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Preserving History: Exploratory dig completed at location of former Hamlet in Summit Township, Erie County

October 28, 2019 12:00 AM
By: Jill Harry

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One man's trash is another man's treasure, or rather one man's 150-year-old garbage is another man's historical artifact.

That was the mode of operation at a recent exploratory dig at the proposed site of a roundabout in Summit Township, Erie County.

Under the leadership of PennDOT archeologist Scott Shaffer, the department's PennDOT Highway Archeology Survey Team (PHAST) and District 1 employees spent about two weeks in June sifting through the dirt looking for signs of a former wagon shop.

The move was prompted by research done by PennDOT architectural historian Don Burdan. While looking through an old map of the area near the Erie County Technical School, Don discovered what was once a small hamlet. This included several houses and Nathan Stafford's wagon shop that was in business from the 1850s to 1881.

The question became: "is there any evidence left of the building," Don said. The June dig was designed to find an answer.

With the assistance from Erie County maintenance, trenches were excavated in strategic locations on the school property near the intersection of Oliver, Hamot and Flower roads. If the initial churning of the soil showed any signs of possible artifacts, PHAST jumped into action with hand digging to different depths.

"The trenches are for figuring out what's going on horizontally. We (PHAST) have to figure out what is going on vertically," Scott said.

Dirt from hand digging was filtered through a mesh screen to find smaller pieces of potential relics. Any found items were categorized based on location and bagged for further analysis.

While the dig revealed signs of the community that once stood on the school grounds, most of the items uncovered appeared to be household garbage, like broken bowls, old buttons, and pieces of pottery.

"It's the 'garbage' that tells us a lot about the people who once lived there," Scott said.

Among the more notable finds was a piece of porcelain marked with an Erie logo, a cup with the St. Louis World's Fair insignia, and a wooden button. Once the research on the site and the relics is complete, the found items will be returned to the school if they wish to have them.

While nothing stood out as historically significant, "Collectively it tells you something," Don said.

The digging also helped confirm the historical maps and the details of the former neighborhood, according to Scott.

"The process will help us figure out the overall picture of what happened all those years ago," he said.

More information on the Summit Township roundabout project can be found by visiting and clicking on the Public Meetings/Studies listed under the Resources heading.  

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