Visionary Hill Site
Navarro County Texas
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Cities and Towns || Link to: Corsicana Daily Sun

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Bill Young is a Daily Sun columnist. His column appears Tuesdays.

Originally published in the Corsicana Daily Sun
Reprinted with permission of the Corsicana Daily Sun || Articles Index

All rights to this story reserved. Copyright Corsicana Daily Sun and Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc,. Content  may not be archived, retransmitted, saved in a database, or used for any commercial purpose without the express written permission of the Corsicana Daily Sun and CNHI.


11/24/2002 BILL YOUNG: The rest of the metal artifacts from Visionary Hill

We found several other metal artifacts associated with the kitchen. Two badly rusted three-tine forks were recovered. Please note that in those early times, forks had either two or three prongs rather than the typical four-prong fork used today. To date, I haven't read any publication explaining why the prongs on a fork have changed from three to four. I would imagine there is a simple logical reason probably associated with better sticking and holding whatever the person was eating. I think this comes under the heading of progress.

Three pewter spoons, all broken at or near where the handle attaches to the bowl, were recovered. A raised design similar to a sea shell was molded on the bottom side of each bowl. Each handle had a simple design comprised of parallel lines. Two fragmentary rusted table knives were also found. A portion of the blade from a large kitchen knife was recovered along with only the bowl part of a large iron spoon. I must assume that most of these kitchen utensils were discarded after the pieces were broken. I would think that when the occupants of Visionary Hill moved away, they would have taken everything they owned that was still useable. However, we must remember that children would take kitchen utensils, especially spoons outside to dig in the dirt and still do!

A small group of interesting metal objects associated with a cast iron stove may explain why the number of bricks found at the site were so few in number. One metal leg and a couple of side pieces definitely are part of a stove. Two sections of one of the top burner plates marked "Charter" indicate that this stove was manufactured by the Charter Oaks Stove Company. We also found part of one of the doors marked with the last five letters of the city of Philadelphia. We didn't recover enough of the stove to determine whether it was a big rectangular cooking stove or one of the smaller "potbelly" units. If the original occupants brought a metal cooking stove with them when they first arrived, they might not have needed a brick fireplace. We also found a complete damper unit that fits into the vent pipe on a stove. Both the eyelet and the blade of a large hoe were recovered but I haven't taken the time to see if they fit together. We also found one small hasp with a small oval loop. The size probably represents a hasp made for a little box.

Five railroad spikes found on the site have created some questions. We feel comfortable in stating that the Visionary Hill was abandoned by the earliest settlers after the sheriff's sale in 1860. Since there wasn't any railroad in the area until 1871, someone else brought the spikes to the site. Or, railroads existed in the eastern states in the 1850s which means the early settlers could have brought the spikes with them for some unknown use. Curiously, one of the spikes has been heated and bent at an angle about 1 1/2 inches below the head. Someone has removed two of the sides of the head probably using a forge. The purpose of this modification is not known at this time.

We found a few fence staples across the site, especially near the eastern fence but these must have entered the soil at a much later date. A number of fairly large pieces of at least two 5-gallon buckets were recovered. These may date to either the early or later occupation. Two 6-inch fragments of a sheet of corrugated metal indicates that at least a portion of the roof had been repaired utilizing sheet metal. In every excavated unit near or under the house, many small pieces of metal were recovered. Many of these are tiny fragments of tin cans but a few are pieces of sheet metal roofing.

I have saved the discussion about the nails that we found until almost the very last of the metal artifacts. Without the nails, we might still be guessing as to what type of construction was used to build the house. However, the high volume of small square nails about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in length indicate that the roof was made of wooden shingles held on with these small nails. On the other hand, the low volume of larger nails such as 8 penny or even larger size 16 penny indicates that the structure was made of logs rather that milled lumber. Some of the bigger sizes were recovered but most of these were used to toenail the roof rafters into place. A few hand-forged nails with very large heads were produced for a special purpose: It was common for the early settler to use wide strips of leather to hold doors and shutters in place instead of metal hinges. We didn't find a single metal hinge on the site. If I placed these few hand-forged nails in a pile with the forged nails from the 1716 Spanish Mission I found back in 1983, I would be hard pressed to separate the nails from Visionary Hill.

Next week: More information about the Heritage Lakes Trail

12/15/2002 BILL YOUNG: More about the artifacts from Visionary Hill

On the front page of the Nov. 25 Daily Sun was a photograph of my wife, Bobbie Jean, and two members of the Tarrant County Archeological Society who came down to help excavate test holes. We were trying to determine the age of a log cabin that we dismantled and moved to Pioneer Village this past February. The photo was done by Kirk Sides of the Corsicana Daily Sun who, along with his wife, spent several hours with us while we put in the test units. In the photo, Jim Blanton of Fort Worth, is standing next to my wife and is wearing a hat similar to mine. I have had several people mention that I was in the photo which is incorrect. At a distance, Jim and I might resemble each other but up close, it is easy to tell us apart.

Four days later, Joan Sherrouse wrote a very good article about the double pen dog-trot cabin that we moved from the Timothy area to Pioneer Village. A few days after the article appeared in the Corsicana Daily Sun, I received a phone call from Bob Lakin whose wife, Mary Lakin, donated the cabin to the Navarro County Historical Society. He said that I needed to contact Wayne Burkhalter at Chatfield who could give me some important information pertaining to the log cabin. I contacted Mr. Burkhalter who told me that the cabin was the original stage stop in the city of Chatfield and that the structure had been moved from Chatfield to the Timothy area. He stated that Rob Witherspoon bought what they refer to as the "Pinkston Place" and soon thereafter, Mr. Witherspoon moved the old stage stop to this tract of land. Mr. Burkhalter said this cabin was moved prior to his growing up in the Chatfield area. This is a great piece of information provided by Mr. Burkhalter since it helps confirm the date we had determined by the various artifacts that we found when we tested the site. Even though we will never be able to date the cedar logs from the cabin, we can now surmise that this stage stop was originally built during the early beginnings of Chatfield in the 1850s.

One thing of interest pertaining to the moving of this structure: None of the logs were marked with any type of numbering or lettering indicating that the cabin had been moved. Typically, when a log structure was relocated, the logs were marked in some fashion so that when the cabin was rebuilt, it was much easier to reassemble. In this particular case, the logs were notched by three different individuals using three separate types of notches: Single-dove, double-dove and square. This may have aided the persons reassembling the cabin.

Before I start writing about the other artifacts from Visionary Hill, let's review what we know so far. First, the Native Americans utilized the site off and on from as early as 9,000 years ago (one artifact, a Waco Sinker) to around 1,400 A.D. (eight diagnostic arrow points). However, the largest concentration of dart points date from around 1,500 B.C. to 500 A.D. (Gary points). Nearly everything recovered is either dart points or fragments of the same. Other stone tools are almost completely absent and only a few tiny sherds of Native American pottery would indicate the presence of one small vessel.

The artifacts from the historic component tell us a lot about the people but also raise several unanswered questions. In the category of brick, there are less than six bricks present. This raises questions about the presence of a chimney. The bone recovered from the site indicate deer, pig, fish, and bird, either turkey or chicken, and the presence of egg shell tells us they were raising chickens.

Under the various sub-classes of metal, parts from a wagon indicates they stored part of a wagon near the house. Stove parts, possibly from both a cook stove and a pot-barrel stove tell us they had a little extra money to purchase these items imported from the northern states. Musket balls of several different calibers and percussion caps and one part of a percussion cap container indicate the presence of several different guns, both pistols and rifles. One complete brass spur and two pieces of another different type of brass spur indicate horses. Also, the one complete spur is a military type probably indicating that someone fought in the Civil War.

A few barrel staves indicate the presence of at least one barrel. This vessel was probably used possibly to store water drawn from the un-lined well still present at the site. Several kitchen utensils such as pewter spoons, three- tine bone handle forks, and bone handle knives along with blade sections from two larger butchering knives tell us food was consumed at the site. Many square nails, most of which are roofing nails tell us that the structure was a log cabin rather then being constructed of milled lumber. A lot of tiny metal fragments tell us they purchased some food products packaged in cans. And finally, the presence of numerous charcoal fragments in the area where the structure once stood tells us that the log house eventually burned down.

Keep in mind that many of the above artifacts can be found around any rural homestead site. However, the particular age of each category lets me know that Visionary Hill is older than most sites in the county. Next week, I will write about some of the other classifications that will help prove the age of Visionary Hill.

Next week: More metal and glass from Visionary Hill

12/22/2002 BILL YOUNG: The Rest of the Metal Artifacts From Visionary Hill

In the last article, I wrote a brief review covering the various artifacts to date from Visionary Hill and what each tells us about the site. I also alluded to the fact that many of the items could be found on any rural site that dates prior to the early 1900s.

For an archeologist to efficiently date a historic site, it takes a combination of all of the artifacts recovered from the site. Each general category contributes something to the process while certain individual artifacts help to fine tune, not only the dating of a site but hopefully, something about the day to day lives of the persons occupying the site.

In the next few weeks, the articles will cover several categories that will explain why we are comfortable with the beginning and ending dates for the first occupation of the site.

First, there are a few more metal objects that need to be mentioned. One worn-out horse shoe found very near to the original location of the house along with the spurs written about previously attest to the presence of horses. I seriously doubt the horses were kept near the house, but it is my opinion someone living at the house picked up the discarded horse shoe and may have nailed it to the wall for good luck.

The old saying that "two heads are better than one" is very appropriate. A few weeks ago, James Orler and Buddy Richards were digging and laying the new lateral lines for the septic system at the location. I had apiece of old rusted metal about 6x6 inches square lying in the floorboard of my pickup. I had assumed that the piece of metal was a small portion of a section of sheet metal. However, I wasn't convinced that this was apiece of sheet metal because the corrugations were small and placed very close together.

All sheet metal today has wide and fairly deep indentations, but I thought that possibly back in the 1800s, sheet metal was produced with small and shallow indentations. I knew that if it was a piece of sheet metal, it belonged with the second or possibly a third occupation at Visionary Hill. The vast numbers of short square nails that were used to attach wooden shingles to horizontal lathing indicates without question that the first roof was made of shingles and not tin.

I brought the piece out to show to the two gentlemen mentioned above to see if they had ever seen sheet metal with this small pattern. Mr. Orler took one look and said that wasn't sheet metal. Instead, he stated it was part of an old wash board and without a doubt, he was correct!

I have found only two pieces of this identical material and it really bothered me that if was sheet metal, there should be other fragments found at the site. However, since these two pieces represent both sides of a wash board, they fit comfortably into a category that was both common and very necessary, prior to electricity and washing machines.

In the first year, we found two pieces of a pewter charger. In Webster's Dictionary, the definition of a charger is a large plate.

I will try to offer a better explanation. A charger could be either a metal or ceramic plate slightly larger than the plates used for food consumption. I don't doubt that some individuals used the charger for a plate but they were originally intended to hold the ceramic food plate. In other words, it served as a plate to hold a plate. Whether this means the plate containing the food was too hot to hold and necessitated the need for a second plate to hold the hot plate, I am not sure .

I need to mention one other metal object that should have been included in the section where I was talking about musket balls and percussion caps. I found a small round piece of brass that is about the size of an eraser on a pencil. It tapers dramatically on one end where there are two tiny prongs protruding from the tip.

It is my opinion that this small piece is the metal tip from a wooden cleaning rod. Since the diameter is very small, I felt sure this cleaning rod was utilized on a pistol. The two small tangs served as a means to attach a small cleaning patch.

Typically, when dealing with guns and gunpowder, all objects that came anywhere near the powder charge in a gun were made of brass. Striking a piece of brass will not produce a spark which could ignite the gunpowder.

We recovered several other metal pieces from the site that I can not identify.

One is a thick metal bar about eight inches in length and nearly one inch in width and approximately a half inch thick. Near one end, there is a slot cut completely through the bar as if cut by a kitchen knife. You can readily see that the slot is wider at one end and tapered to about the thickness of a knife blade. If a kitchen knife was utilized to cut this slot, the bar must have been heated so hot that the a knife could be pushed through the metal. Because the slot is so narrow, I can not imagine what this piece of metal was used for.

We also found several bolts and rods that probably had something to do with a wagon. I have gone over my friend's complete wagon and haven't been able to observe any of these pieces in place on the wagon.

1/5/2003 BILL YOUNG: The glass containers from Visionary Hill

Recently, I was informed by two separate ladies that each was picking up historic artifacts from old house sites on their respective farms.

Mrs. Chip Curington has collected several bags of glass, ceramics and metal from a house site located to the southeast of Emhouse. I have looked at some of the material and it is my opinion that use of this particular house began in the late 1890s and probably was continuously occupied until sometime after World War II. Based on the volume of material, I am assuming the family who occupied the house were probably land owners and not tenant farmers.

The other lady, Mrs. Elizabeth McCrory, is collecting from a site near Purdon but at this present time, I haven't checked any of the material.

When an archeologist begins to analyze the glass and ceramics from a historic site, certain "keys" within each category help tremendously in determining the beginning and ending age for a house structure, especially one that began as early as Visionary Hill.

The first of these "keys" is window glass. At Visionary Hill, we found only 24 small pieces of window glass. They are very thin and flat and a pale aqua in color. If we were to glue them together, there still would not be enough to reconstruct one small pane of glass, much less a complete window. Keep in mind that windows in the 1850s were comprised of eight small panes. The glass manufacturers were not be able to cast larger panes due to distortion from the pouring process onto the flat casting tables. This limitation aids the archeologist in determining when the window pane was originally made. If we measure the thickness of each shard of window glass and then determine what is the average thickness, we can get within five years, plus or minus, of the exact year the window pane was cast. At Visionary Hill, we measured each piece with a set of calipers and determined that the window was produced in 1850. This date fits comfortably within the range of time that we think was the beginning year for the house.

We also recovered two shards of a much thicker pale aqua glass which we think are sections of either a mirror or the cover glass for a picture frame. Each piece is entirely too thick to be shards of window glass.

There were five different colors of bottle glass recovered including clear glass with aqua having the most shards at 637 pieces. Olive glass came in second at 318 which is slightly less than half of the count for aqua. Clear glass shards totaled 254 but a percentage of the clear glass pieces belong to portions of bottles that were produced in the past 20 years. These entered the site through the process of someone dumping and/or burning trash in recent times. Amber glass came in a very distant fourth with only 78 shards found and only one shard of cobalt glass was found. In comparing the glass from Visionary Hill vs. the Jones Plantation main house, there is very distinct difference in the quantity of each color. At the Jones Plantation site, the first three colors: Aqua, olive and amber had almost equal amounts while at Visionary Hill, aqua outnumbered olive by better than 2-to-1 and amber by more than 8-to-1. I attribute most of this to two factors: First, Visionary Hill started at least six and possibly as much as nine years before the Jones site. Secondly, Visionary Hill was not used during the 1860s, then was reoccupied for a brief period during the later 1870s and early 1880s. This is based on a few sherds of ceramics recovered that had makers' marks from the late 1870s and 1880s plus a few shards of glass that date to this same later time period. On the other hand, the Jones site was occupied continuously from 1856 up to 1888. Also, some of the clear glass shards belong with this second occupation.

If the readers will remember, when I wrote about the various things that we look for on bottle shards, one of the main things we address is the base of the bottle. Depending on what we find can aid us greatly in assigning the particular base to a certain time period. There are several reference books that state that the process of using a pontil to attach to the base of the bottle while the master blower formed the neck and lip was discontinued in 1856. I feel sure there were some glass houses that did not switch over to the snap case attachment until some time after 1856 but I don't think it was more than a few years. Without a doubt, the snap case attachment not only reduced the quantity of bottle breakage but sped up the entire process of producing bottles. Keep in mind that most bottles were manufactured to be used one time and then discarded. Generally speaking, only historical flasks, bitters bottles and glass containers for specialty products such as poisons required special molds. Otherwise, the glass companies were devoted to making bottles as fast as possible in as short a time as they could. The invention of the snap case and other means of holding a hot bottle while the neck and lip were formed forever changed the process of blowing bottles.

At Visionary Hill, we recovered 12 bases with pontil marks, one base with a fire pontil, one base with an improved pontil and eight bases that exhibit snap case attachments. One of the eight snap cases is a small complete round bottle that is void of any lettering which would aid in identifying what particular product was distributed in this bottle. Based solely on the size of the bottle and the small opening of the lip, the bottle had to have originally contained a liquid. The lip doesn't have what we call a pouring lip which we see on most medicine bottles so my guess is that the bottle originally contained a liniment of some sort. The lip does not have the correct second ring or a high first ring which indicates that the bottle did not contain a product that had any compression thereby requiring the need for a wire to help hold the cork in place. It probably did have some form of a simple wire but not the larger wire that we see on soda and wine bottles from the earlier years.

Next week: More about the bottles from Visionary Hill


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