Dig discovers pieces of history at Fort Pitt Block House

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Archaeologist Christine Davis held up the tiny ceramic jug that would have been a little girl's toy more than 150 years ago.

It was one of more than 100 artifacts unearthed around the Fort Pitt Block House during a recent two-day dig.

When children visit museums and old buildings, they most often see displays of items used by adults, Ms. Davis said Wednesday. Things like the broken toy jug, which is no more than 11/2 inches tall, can bring history alive for young people and for their parents, she said.

The items found during the archaeological survey in Pittsburgh's Point State Park reflect all eras of the neighborhood's history, block house curator Emily M. Weaver said.

Ms. Davis and Ms. Weaver on Wednesday showed off some of the artifacts found last week during the archaeological excavation. The work was led by staff from Christine Davis Associates, but visitors to the block house also had a chance to sift dirt in search of items.

The block house, constructed in 1764, is the oldest authenticated building in Pittsburgh. It is the only structure remaining from the Colonial-era Fort Pitt.

While the brick building is now surrounded by a grassy state park, the area has been home to several forts, at least one elegant home, smoky industrial plants, noisy railroad yards and crowded tenements, Ms. Weaver said.

While Ms. Davis said much work remains to be done in conserving and classifying the newly discovered artifacts, they already add details to the story of life at the Point.

A bear-tooth pendant, dating to before 1750, recalls the 100 centuries when southwestern Pennsylvania was home to Native Americans. The pendant, polished on one side where it rubbed against wearer's skin, and a half-dozen remnants of stone tools were found buried about 3 feet deep.

Items discovered closer to the surface, meaning their origin is more recent, included the remains of a ceramic cup or bowl. Decorated with a multicolored "sprig" pattern, it likely was imported from England in the 1840s or 1850s, Ms. Davis said. It may have been among the furnishings of a large brick home that once stood near the block house.

The tiny ceramic jug, a clay marble and a girl's comb, made from tortoise shell or gutta-percha rubber, could have belonged to the children who lived in the block house when it was converted into a residence. A photo taken in 1894, when the building was given to the Allegheny County Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, shows nine children posed in front of the then-deteriorating structure.

Fragments of glass bottles, including one stamped with "Galvin's Root Beer, Pittsburgh, Pa.," reflect the Point's industrial history. Ms. Davis held up a gleaming piece of "cullet" -- a jagged hunk of waste glass -- found in one of the 5-foot-by-5-foot archaeological pits. The city's glassmaking plants would have produced cullet, which often was remelted to make new items.

The archaeological dig was done in preparation for the planting of a new memorial garden to honor Edith Darlington Ammon, one of the founders of the Allegheny County chapter of the DAR. The Fort Pitt Society, a part of the county chapter, owns and maintains the block house.

Digging down 3 feet, archaeologists found eight levels, or "strata," of soil around the building.

DAR members wanted to find out what items might be buried below the future garden site before they disturbed the ground, Ms. Weaver said. Preparing the bed for planting will require turning over about 18 inches of earth.

Once the project is completed, the garden itself will protect artifacts buried deeper that could be recovered in a future archaeological excavation, Ms. Weaver said.

The dedication of the memorial garden in April will be part of the DAR's commemoration next year of the 250th anniversary of the construction of the block house.

Sometime this fall, The History Press will publish "The Fort Pitt Block House," a history of the building written by Ms. Weaver.

The block house is open 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Admission is free.


Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159. First Published August 22, 2013 4:00 AM


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