Treasure from Trash at Windsor Excavation Site

A dig in the past showed once again that one man's trash can be another man's treasure – especially if the second man lives a few centuries after the first.

During an archeological dig that was conducted at the Strong-Howard House, Tuesday and Wednesday, State archaeologist Dr. Nicholas Bellantoni and a group of ardent history lovers from the Friends of the Office of State Archaeologist uncovered a treasure trove of artifacts that their former owners had discarded in what was then the yard behind the house kitchen.

On Tuesday, Bonnie Beatrice, a FOSE volunteer, was holding a piece of clay that had just

been unearthed, and used a series of small cylindrical tools to try to find the diameter of a whole in it.

“You have to think of it as part of a long kaolin pipe,” she explained. “In these pipes, bores were larger to begin with and then they get smaller over time, and with these tools we can find a rough age of that particular manufacturing.”

Beatrice said that it's pretty usual in colonial digs to find pieces of clay pipes.

Why, the Windsor Journal asked?

“These were long skinny pipes, and what they were doing is they would break them as they went along. [Why they did that] there is a couple of different theories. The one is that the draw hole gets to clog up. The other is that these were community pipes, so people would break pieces for hygiene reasons. Although I'm not sure they cared for hygiene so much.”

Which was one of the reasons for the excavation.

“This area of the Strong-Howard House dates to 1750,” explained Tuesday Bellantoni. “ and this was the front door. Actually before 1859 the main road coming down to the ferry, before they built the bridge, passed in front of the house. Sometime around 1800 they built this extension as a store, and there was a door probably to be able to get into the store without getting in the house. This would be the back of the house until then, and we know that in this time period people would throw garbage out of their windows.”

The opportunity to dig in the area presented itself this year, when as part of the ongoing structural restoration of the house, constructors lifted the floorboards of the extension.

“For years, the Society has hoped to conduct a dig inside the store crawl space,” noted Society Curator Christina Vida. “We contacted FOSA last spring and were fortunate enough to get on their schedule for this month. One of our long-time volunteers, Jim Trocchi, has worked with Nick Bellantoni before and helped make it happen.”

WHS officials were right to be optimistic. The two-day excavation brought to light hundreds of artifacts. Among them, turkey bones, medicine bottles, an unfired musket ball, pipe stems, and wine bottles from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries.

Bellantoni has conducted a number of excavations in the same area before, notably a dig to uncover traces of the wooden palisade that surrounded the early fort – that one with inconclusive results.

This time, things were very different. Volunteers first divided the space off into a grid of one meter squares, and then they started excavating in a checkerboard pattern. And soon small pieces of Windsor's past started appearing.

“Look at this, that's a newspaper,” exclaimed one of the workers who was shifting dirt from the excavation on a carefully prepared tarp. The piece was small, but letters were clearly legible, and from the appearance of the type very old.

And how old was that pipe?

“Between 1720 and 1750,” Beatrice calculated.

Bellantoni told the Windsor Journal that the work FOSA volunteers are doing is invaluable in providing a better picture of the State's and the town's past.

Very happy with the haul was Windsor Historical Society Curator Christina Vida, who coordinated much of the effort.

“We are thrilled with the objects that were recovered from the Strong-Howard House store, especially the early wine bottle and pipe stem” Vida said. “Hopefully we will be able to date many of the artifacts and share their stories with the Windsor community.”

And that, in a nutshell, is the reason WHS organized the event, WHS director Christine Ermenc told the Windsor Journal.

“That is the community's history,” she said. “For those who live in the Windsor area, and that includes towns like Windsor Locks and Bloomfield that were then part of Windsor, that is their history.”