Researchers dig into past

The Telegraph

Site in Grafton may be military outpost


Grafton archeological dig The Telegraph/JOHN BADMAN

Grafton archeological dig

Representatives from the University of Illinois and volunteers worked Friday on an archeological dig in a wooded area between Grafton and Pere Marquette State Park which is suspected to be a block house used to monitor the Illinois River at the onset of the War of 1812. Part of the block foundation was being uncovered as the archeologists looked for definitive evidence of a military presence, such as a military uniform button or weapon parts.

Posted: Monday, September 24, 2012 10:00 am

The Telegraph

GRAFTON —Universities are searching for War of 1812 artifacts and structures during the war’s bicentennial anniversary, and one site is just off the Great River Road.

The Grafton Historical Society obtained the help of the Illinois State Archeological Survey of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, from which a group came to excavate a site thought to be the location of an Illinois River blockhouse. U.S. military personnel patrolled the river from blockhouses, the square lookout buildings usually seen built into forts with fences. But the structures also stood alone without fences.

“We were working on Fort Johnson in Warsaw and while researching we found reference to a blockhouse in Grafton,” said David Nolan, coordinator, Western Illinois Field Station for Illinois State Archeological Survey.

Specifically the information came from a 1932 Jersey County newspaper article about the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Grafton Historical Society discovering a blockhouse 100 yards west of the present day Pere Marquette cross marker on Illinois Route 100, also known as the Great River Road, Nolan said. The marker was established in 1928.

Thus, being the bicentennial year of the War of 1812, Grafton Historical Society President Ed Amburg launched efforts to verify the site’s authenticity.

“The Grafton Historical Society has hopes and plans that it is and would like to see a plaque or commemoration,” said the Grafton Historical Society’s Bonna Downey, chair of the archeology project.

The Grafton Historical Society formed a committee to begin research on this project at one of their meetings last year when they started to examine the history of the Illinois River blockhouse and its connection to the War of 1812.

The archeological group has been assisted by several members of the Jerseyville Boy Scouts, members of the Grafton Historical Society and other volunteers.

Excavation by the archeological group began Sept. 15 and will continue through Sept. 30 at the latest, when their permit expires through the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Illinois State Archeological Survey staff archeologist Claire Dappert, who has a doctorate of historical archeology, described the process by which the group excavated through last Friday. Staff archeologist Bob Monroe cleared the site, laid a grid and made earthen collection units one and two, which served as a basis for a controlled metal detecting survey.

They found forged iron, an old spoon and perforated brass.

Then Dappert described a rough-faced limestone foundation.

“We know in 1819 the first settlers came here and dismantled what was left of a blockhouse and built their own home,” she said.

She believes they discovered the south, east and west walls. They excavate according to 10-centimeter arbitrary levels to control the samples they find.

“Artifacts are bagged according to those levels, so we know what level they came from,” she said.

They also found refined ceramics, small flooring nails and a hand-forged iron wedge.

After objects go through artifact analysis, they go to the curator at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield, which curates items found on public lands.

“It curates for the people of Illinois in perpetuity,” Monroe said.

But as of 2 p.m. Friday, the group had not made any determination of the blockhouse’s authenticity.

Artifacts that would confirm its existence would be military buttons, musket balls or gun parts.

“We’ll dig until we get a definitive answer,” Dappert said. “This also could be an early homestead associated with Camden.”

Now the Illinois Youth Center Pere Marquette at Camden Hollow is on the site of a former town called Camden.

“When people first came, they had few resources and reused foundations; this could have had multiple occupations here,” she noted.

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