Tuesday, May 29, 2012

History Unearthed

Hello Everyone,

      Here is an interview I did for the Herald Standard newspaper from Uniontown, Pennsylvania. It was a little short notice and off the cuff. Over all a good description of what is going on in Brownsville!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Snowdon and Sons Vulcan Iron and Machine Works: Day 9

Hello Everyone,

        Today we had a reporter from the Pittsburgh Tribune Review out on the site today. He asked me an interesting question, one that I hadn't given much thought. "Out of all the places you've worked, in the forests [Allegheny National Forest], the plains, and in urban environments, which one do I like the most? I was taken aback by this question. Usually I would say that I love working in the woods, excavating sites hidden by nature and in areas that are far less traveled than most places. However, urban archaeology has really caught my eye. The urban environment. Here the sites aren't obscured by trees or shrubs (not always!), but here they are hidden in plain sight. Often times we walk past them everyday, an old building, an empty lot, a field by the river. What was there? Our limited ability to measure time in our own life cycle leaves enormous gaps in our historical record. Take the Snowdon and Sons foundry. Many have said, "I thought this was just an empty field!" or "Wasn't this only used by the railroad? I remember the railroad ran through here." The urban environment allows the archaeologist to peal away like an onion the many layers of time and present an ever present population with their own history. Everyday I get to shock someone into thinking about the past in a novel way, not a static past, but one that gets evolve and incorporate their memory. In urban archaeology I get to demystify my field and bring it out of the esoteric and into the tangible world. There is nothing like seeing a retired steel worker holding a tool from the foundry and perhaps wondering if their experience was similar to that of their 19th-century counterpart. How cool is that?      

Juls, Sean, and Liz. Looks like a Penndot road crew!

Pattern Shop Wall extending 6.5 feet below ground surface. The original ground surface was at the bottom of the unit.

Same unit as above, notice the brick debris from the Pattern Shop wall.

Hopefully this is where the foundation turns a corner eastward.

Same unit as above from a different angle looking east.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Archaeology useless? Not in educated society

Hello All,

        Here is an interesting article from the Columbus Dispatch. I believe that the author, Bradley T. Lepper from the Ohio Historical Society explains it well. To discourage bright, intelligent minds from archaeology, let alone any subject is wrong in our society. The very thing that makes the United States stand out, is that everyone has a choice in what they want to study and what career to follow. Granted, barring socio/economic standing! This article reminds me of the use rant that Governor Rick Scott from Florida went on about not needing any more Anthropologists in his state. What the hell is wrong with these people? I feel that as an archaeologist, part of these notions fall directly on myself and the archaeological community. I think we should be more visible in our places of residence and conduct more excavations at the community level. Thus Brownsville Archaeology Month. I couldn't tell you how many visitors reacted to the site as if I had just performed a magic trick, or revealed a hidden object from under a cloth. I guess that's what I did. Except my cloth is 3 feet of railroad fill and my hidden object is a 600ft iron foundry. to my fellow archaeologists, let's be more visible in our communities and more interactive with the very people who appreciate our finds. If we could all just give a few talks a year to a bunch of 6 year-olds or bring a bus of screaming kids out to our sites once in a while, maybe we can secure our own future.   

Archaeology useless? Not in educated society
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Monday, May 21, 2012

Snowdon Foundry Weekend Work Day 7-8.

Hello Everyone,

             Updates didn't occur these past couple of days due to a lack of Internet service. Anyhow, I'm back to report on this weekend's activity at the Snowdon and Sons Vulcan Iron and Machine Works. This weekend was the Market Street Arts Festival in downtown Brownsville, Pennsylvania. Like last year, this is a time when we coordinate Brownsville Archaeology Month to coincide with the festival. After all, isn't archaeology an art? Sure it is, we paint and sculpt the past as well as any artist! So to say the least, we had quite a few visitors to our site to check it out. Although we have been excavating for over two weeks, we still have yet to see any Brownsville Council person, the mayor, or any Brownsville Historical Society official at the site, let alone anyone from the Fayette County Historical Society. A shame really, as these are the people who we expect to advocates for the town, but really only care about the limited world views that they have. Anyhow, here are the pics from the weekend!  
Pattern Shop Wall

Pattern Shop Wall Excavation Block with Security Fence

The Pattern Shop Foundation extends 6 feet below ground surface

Interior Pattern Shop Excavation Block

Liz taking elevations

Left to right: Jonathan Crise, Kyle Norman, and Marc Henshaw (Archaeology Dude)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Archaeologist laments razing of house in Brownsville - heraldstandard.com: Local News

A nice little article based on my rant here on this blog.

Archaeologist laments razing of house in Brownsville - heraldstandard.com: Local News

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Vulcan Iron and Machine Works: Day 6

Hello All!

        Yesterday was busy, and today will be no exception. It was hot out at the site, no shade out on the old brownfield. Discoveries keep turning up at every scrape of the trowel and shovel of dirt. I have some great photos to show you and I'll leave at the moment, the interpretation to you. Remember, this part of the foundry was converted into a tenement apartments!

Remnants of a crawl space filled with brick from foundry walls.

Julz and Liz holding a comb they found.

The Comb!

It's a horse shoe with "Good Luck" stamped on its front/

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Snowdon Vulcan Iron and Machine Works: Day 5

Hello Everyone,

       Sorry for such a late post, things have been, as always busy. Today was no exception. I missed half a day of fieldwork due to some aggravating personal matters. And I locked my camera in the field equipment shed, so no pictures tonight. I was visited today by Scott Beveridge, who works for the Washington, Pa Observer Reporter newspaper. You can follow his blog on my blog list. We are trying to get as much coverage on the Snowdon and Sons Vulcan Iron and Machine Works as we can, after all, it is the foundry that patterned and casted the parts of this nation's first cast iron bridge.
      Yesterday we began finding the remains of a knob and tube electrical wiring system. I knew the foundry had not been electrified during its operation as the Brownsville Electric Company didn't start running until the late 1890's and the mill was out of work for several years before. I decided to return to the documentary evidence, and examine the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps once again. Here is what I found:
      If you'll notice in the area circled in RED in the second image, the pattern shop was converted into tenement apartments! (Even in the 19th century they understood to adaptively reuse structures...one day we'll learn) Anyhow, the first image is from 1891 the second is from 1901. If you examine the 3rd image closely, there is a power/telegraph pole in the far left corner. The conversion of the shop to apartments would explain the blue painted plaster we are finding, the bones from livestock, and the broken whiskey bottle. Perhaps these aren't evidence of workers, but of tenants?    
1891 Sanborn Insurance Map

1901 Sanborn Insurance Map
Photo courtesy of Donna Jordan

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Snowdon & Sons Vulcan Iron and Machine Works: Day 4

Hello Everyone,

A volunteer and Jonathan Crise cleaning the foundation.
       Today was a rainy, overcast, and dreary day in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Most archaeologists would have called it a rain-day and went home. Not us. The well drained soils of the concrete and railroad fill makes digging in the rain possible. Besides, does wet concrete make it any easier to dig through? NO! But a good maddock does. I only have two photos today of some archaeologists at work in their trenches. The foundation of the foundry seems largely intact with a sharp break for about 3 feet. The it turns into a pile of bricks, and then back into a cut stone foundation. From a photograph we have, it might represent where a crawl space was located. Only more time and more exploration will tell. Right now, I have to get back to transcribing oral histories from river workers here on the Monongahela, take care. 

Carl Maurer excavating the layer of brick at the bottom of his unit.

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Brownsville Archaeology Month Day 3

Hello All,

Munsell Color System
Munsell Color System (Photo credit: Crossett Library Bennington College)
       Here are some more exciting pictures from the Snowdon & Sons Vulcan Iron and Machine Works at Brownsville Archaeology Month! Friday, May 11th represented the third day of our excavations. We mainly had administrative work to do, mapping Munsell color testing, and some equipment repair. Enjoy!

Erin Morgan examining a piece of metal strapping.

Sean Rothhaar repairing a screen, a thankless job!

Jonathan Crise screening for artifacts.

The point of discovery!
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I'm tired of teaching what was here...

Hello Everyone,

This little post comes after some feedback on my Facebook page. I thought it was appropriate so I'll post it here as well. The discussion started as several of our historic buildings here in Brownsville, Pennsylvania are being threatened. Not threatened by developer or the state; no they are threatened by the people we elect into our local government.

You expect that the people we elect to be the stewards of our town, they would protect that which is valuable to its community and preserve the fabric of our heritage. Instead, to your face they speak of valuing the core of the community but in their seats of power they tear the very fabric down. Instead of preserving and look to the future they are blind to the past, only because they do not understand that the wealthiest of communities have embraced their heritage and profited from it.

Two million dollars were allocated to Brownsville. I heard two million reasons to tear it down, and not a single reason to preserve it. These politicians want to rule over a community of rubble. In one instance a comment was made on Facebook over the destruction of the Mitchell House by a senior member of the Brownsville Council, "Tear it down!". How can we move forward as a community when those elected prefer a wrecking ball over using their head to move the community forward? I cannot take a stand alone, the culture of the community must change. I'm tired of teaching about what was there; it would be nice to teach about how we saved the town.


Photo courtesy of Phillip Shandorf

Mitchell House. Photo courtesy of the Brownsville Telegraph Online. 

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Snowdon Foundry: Brownsville Archaeology Month Day 2

Hello Everyone,

I'd like to share a few picks from today's discoveries. I also have some mystery artifacts that are always fun. I have to make one correction from yesterday's post, we DID NOT find a railroad datum point. It turned out to be one of these: 

Mystery items!

Erin Morgan and Carl Maurer Mapping their Unit 
Liz Atkin preparing her Excavation Unit for a Photo

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Foundry Rising!

Hello Everyone,

       Yesterday was the start of this year's Brownsville Archaeology Month! The day was filled with one fascinating find after the other, opening small windows into a complex past of the John Snowdon and Son's Vulcan Iron and Machine Works. The work was hard using picks, maddocks, and of course trowels and shovels to excavate down almost three feet (1 meter) to buried foundation below. 

Phil Shandorph, Carl Maurer, and Jonathan Crise

     Some of the cool artifacts that we recovered are in these photographs:

Whiskey Bottle
 Alcohol bottle found outside one of the shop's footers. Alcohol bottles may indicate resistance of workers in the foundry to the strict rules that often governed their conduct. 
 It is not often in Archaeology when you find a name carved in stone of the object of your research. Here we have the name "Vulcan". The foundry, like others in the area, was known as the Vulcan Iron and Machine Works.
Carl Maurer

Stay tuned! 
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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Snowdon Vulcan Iron and Machine Works Discovery!

Hello Everyone,
        I would like to take a few moments and present an important discovery in American Industrial Archaeology. Myself, along with members of the local Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology Mon-Yough Chapter #3 have located and begun excavation on the Snowdon Vulcan Iron and Machine Works located right here in Brownsville, Pennsylvania. As you read on, you will notice reference to the nation's first cast iron bridge, a symbol which will become the cornerstone to Brownsville's redevelopment in the 21st-century.

1886 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showing the Foundry
Aerial Photograph with Foundry Overlay 
     The turn of the 19th century and the introduction of steam power ushered in a new industrial rush in Brownsville and Bridgeport, Pennsylvania.  In 1818, John Snowden arrived in Brownsville from Yorkshire, England (Ellis 1882; Gresham and Wiley 1889).  After apprenticing for a few years in a local foundry, he opened his own machine shop and rolling mill within close proximity to the riverbank.  Named after the Roman god of fire, the Vulcan Iron and Machine Works opened in 1824.  The Vulcan factory built the engines for the steamer Monongahela in 1827.  Snowden improved and extended the factory in 1831. In 1853, the establishment burned down and was subsequently rebuilt.  The business renovated to include a forge, rolling mill, pattern shop, foundry, boiler yard, and finishing shop all located on an acre of land on the bank of the Monongahela River (Kussart 1930; Thurston 1859).  The main two-story buildings were made of brick and faced the river.  The purpose of this main building was the finishing shop where parts were completed.  An excerpt from Thurston’s (1859:34) town directory describes in detail the factory:

"Within its walls and distributed over the use of two rooms, with nice regard to their convenient use, is gathered a large amount of machinery, of the latest improvements, adapted to all the requirements of machine manufacturing; among them are 19 turning lathes, 6 planning machines, 4 boring machines and 8 drill presses.  There upon the lower floor, 10 blacksmith fires, with all of their accompanying cranes, steam forge hammers, and etc.

     The foundry and finishing shops were constructed of brick and connected with the main building.  This area contained cranes and two large 12-ton capacity cupolas for delivering molten iron.  The foundry was in the forefront of the rolling mill and the forge was contained in another one story building.  Within this structure were six pairs of rolls, two puddling furnaces, two heating furnaces, one spike and one rivet machine that turned out 600 tons of bar iron a year (Thurston 1859).  A pattern shop used for cutting different shapes of metal adjoined the foundry."

     The Vulcan Iron and Machine Works, later called Snowden & Sons, employed 110 people with a weekly wage of $6.83 per person (Thurston 1859).  This factory produced a similar number of land use stationary steam engines such as those used to power the large belts of the machine shop.  The convenient location of the factory next to the Brownsville wharf allowed engines to be fitted to hulls while incoming boats unloaded goods. In 1863 the Vulcan Iron and Machine Works built the engines and boilers of the ironclads Manayunk and Umpqua.
1901. Photo Courtesy of  Donna Edwards-Jordan

     John Herbertson arrived
 in Brownsville in 1829 after learning the trade of steam engine building in Pittsburgh.  Originally from Glasgow, Scotland, Herbertson became a foreman in the Vulcan 
Iron and Machine Works engine shop.  When the wooden bridge 
collapsed over Dunlap’s Creek connecting Brownsville to 
Bridgeport, Snowden took the contract for the erection of a cast 
iron bridge (Ellis 1882; Kussart 1930; Thurston 1859).  This is  the 
first cast iron bridge in the United States.  Herbertson designed the 
bridge and supervised its construction (Gresham and Wiley 1889).  
A teaser image from some preliminary testing.
Herbertson eventually went into a partnership with Thomas Faull who was already operating a small foundry in Bridgeport.  Together they formed the Fayette Foundry, until 1842 when Faull withdrew from the partnership (Ellis 1882).  Herbertson later created Herbertson & Company with his sons in the 1880s as the business grew.

There will be more to follow as this project moves forward. Stay tuned! 

Text taken from:
Henshaw, Marc

Ellis, Franklin
1882  History of Fayette County, Pennsylvania with Biographical Sketches of Many of its Pioneers and Prominent Men.

Gresham, John and Samuel T. Wiley
1889  Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Fayette County, Pennsylvania. John M. Gresham, Maging Editor.

Kussart, Sarepta Cooper
1930 Navigation on the Monongahela River. Unpublished Manuscript.

Thurston, Geo. H.
1859  The Rivers and Valleys of Pennsylvania Then and Now.

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