The Great Valley Regional Archaeology Center Public Programs for Preservation

Historic Preservation Feature is a series of articles on the efforts to save and reuse historic buildings, districts and sites in Pennsylvania.

With the construction of the Blue Marsh Dam in Berks County, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took an unprecedented step by provid­ing in their plans for land to be set aside to form a publicly managed cultural preserve. A consortium of interested organizations and individuals assumed the task of creating an agency to establish and manage the sanctuary. In No­vember 1976, the Old Dry Road Farm was organized and work was begun to establish a log-building preserve which would contain salvaged and restored historic log structures representative of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Berks County. The institutional framework of Old Dry Road Farm included the establishment of an archaeology organi­zation which would work with preservation specialists and eventually become a functional part of the total cultural preservation program. One of the preservation specialists, Thomas E. Jones, assumed the responsibility of forming such an organization.

In the late fall of 1977, a meeting was held and attended by seven people. Discussion centered around the need for an association that would be responsible for the initiation of research and conservation-oriented archaeology on a regional basis. The core group shared a sincere understand­ing of the urgent need to preserve what remained of the local cultural heritage. By chance. and a number of coincidences. four anthropologists, one archaeologist. an educa­tion specialist and a preservation architect attended the meeting which resulted in the formation of the Great Valley Regional Archaeology Center. It was decided that the work of the center would include prehistoric, historic and industrial archaeology in the Great Valley region, primarily in, but not limited to, Berks, Lehigh and Lebanon counties.

In addition to the objective of actually conserving and preserving the cultural heritage of the area, the center made a commitment to the development of a public archaeology organization with the primary objective of coordinating existing public interest in preservation and conservation. Awareness or a serious local interest in archaeology, es­pecially among young people, convinced the core group that the public concept was feasible and had potential for future expansion. But, the proper guidance was necessary. Due to concern over the possibility of inadvertent destruc­tion which occasionally occurs during even the best-in­tentioned attempts at preservation, the center agreed to adhere to stringent guidelines and standards which were to be applied to all phases of its archaeological work. These standards would be the central element in all public training programs. Paul Geib, Jr., who received his graduate degree in archaeology-anthropology at the State University of New York at Buffalo, became chief archaeologist. He assumed the responsibility for establishing the methodology and procedures to be used in all center programs. These concepts were incorporated into the center’s first technical manual, “Instructional Pamphlet No. 1: How to Locate and Record Archaeologic Sites.” This basic manual has become the standard tool for public introduction to archaeological field work.

 

Initial Efforts

The center’s first organized archaeological effort in­volved assisting in the removal and restoration of a historic lug homestead and farm. The complex was to be restored at Old Dry Road Farm after being dismantled by the Pennsyl­vania Log House Society. The center concerned itself primarily with probing for the foundations of the original eighteenth-century structures. These test excavations aided restoration specialists in the eventual reconstruction of the foundations and buildings. Although the work was some­what rushed as a result of poor weather conditions and new construction in the area, two significant foundations and numerous artifacts from the original builder’s trenches were located. In this initial effort, volunteer help was pro­vided by local high school students. The experience of working with them laid the base for future educational programs. No formal archaeology or excavation was done on this particular project, however. and the hurried salvage work ended with the bitter winter of 1977-78.

At this point in the center’s development, funds were nonexistent but enthusiasm and commitment kept the idea alive. Jn the spring of 1978, however, the center was very fortunate to meet with Dr. Richard Cahn of the Berks County Intermediate Unit 14. A unique working relation­ship between public archaeology and public education immediately began which fell directly in line with mutually shared educational objectives. With the advice of Dr. Cahn, the center designed, planned and implemented a three-week archaeology field school for high school teachers and secondary school students. The program was entirely funded by the intermediate unit as part of its professional development program for teachers in Berks County. (The problem of financing still plagues the center and is un­doubtedly the primary factor limiting the number of public archaeology programs throughout Pennsylvania. Seed money and financial support for promotional publications outlining the programs, their findings and successes, would serve to encourage involvement and inspire the formation of more citizen groups.)

The basic design model for the program aimed at sensi­tizing a small group of classroom teachers to the problems of conservation and preservation through archaeology. It was hoped that their new awareness would then be re­flected through their teaching programs and transferred to their students. Because archaeology is often confined to academic programs and public involvement in practical experience is often limited, it was felt that this approach might be innovative and exciting to participants. Also incorporated into the design model was the desire to maintain the same high academic standards developed by institutional archaeology which, unfortunately, is sometimes ignored in “people’s” archaeology programs. The center sought to blend the best of the two concepts – public involvement and academic standards – into a refreshing, possibly unique approach to archaeology which would foster public awareness while motivating academic excel­lence.

The final format for the first summer field school spon­sored by the Berks County Intermediate Unit and implemented by the Great Valley Regional Archaeology Center revolved around in-service teacher training and student experience. In terms of content, the program pro­vided sixty hours of instruction in cultural history, archae­ological theory, survey methods and excavation technology. At the end of two weeks of intensive instruction. teachers. representing various disciplines and grade levels, were taught to design basic curricula that could be put to use in their classroom situations. In the third and final week, the teachers were then asked to apply their curricula to a group of high school students. Each teacher was assigned two pupils and was responsible for their training and super­vision. Instruction was conducted on an individual basis, in small groups and in a large class-lecture format, but wherever possible was kept on an informal basis empha­sizing “hands-on” experience.

The success of the first field school surpassed all expec­tations. Ten teachers and twenty students representing twelve school districts participated. In addition to the participants, there were always a few interested spectators who wanted to try their hands at excavating and learn something about archaeology. The potential for public involvement was evident from the start of the first field school and has convinced the center of the need to expand public outreach projects in the future. Plans are being made to offer center programs in other intermediate units and provide information and/or planning assistance to organiza­tions concerned with conservation and preservation. In the fall of 1978, the center offered a second field school for teachers and achieved success similar to that of the first program.

 

The Leesport Excavation

During the planning stages, the center was also presented with an exciting opportunity to integrate its efforts with another publicly conceived project. A number of concerned citizens in the small community of Leesport, Berks County had formed a foundation to restore and preserve a building that had been the residence of a Schuylkill Canal and Navigation Company supervisor. The canal once provided the stimulation for the development and growth of the town and this property is the last remnant of that heritage. The foundation’s plans called for the restoration of the entire property to its condition during the years 1880-1910, stressing historical authenticity and architectural integrity. This required, among other things, excavation to determine the landscape of that period. Walkways, paving materials, towpath foundations, gardens, building materials and numerous other features had to be identified, some of which were no longer visible but were evident in old photo­graphs. In addition to searching for details about the land­scape, the center field school also excavated the remains of a bake house attached to the main building. As a result of the excavation, participants acquired a better under­standing of how the structure was used by the residents of the lockhouse. The final task at Leesport centered around uncovering the site of the kitchen garden which supplied table food for the workmen, as well as produce to be sold to boatmen.

Students seemed fascinated by what they found. During the process of excavation, constant emphasis was placed on the idea that they were uncovering their own very special cultural heritage and not simply digging for artifacts. The total value of the excavations in terms of cultural history and historic archaeology was amplified by the existence of old photographs and the collection of memoirs of elderly citizens who grew up near the area. Their visits to the lockhouse and the information they provided to the students had a noticeable impact.

Work at the lockhouse began again this past spring and will continue into the summer as part of the field school program. Currently, the center is preparing a preliminary report on the Leesport excavations and, if funding for publication can be arranged, the report should be issued by mid-summer of this year.

Archaeological investigation is crucial to any restoration project that hopes to be authentic and accurate. The Lees­port Lockhouse restoration is an excellent case study of how archaeology and restoration complement one another. More importantly, it is a perfect example of what two publicly managed programs can accomplish on a minimal budget. Pennsylvania is rich in history and has played a fundamental role in the growth and development of the United States. There is no disputing this fact. What must be stressed, however, is the need for more of this type of cooperative work, work that can and rightfully should be carried out by people concerned enough to preserve their rich cultural heritage.

 

Activities at Poplar Neck

The Great Valley Regional Archaeology Center’s pro­gram is not limited to historic archaeology, however. Participants in the field schools receive exposure to the problems of prehistoric archaeology as well. The site selected for this work is located within a region south of the city of Reading known locally as the Poplar Neck. It is a large area of land bounded by a sweeping bend of the Schuylkill River and was extremely important to the region’s historical development. It has long been identified with prehistoric habitation. As early as the 1930s. excava­tion of burial sites was carried out by the Reading Public Museum. Regrettably, intensive record keeping was not a practice at the lime and much of the important knowledge accumulated during the project was not recorded. Since then, no significant disciplined archaeological investigation had been carried out in the area until now. Compounding the problem, there has been, and continues to be, a history of indiscriminate surface gathering of artifacts for personal collection and sale. The elimination of this wholesale site destruction has also become a major focus of the center’s activities.

The most significant prehistoric excavation site is located in this Poplar Neck region. John and Thomas Bialas, both students who live in this area, have put to­gether an extensive collection of prehistoric projectile points and various other artifacts. As the center developed, the two young men began assisting in surface studies in the area and brought their own finds to the center’s attention. Realizing their children’s involvement and themselves having an interest in the prehistory of the area. Mr. and Mrs. John Bialas were quick to permit the field school to open test pits on their property and have given the center their full cooperation. (The center is deeply indebted to the Bialas family whose concern exemplifies the public awareness and support necessary to ensure successful archaeological projects.)

The sites, now designated as Bialas Test 1 and Test 2, were excavated by the summer and fall field schools follow­ing preliminary work by center staff. At least two cultural components have been identified co date. Bialas Test 1 at level seven developed into an Archaic hearth and living floor. Bialas Test 2 has yielded Woodland pottery sherds and projectile points as well as other Archaic articles. Although only two 10′ x 10′ test pits were opened. the enormous concentration of flake material and artifacts has convinced center archaeologists that this will become one of the most significant excavations in this section of Pennsylvania. The habitation sites are tentatively dated at 600 B.C., but dating is relative since finances do not permit the use of Carbon-14 or other sophisticated tech­niques to fix an exact date. The center’s chief archaeologist has completed his interpretive report on the site and the analysis of the excavation will be published when funds are available. Excavation at the site will continue and will be the focus of the prehistoric phase of future field schools in Berks County.

The Poplar Neck is also historically significant to Berks County because it served as a geographic funnel into the Schuylkill Valley and the central part or the Great Valley. This “geographic gateway” straddles the river and served as a natural access route used by Native Americans and colonials as well. In addition to the two Bialas sites, the center is currently studying a nineteenth-century industrial location which appears to have been a lime kiln and mill operation. The area has been designated as the “Glass Site”, named after the farm on which it is located. This particular farm is an excellent example of late eighteenth­-century English architecture which is typical of the great number of farms and other culturally significant buildings in the region. The Poplar Neck area also contains significant ruins of the Schuylkill Canal system which once served the area. The numerous examples of archaeologically and culturally significant sites and structures convinced center archaeologists that this section of the Great Valley was critically important. As a result of preliminary study, the center has instituted a cultural resource management study and hopes to establish a Poplar Neck Archaeological Conser­vation District.

 

Present Programs-Future Plans

Al the time of this writing, the Great Valley Regional Archaeology Center is little more than one year old. Without a single full-time staff member and virtually no opera­tional budget, the accomplishments have been enormous­ – far beyond the grandest expectations. A public awareness of the importance of the conservation and preservation of our cultural heritage through disciplined archaeology has been significantly developed and where once there was but little concern, there now exists a sustained public interest.

The future of the center seems promising indeed. Mem­bership continues to grow and more sites are continually located. An information retrieval system has been estab­lished to locate potential sites and assist in their inventory by encouraging property owners to report artifacts found and structures built upon their land. After receiving the report, a center staff member personally contacts the property owner and arrangements are made for recording. After analysis, the center archaeologists then decide what follow-up action is appropriate. The property owner is involved in the investigation as much as possible, thus his interest in the program is reinforced and hopefully a new member is recruited for the center. In Berks County alone, more than four hundred sites have already been identified.

The future will see the center expand its educational efforts by initiating more public outreach programs and projects involving elementary and secondary school educa­tional activities. A spin-off of the past summers, for ex­ample, has been the creation of a high school internship for students interested in pursuing careers in anthropology or archaeology. This program was initiated in cooperation with a Berks County high school and requires the participating student to work with center staff twelve hours per week in lieu of attending high school classes. The student carries out laboratory work, artifact classification and cataloging and helps with the writing of reports. The center is also offering a short course in field survey and basic principles of archaeology for the Reading Area Community College and, in the fall of 1979, will begin a full credit program at Alvernia College. Reading. Additional educa­tional programs similar to the first field schools are also planned for teachers and students.

Since its inception, the center has acquired the aid of two more archaeologists and a number o[ other people possessing a variety of skills ranging from chemistry to journalism. The key to future successes seems to lie in the utilization of these skills in the most efficient and pro­ductive manner. Project teams are organized on a volunteer basis, usually based upon the personal interests of those involved. Three of these project teams are currently functioning. One is carrying out the cultural resource manage­ment study mentioned earlier. The second and third are more research-oriented and are preparing plans for fu cure excavations. Team two, for example, is working with an early nineteenth-century canal boat which sank sometime around 1855. The boat is completely intact and one of the last examples of its type in the United States. The third research team. composed strictly of center archaeologists, is examining a cave site. It is believed that the cave contains extremely valuable archaeological material but its excava­tion will present special technical problems. As a result, actual work on it will be postponed until a time when staff competency has reached the level of expertise demanded by the site. Future plans also include the development of a permanent conservation laboratory and classroom which will be added to the facilities already present at Old Dry Road Farm. These should be operational by 1980.

 

Conclusion

The need for public conservancy of our cultural heritage becomes more and more significant in the wake of rapid industrialization and the expansion of suburbia. Every time a historic structure is destroyed to be replaced by a service station or a prehistoric site is lost to a parking lot, some­thing is gone which can never be replaced. The number of people in America who recognize this tragedy is growing and advocacy groups like the center will fill the gap fre­quently left by other organizations. There is definitely a place and a future for public archaeology.

What has been accomplished by the Great Valley Re­gional Archaeology Center can be duplicated by other groups with similar concerns. Hopefully, governmental agencies and other ins1i1u1ions or organizations at all levels will recognize the movement and lend both encouragement and support. There are a number of ways this might be realized – a coordinating body could be created, for ex­ample. which would help organize and advise public archae­ology centers: a statewide newsletter might serve to put groups with similar concerns and activities in contact with one another to share ideas. problems, research and pro­grams: or a network of publicly managed centers could be established to complement existing institutional structures.

In the long run, a precedent set in Pennsylvania might help reverse the destructive trend and begin a movement toward preservation or our dwindling cultural heritage. The Great Valley Regional Archaeology Center is an example of what can be accomplished through public action without extensive outside support. It seems logical that the model which has been developed by the center could, with some assistance, be adapted in a multitude of ways and applied in other localities throughout the Com­monwealth and beyond.

 

The Great Valley Regional Archaeology Center is located at Old Dry Road Farm. R.D. I, Wernersville 19565. In order to develop an informational exchange system, interested individuals and organizations involved in similar projects are encouraged to contact Gerald T. Braglio at the center. Inquiries regarding the center’s programs and future plans are also welcome.

 

Gerald T. Broglio is a professional educator with extensive experience in education program design and development. He currently serves the Great Valley Regional Archaeology Center as education program coordinator and teacher training instructor.