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Experts search for artifacts at Johnson Hall site

July 26, 2010
By MICHAEL ANICH, The Leader-Herald

JOHNSTOWN - State archaeologists recently spent about a week excavating the cellar of the small "stonehouse" at the Johnson Hall State Historic site, and plan to come back in their search for artifacts at the old slave quarters.

The original stonehouse -believed to be home of 10 slaves - is located to the left of Sir William Johnson's main residence. Archaeologists conducting the dig are from Peeble's Island, a Capital District conservation center.

Site Manager Wanda Burch said the archaeological team was assigned by the state Office of Parks & Recreation, specifically to try to find artifacts at the stonehouse.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich

Johnson Hall Site Manager Wanda Burch Thursday shows off part of a state archeological dig under way at the site’s former “slave house.”

"We started investigating several years ago how it looked in a 1774 inventory," Burch said.

She said unearthing what made up the stonehouse is now a "puzzle" that the state's archaeologists and historians are trying to figure out, starting in the cellar.

"Slavery has been part of the story of Johnson Hall that lacks the interpretation that we've given the rest of the site," said Burch, who previously retired but is staying during a transition to a new manager.

In certain Johnson papers, there has been reference to the "Negroe Room."

Michael Roets, who heads the team of archaeologists, said Friday the team hopes to determine the makeup of the slave quarters in the 18th century. He said the initial digging in a basement area failed to yield 18th-century artifacts.

"There's certainly a project to figure what was put in that building," Roets said. "Part of what we're trying to figure out was what the [original] building looked like."

One question the archaeologists want to answer is whether there was a central fireplace, he said.

Roets said his team peeled off some planks of the top flooring and initially found a "mixture of artifacts," but only dating back to the 19th century. The artifacts included stone wire crocks, jars not produced until the 1880s. He said the archaeologists also found remnants of a wooden floor, but haven't found anything yet related to the original Johnson era after digging a 4-square-foot test area underneath the floor.

He said the stonehouse likely was remodeled at some point.

"We didn't retain the 18th- century stuff we hoped for, but it's always interesting," Roets said.

Burch said an old Civilian Conservation Corps document led to the interest in doing an archaeological dig.

She said she did research at the State Library, eventually determining the CCC camp was known as S-98 based in Canajoharie in District No. VI, Company 1270, under Fred T. Seibel. Burch said there were 178 men at the camp with about 140 of them assigned to field work.

Burch said it was a short-lived camp. On Dec. 24, 1935, just months after the date of a CCC blockhouse drawing, the Canajoharie camp received instructions to "abandon," and 84 men were relocated to Middleburgh.

She said her research uncovered a "Col. Briggs," who managed orders for equipment for area CCC camps in July 1935.

But just like the puzzling dig, Burch isn't sure if it's the same Col. Briggs who was the superintendent of Johnson Hall when she arrived in 1974 and who died just months later.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at



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