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Annual Collier Lodge dig begins Monday

By Kathryn Kattalia
(219) 548-4357
| Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A mysterious cabin and a river bank potentially loaded with historical artifacts will be the focus of this year's Collier Lodge dig, which will begin July 6.

"We're always coming up with really neat stuff," said John Hodson, president of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society. "It's a great opportunity for people interested in archaeology to actually participate in a dig."

Hodson said this year the historical society hopes to establish the parameters of a structure discovered underground that extends under the existing Collier Lodge, located along the Kankakee River in Kouts. Hodson said the group also plans to further investigate the river bank where ancient arrowheads have been uncovered in prior digs.

"It depends on how fast things go along, but we could conceivably start digging new levels the first day out there," Hodson said.

The historical society will take volunteers for this year's excavation through July 23, the final day of the dig. Anyone interested in participating need only apply for membership into the historical society. The associate professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame will lead the dig, which will run from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday.

Equipment for the excavation will be provided, though Hodson suggests participants bring a pair of gloves, bug spray and any personal items they might need. Observers are welcome to watch the dig from the sidelines.

In the past, the dig has unearthed artifacts dating back to 8,000 B.C. Diggers also have found pennies, pocketknives and sewing equipment from when the Collier Lodge was a gathering spot for hunters along the river in the 1800s.

"It's an important thing for archaeology, especially for the Midwest ," Hodson said. "We're finding out new things that were not really known about the Kankakee River . (Dig participants) can actually be a part of making our history by rediscovering the past."

Anyone interested in learning more information can visit kankakeevalleyhistoricalsociety.org


Collier dig will resume

July 4, 2009

By Charles M. Bartholomew, Post-Tribune correspondent

KOUTS -- Field work for the Kankakee Valley Historical Society's archaeology project at Baums Bridge begins at 9 a.m. Monday.


He said no experience is necessary to join the crews excavating the site around the Collier Lodge, the last abandoned hunting club standing in the area that was once the Grand Kankakee Marsh, which attracted hunters to Northwest Indiana for thousands of years.

Under contract with Notre Dame anthropology professor Mark Schurr , diggers have removed thousands of artifacts, from 8,000-year-old arrowheads to 19th-century coins from the former location of a ferry that was the only river crossing between South Bend and the Illinois state line.

In the first year, Schurr said a dig such as this usually goes for five years, but this is the seventh summer for what he has called "the richest site I've ever seen."

"Mark says he's 'chasing the cabin' this summer," said Hodson, referring to the partially-uncovered foundation of a 170-year-old log structure that was the focus of last year's digging.

Hodson said Schurr also has plans to open new units along the Kankakee bayou that borders the society's property to look for spear points.

He said the long-term plan is to restore the lodge as a museum and have it listed on the National Registers of Historic and Prehistoric Places.

Digging will go on Monday through Thursday until July 23, starting at 9 a.m. every morning. If it rains, workers will do sorting and cataloging of artifacts in a nearby barn.

The all-volunteer project has attracted experienced amateurs from all over the world, but Hodson said there is work for anyone, from "screening" shovelfuls of dirt to labeling specimen bags under the direction of unit leaders.

Spectators can watch for free, but participating requires payment of the society's annual dues of $30 for individuals or $40 per family. Equipment is provided, but mosquito repellent is highly recommended. There is no age limit, but a parent or guardian must sign a release for a minor.



Pre-dig Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey pictures taken July 1, 2009

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Historical society continues digging out old structure

By Kathryn Kattalia
(219) 548-4357
| Tuesday, July 07, 2009

There's a mystery lurking under the banks of the Kankakee River , and Mark Schurr is determined to get to the bottom of literally.

"We found a large, deep pitch feature that we think might be the cellar of a cabin," said the University of Notre Dame anthropology professor. "We're trying to get to the bottom of it and figure out how deep it is, which could tell us what the structure actually is."

Establishing the dimensions of the mysterious cabin will be the main focus of this year's Collier Lodge dig, which kicked off Monday at the historic Collier Lodge site on Baum's Bridge Road in Kouts. Sponsored by the Kankakee Valley Historical Society, this is the seventh year the group has teamed up with Schurr to unearth pieces of history along the Kankakee River .

"Where we start is determined by the questions we have left over from last year," Schurr said. "We found the cabin by accident two years ago. Last year we found the north, south and east limits of the cabin but not the west. We're basically trying to figure out how big our big feature is."

A team of volunteers from across the Midwest is set to accompany Schurr during the three week dig along the Kankakee River , sifting through dirt for artifacts dating as far back as 1100. Schurr said while it is impossible to tell what might be discovered over the next three weeks, he believes new findings could come as soon as next week.

"We find stuff from every time period," Schurr said. "In the past, we've found prehistoric roasting pits, pottery and tools. We've also found pottery dating back to the 1820s, musket balls, even trade silver from when the Native Americans were here."

Schurr said one of the most unique aspects about the site is that it has seen a steady flow of human traffic over the past thousand years, making it possible to compare how different people lived and utilized the marshes along the Kankakee over time.

"The cool part about the site is that the only disturbance it's experienced is what historic people have done to it," Schurr said. "We can look at how Native Americans lived 700 years ago and compare that to how the pioneers used the same land."

For others, the cool part comes simply from digging in the dirt.

"It's not quite like Indiana Jones, but that's OK," said participant Albert Hong, an archeology student at Notre Dame. "We learn about this in text books, but it's cool to get hands-on experience."

Hong, of Los Altos Hills , Calif. , was one of several aspiring archaeologists to try his hand at field work for the day. Other volunteers with no prior experience showed up to help as well.

"Our digs are always a success," said historical society president John Hodson. "On the first day, there's not that much going on, but there have been a lot of good things happening."

Hodson said the historical society will continue to take volunteers up through July 23, the final day of the dig. The dig runs from 9 a.m. to 3:30, Monday through Thursday.


Dig for Collier Lodge begins

July 7, 2009

By Charles M. Bartholomew, Post-Tribune correspondent

KOUTS -- On the first morning of the seventh annual archaeology dig at the Collier Lodge, the air was filled with anticipation and the aroma of mosquito repellent.

Thirty people, a typical daily work crew in past years, followed University of Notre Dame anthropology professor Mark Schurr as he led them through orientation and brought newcomers up to speed on previous summer excavations at what he has called "the richest site I've ever seen."

Hauling a surveyor's transit to a shaded spot in the field by the abandoned hunting lodge, he told Jared Carter from California and Albert Hong from Florida , two of his students, "You're going to have to do this tomorrow."

John Hodson, president of lodge owners, the Kankakee Valley Historical Society, and Schurr are expecting more than 100 volunteers from all parts of the country and beyond to spend at least a day working on the three-week project, some getting their very first taste of archaeology.

"Every mistake I'm telling you, I learned the hard way," Schurr said.

Hodson used a video camera to document the work for the society's applications to have the site listed on the National Registers of Historic and Prehistoric Places, an important step in getting grants to fund restoration of the deteriorating building.

Megan Geurts, 23, who graduated from Indiana University in Bloomington last December, said she's new to the dig at the lodge.

"I met him (Schurr) last summer while doing a field school at Angel Mounds. I heard about this and e-mailed him. He said I could be a unit leader," she said.

Schurr said Geurts will be overseeing work on one of several unit excavations at Feature No. 25, which may have been the basement of a cabin about 170 years old, a few meters from the southeast corner of the lodge.

"We want to get to the bottom of the feature. If we find household items, it may be a home. If we find piles of sawdust, it may have been the sawmill that was here somewhere," he said.

Anyone of any age, with or without experience, can show up any morning at 9 a.m. and pay the $30 annual membership dues to join the dig for as many days as desired. Spectators can watch for free. The lodge is located on Baums Bridge Road at the river across from Baums Bridge Inn, 1.5 miles west and three miles south of Kouts.  


Ring, half dime, dinner plate unearthed at Baums Bridge

July 11, 2009

By Charles M. Bartholomew, Post-Tribune correspondent

BAUMS BRIDGE -- Highlights of the first week of digging at the Collier Lodge include a collector's ring, a 172-year-old "half dime," a gold-trimmed dinner plate, and the first visit to the project by American Indians.

Notre Dame anthropology professor Mark Schurr and volunteers of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society, which owns the lodge, wrapped up the first week of this summer's three-week archaeological dig on Thursday at the abandoned building on a Kankakee River backwater.

Schurr and his workers opened five square-edged units up to 3 feet deep next to the lodge, some that were filled in after last year's dig. This is the seventh year for the project.

"We found another roasting pit. We're working very carefully through the different levels, so we're going slower," he said.

Schurr said the immediate goal is to determine the extent of what he calls Feature No. 25 that was uncovered last year, the cellar of a cabin that could be either a home or a sawmill from the days when the river crossing was known as Eaton's Ferry.

"We'll know next week," he said.

KVHS president John Hodson displayed several finds from the first week:

* an 1837 half dime

* pottery and handmade bricks dating from 1795-1820

* a large fragment of a gilt-edged dinner plate.

Joining the dig Thursday morning were three young members of the Pokagon band of the Potawatomi Indians and a fourth American Indian from another Midwestern tribe. They declined to be interviewed, referring questions to the Pokagon office in Dowagiac , Mich. The tribe's Education Department could not be contacted for this story.

Hodson said the Potawatomi had approached them last year about coming to the site, but a mutually agreeable time couldn't be worked out.

Collier Lodge dig in 7th year of unearthing artifacts

Kathryn Kattalia - kathryn.kattalia@nwi.com, (219) 548-4357

Posted: Tuesday, July 14, 2009 12:00 am

It may not be as exotic as Africa, but the Collier Lodge dig site along the Kankakee River still holds appeal for Sophie Wojihoski, who has spent her life traveling around the world unearthing bits of ancient history in places such as Swaziland and the Republic of Congo .

"We did things a little differently in Africa , but this is better than sitting at home," Wojihoski said Monday while sifting through dirt for animal bones outside the historical Collier Lodge in Kouts. "In Africa , I once found an elephant bone that was 2.5 million years old, but I like seeing what I can find out here."

This is the fifth year the 89-year-old has participated at the annual Collier Lodge dig, sponsored by the Kankakee Valley Historical Society. She said that while she often finds animal bones, occasionally something more interesting shows up.

"Last week I found a silver ring. It had a face on it that looked like a devil," Wojihoski said. "If these artifacts could only talk to us and tell us the truth -- it's exciting. It makes us want to know more."

Later identified as a Waffen-SS German ring from World War II, it is one of many finds to come out of this year's dig. Historical society President John Hodson said the dig, now in its seventh year, also has found pieces of pottery and coins, as well as a number of unanswered questions.

"It's all so interesting -- like a story unfolding year after year," Hodson said. "We always come up with something at the end of the dig, and then we have to wait a whole year to find out more."

Mysteries that remain from last year include an underground structure believed to be some sort of cabin. Figuring out the cabin's dimensions has been the focus of this year's excavation, now in its second week.

"Our main game plan for this week is to figure out how the cabin was built and how big it is," dig leader Mark Schurr said. "We're still searching for the bottom of it. They think they found the south edge of the feature, but we're still looking for the west edge."

Schurr said volunteers also are focusing on a prehistoric roasting pit discovered last week, as well as a variety of 1-cent pieces dating back to the 1830s and '40s.

"The way this site is, you have historic stuff with prehistoric stuff underneath it," Schurr said. "We have successive layers of human activity."

The dig is scheduled to run through July 23 and still is taking volunteers. No previous experience is necessary for participation. For more information, visit http://kankakeevalleyhistoricalsociety.org.  

Excavation calling all diggers

July 22, 2009

By Charles M. Bartholomew , Post-Tribune correspondent

This week is the last chance for amateur archaeologists looking for real digging experience to "Come on down!"

Kankakee Valley Historical Society president John Hodson said more people than ever before answered the call last week to view and participate in the unearthing of history and prehistory at the Collier Lodge on the Kankakee River southwest of Kouts.

"About two dozen in their cars arrived in a convoy from Valparaiso to watch," Hodson said.

On Thursday, a second group of two adults and two children from the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi Indians came to join in the excavation of a newly uncovered Native American roasting pit that will share the focus of the final week of this summer's project with the foundation of a cabin-like structure that has already produced a number of pioneer artifacts.

"There's been so much going on. The last few days are always the most exciting," said Hodson, remembering the traces of the cabin that first appeared on the final day of the 2008 dig.

He has spiced up the Web site www.kankakeevalleyhistoricalsociety.org with daily updates that include the "Hit of the Day," such as the 1849 one-cent piece found on July 13, an 1880 brass button found on July 14, and a Civil War-era uniform button from the Waterbury Button Co. in Connecticut on Wednesday.

"The company started in 1812. I checked their Web site. We've found a lot of buttons of bone, metal and mother-of-pearl," he said.

A few of the half-dozen "units," some down to almost four feet deep, have yielded a large number of bricks, both handmade and manufactured from molds that the society would like to use in some way.

"We thought of having some of them engraved to sell as souvenirs, but the state Antiquities Law was revised last year to cover everything up to 1870. Now we're looking into using them to partially rebuild a wall to demonstrate different brickmaking technologies," Hodson said.

The last day for the 2009 dig is Thursday.

Anyone who wants pay the $30 annual society membership fee and join in the dig is welcome and spectators are free. There are jobs for everyone, regardless of experience. Work usually lasts from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

To reach the Collier Lodge, from Indiana 49 in Kouts go 11/2 miles west on Indiana 8 and 3 miles south on Baums Bridge Road . Mosquito repellent is advised. Food is available at the Baums Bridge Inn across the road.

Digging down to the root

Kathryn Kattalia - kathryn.kattalia@nwi.com - (219) 548-4357

| Posted: Thursday, July 23, 2009 12:00 am

KOUTS | The Kankakee Valley Historical Society hit bottom Wednesday as the final week of the annual Collier Lodge archaeological dig came to an end.

"We finally made it down to the bottom of our mystery feature," said dig leader Mark Schurr . "The feature is some kind of root cellar. It's smaller than we thought it was."

Extending 4 1/2 feet under ground, the cellar feature has puzzled Schurr and his team of amateur archaeologists for the past two years as they've excavated the site surrounding the historic Collier Lodge on Baum's Bridge Road in Kouts. The main goal of this year's dig was to identify the structure and discover its dimensions.

"Part of the mystery is solved," Schurr said. "The problem with archaeology is that every time you solve one mystery, you get another."

Previously thought to be a cabin, Shurr said the cellar likely extends beneath the lodge, indicating that another building once stood close to that location. What that building was, however, remains to be answered.

"Neat stuff always comes up at the end of our dig, and then we have to wait until next year," said Historical Society President John Hodson. "It's been a successful year."

A number of artifacts representing 3,000 years of history have been discovered since members of the KVHS started digging three weeks ago along the Kankakee River . Prehistoric arrowheads and roasting pits have been among some of the treasures unearthed at this year's dig, along with pieces of pottery and one-cent coins dating back to the 1800s.

Hodson said volunteers with ranging archaeological backgrounds came from all over the Midwest to help dig units, sift through dirt and identify artifacts.

Scott Duncan, of Hebron , said he had never had any prior experience doing field work when he decided to participate in this year's dig. He said it's something he's always wanted to do.

"It's fascinating to watch," Duncan said. "It takes time to go through the layers, but it's a very rewarding experience. You find things from all different time periods. It's amazing that different cultures existed in this same spot for thousands of years."

Kiersten Friend, of Wheatfield, said her love for history drew her to the Collier site. Like Duncan , she said she had never participated in any kind of dig before coming to Kouts.

"I'm gaining an appreciation for the history of this area," Friend said. "I didn't realize how far it goes back."

Project reveals cabin foundation, artifacts

July 23, 2009

By Charles M. Bartholomew, Post-Tribune correspondent

BAUMS BRIDGE -- Since before the start of the 2009 archaeological dig at the Collier Lodge, anthropologist Mark Schurr has described it as "chasing the cabin."

On Tuesday, with two full days left before the end of this summer's three-week project, the University of Notre Dame professor and his crew of volunteers caught the cabin.

"Yes, we think we did. You can see that wood there, it's like a timber," he said, pointing at the remains of a beam at the bottom of a four-foot-deep section of the system of trenches near the southeast corner of the former hunting lodge.

Starting with a small corner of a foundation that emerged at end of last year's excavation, "the cabin" absorbed everyone's interest as they deepened old units and opened new ones, trying to determine the extent and purpose of the structure that dates to the 1830s when the location was known as Eaton's Ferry.

"This could be a root cellar," said volunteer Art Nelson, looking up from his work.

Schurr said the wood may have been put there as a wall reinforcement in the sandy dirt.

"You'd need a line of logs to hold it up. This gives us firm evidence we're digging in a cellar. We're going to get to the bottom before we close it up for the year," he said.

He said that the digging still hasn't reached the west wall of whatever occupied the ground, but it's clear the lodge building covers part of where the cabin stood.

"We know now that it was demolished before the lodge was built," Schurr said.

He said work has been going slow, because the digging gets "more and more interesting" as they uncover more of the cellar.

"We're finding lots more stuff, getting more of the story as it becomes more defined," said volunteer Bridget Murray, scraping the soil in another trench. She said bigger pieces of pottery and dishes have turned up, allowing them to begin to fit some of them together.

"We could use a jigsaw puzzle expert in the lab," she said.

Schurr said the volunteers will spend most of the last day of the 2009 dig covering the units to protect them until next year.

See pictures of activity and artifacts in the "2009 Collier Lodge Dig Photo Gallery" at www.kankakeevalleyhistoricalsociety.org.