has done to this once thriving town.
I invite you to look at the Dunlap Creek Bridge and think about the promise
it held for the fledgling United States, and look at it now for what it is, a
forgotten artifact of the first half on the 19th century. When you come an visit,
pass judgement not on what you see today, but on what could be done in the
future to create a  sustainable economy here in this town on the frontier.

Marc Henshaw (Archaeology Dude)

Dunlap Creek Bridge
Nemacolin Castle


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Monongahela Oral History Project

This is a map of the Monongahela River basin, ...                                  Image via Wikipedia

Hello Everyone!

       I wanted to give an update of the Monongahela Oral History Project I initiated this past summer. So far with the help of a local newspaper, the  Pittsburgh Tribune Review, and this article posted here: I was able to get roughly 10 people to tell their story. What is that story? The men and women who came forward share a background of working on the Monongahela River at the twilight of the steam era. These people had the opportunity to work on steamboats that pushed coal from Fairmont West Virginia to Pittsburgh, some of them even as far as New Orleans. This project is not over. I have not been able to able to attract the attention of the local newspapers, the Herald Standard or the Observer Reporter. I have written letters to the editor, and have not received a response. Many of these people who labored on the steamboats are in their late 80’s early 90’s in age. We must get to them so that we can understand their historic contribution to the growth of industry in the Mon Valley. If any of you reading this want to contribute, please contact the local papers and get them to listen! If you have a relative or know of anyone who worked on the boats in the Mon Valley during the period of steam, let me know. Together we can help save the past one person at a time.  

Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, July 23, 2010

People not just digging!

Hgn-Charbon-LNAImage via Wikipedia
Many people often ask me, "what is the coolest artifact I've ever found?" or "What is that artifact worth?" While artifacts are important to archaeology, the question I have is, "do archaeologists need to find artifacts?" The answer may surprise many of you, because we often think of artifacts as objects such as arrowheads (PP/K's), pottery, or an ancient shipwreck. But what about company records from a coal mine? A diary? How about a building? Maybe machinery or photographs? Newspapers? Some of you may say, "Archaeology Dude! Archaeology is about digging sites and cataloging artifacts, not about books or pictures!" I would say, archaeology is about people and their daily lives in the past. 
As a student of archaeology, I want to study the fabric of the human condition in the past.What was life like in 1850 in Southwestern Pennsylvania? What about in 950BP (Before Present)? Archaeology is about experiencing and understand what life was like for the common person during a specific time period. Thant includes not only the tools and technology people used but also the different objects and texts (if any) that allowed people to go about their daily lives. Archaeology is the understanding of the human condition in the past. All objects, from tools, to maps, to documents, to photographs, and the very site notes and logs that archaeologist use on a dig site, all of them contribute to the understanding of what it was like to be a human in the past. 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Opekiska Lock and Dam on the Monongahela River...Image via Wikipedia

Hi All!

Well summer is almost officially here, and I have been hard at work. I've two major projects going on right now. The first is a phase III excavation of a prehistoric resource processing site in southwestern Pennsylvania. This site was used to gather and roast tree nuts for consumption. The major indicator of this activity is in the dozen or so "nutting stones" or pecked stone tools found throughout the excavated portion of the site. My second project is my dissertation. So far I have collected one oral history from a gentleman who worked and toiled on the Monongahela River as a deckhand on a variety of steamboats. I however need more people to interview. I'm looking for 20 individuals who worked on the steamboats until their eventual phasing out in the late 1950's early 1960's. I want to capture their story of what life was like working on the river, living in a community where the river was an important natural resource, and hopefully gain an understanding of what it means to be a river worker. If any of my dear readers know anyone, by all means send them my way!
Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Archaeology and the Community

One of the more interesting aspects being involved in the local archaeological community, is public interaction and outreach. Many archaeologists both in CRM (Cultural Resource Management) and in academia, simply do not actively involve themselves with their own local community. This is unfortunate, and I think it has more to do with perception than actual effort. Within CRM, many field archaeologists are comfortable digging holes, screening, and identifying cultural remains.

However, it has been my experience that many are not comfortable in their own knowledge to take what they find further. Many field techs have expressed that, "they are not paid the big bucks for interpretation." or "leave it for those in the lab or the PI to figure the site out." This type of attitude has left a vacuum in the community where often such information is sought. Academics as well have left many of their own communities out to dry. They may research events, individuals, and historic places only to leave the community in the dark. Local historians have often kept their files in cabinets and drawers, never to see the light of day.

So what is the answer? Knowledge brings with it responsibility. For people like myself who teeter on the edge of two worlds, academic and public, we often find that although there are outlets for knowledge, such as conferences and journals, the names and faces who attend or subscribe are often the same. The people who need the information are not subscribing to journals, or are paying for conferences. The local mayor of you home town does not receive the Society of Historic Archaeology journal or attend the Eastern States Archaeological conference. That leaves only us as an "archaeological community" to educate the local community.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Lost Diary of Robert Rogers.

Hello All!

Industrial Archaeology is often associated with excavations and artifacts that open small windows into the past. However, historical archaeology starts in books and documents long before a shovel pierces the ground in most cases. Today I'm attempting to harness technology (the Internet) and my readers to help me find a piece of lost history. This little window into the past was written by a man who lived in Brownsville/Bridgeport, Pennsylvania and was a potter. Actually from reading the only know excerpts he was a jack-of-all-trades. Potter, steamboatman, steamboat builder, fireman, and justice of the peace to name a few. His name was Robert Rogers. (No, not Major Robert Rogers of the Detroit campaign.) Here is an excerpt from his diary taken from Franklin Ellis "History of Fayette County, Pennsylvania" 1882:

  Robert Rogers was born in Queen Anne County, Maryland, January 15th 1794 and after the death of his father in 1806, lived with his uncle until the fall of 1807. At that time another uncle, Lambert Boyer, who had settled in Washington County, Pennsylvania, visited Maryland and decided that young Robert should return with him to the west. Once they reached Dunlap’s Creek in Pennsylvania, Robert Rogers decided to stay with his Uncle Isaac Rogers who was living in the Bridgeport area.

On his arrival at Bridgeport, Robert was placed in the store of his Uncle Isaac, and also attended school during the small portion of time in which schools were taught at this place. In the fall of 1809 he was apprenticed in Bridgeport to Cephas Gregg to learn the trade of potter. “ I continued to work”[says Rogers] “ at my trade as apprentice till the middle of January, 1815, when I was 21. Then I left Bridgeport on a flatboat, and went to Pittsburgh for work.” There he was employed in a queensware factory. “Queensware was scarce, and ours sold readily and high.” After the Treaty of Ghent and the Battle of New Orleans, a flood of imports made it difficult for the potters to compete. Robert Rogers returned to Bridgeport in the Spring of 1815 and worked in the shop of John Riley until the fall of 1815… Then he was employed on a steamboat on the river; visited New Orleans in the spring of 1816; in the following fall returned to Bridgeport, where he married and undertook the shop for Cephas Gregg on shares. He again went on the steamboats in 1818 and returned once again to Bridgeport. He died of paralysis on January 27th, 1866, age 72 years.

“About 1811, Daniel French arrived here from Philadelphia with big schemes of manufacturing, steamboat building, and navigating western waters. He told people great advantages would accrue, and induced many prominent citizens to subscribe to stock for a cotton factory and two steamboats, all new to people here; but they were wise enough to secure charters for each company, viz., one for the factory and one for the steamboats, and they felt a deep interest and believed French, the people subscribed liberally to both. Work commenced, but the enterprise was new to all, and it was a long time before it was completed. And when they were ready there was no one experienced in running factories or steamboats, and neither enterprise made money, but run in debt, and the factory was sold by the sheriff, and the boats were sold by the company after they had run them as long as there seemed any hope of profit.”

Many local historians, including myself are looking for this diary or a copy of it. Any information, including those of living relatives is greatly appreciated!
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Industrial archaeology: a race against time, as always.

The Homestead StrikeImage via Wikipedia

After reading in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette (02/09/10) about the plans to demolish Andrew Carnegie’s former Pittsburgh Locomotive Works, I immediately understood the the author’s outcry for public support. I also immediately understood was there was no public outcry for the old abandoned buildings. Why? The author of this article asks this very question. Why is the industrial past so esoteric to the people who live in these areas?

In the Monongahela Valley, industrialization and the subsequent de-industrialization is on the minds of every coal miner, steelworker, railroader, and heavy industry worker who resides along the river. During political elections, industry and placing people back to work is the number one concern in the valley. Yet in the industrial past, where tens of thousands of workers and their families endured the harsh reality of the blast furnaces, or the subterranean darkness of the coalmines, their voices are mute. In her dissertation, Hope and Rust (2008), Anna Storm points to this very issue. Perhaps the past is too close to these people, these workers. After all, the outcry from the community often comes from the descendant community of the workers themselves, the sons, daughters, grandchildren, etc. Granted, the time that has lapsed since the days of the Carnegie Locomotive Works would make this site invaluable to the descendant community. But where is the outcry?

Perhaps the silence is a signal of something else, an indicator that goes beyond the simple value of these sites. This is the silence of a dead endemic community. The people who were the closest, who valued and cherished these buildings are gone. Not physically dead perhaps, but gone- moved away to a different community. De-industrialization displaces people, forces them to move out of stable once communities, where families "inherited" their lines of work. Grandfather, fathers and sons worked in the mills, immigrants moved into the community to find stability, the community and the family was stable. After the closure of the mills, mines, factories, the workforce is pressured to change, to adapt, and in some cases become mobile. The lack of voices is an indicator of community health, the decedent community health.

Industrial archaeology, as others in the field have stated, cannot simply take the remains of structures at face value. Preservation starts at the community level, by involving the community and targeting those who have a vested interest. But as seen here in Pittsburgh and the surrounding Monongahela Valley, those most vested in these structures may in fact be gone. It is our job as archaeologists to educate, involve, and reach out to the existing communities in a way that creates value for them in these sites and structures. We must create the value in preservation verse destruction of these buildings and places. We cannot simply say they are valuable because of age or historical association. We must say they are valuable because if they are lost, a piece of the larger community, economy, and wider heritage of an area is lost.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]