‘Still Digging’

Artifacts Uncovered In Cistern Site On Fenton Grounds

Items were discovered inside a recently uncovered cistern site, pictured above, that was not too far from an old barn that was located on the grounds. P-J photos by Carly Gould

This summer, the archeological dig at the Fenton History Museum grounds uncovered an old cistern next to the old barn.

At a Brown Bag Lunchtime Lecture on Wednesday, Dr. Thomas Greer, Fenton trustee, discussed how the digging team found the cistern and several artifacts inside. The dig began back in 2012, in association with the University of Buffalo, going every year since. Greer has been on the project since 2013.

The carriage house, servant’s house and cistern were all on Fenton property, located at 67 Washington St. in Jamestown. Greer said the buildings were bought off and leveled in 1920, and the cistern, which had been there since the 1880s, had been filled in mostly with rocks, but with some old artifacts as well.

“When we were digging up the old barn, I decided to also dig near it as well,” Greer said. “We found an arch, and we thought it was a well at first, but then it turned out to be a cistern, filled with lots of interesting artifacts.”

One of the first things uncovered inside the cistern was a ceramics license plate. Greer said that type of license plate was only made in 1916 and from the numbers, he knows it’s from the Buffalo area.

The team also uncovered an old stirrup, what Greer believed was a fence post spike, a floor drain, pipes and pumps, barrel hoops, an old harness hook and several unknown items. Other items included a gas lamp lighter, a picnic flask, glass beer bottles and pieces of a broken toilet.

One of the unidentified items was a spring with a hook on both ends. Another was a long, curved piece of wood with what seemed like a harness on the end. Some of the items also had patents on them. Every time he went to look for the patent online, Greer said, there were over 240 patents for a specific date. He found a patent for one of the items the team found, which turned out to be a ring for a street lamp.

“One of the decrees of archeology is that the lower you go, the earlier it is,” Greer said. “People asked why we were still digging. Well, that’s where all the good and older stuff is.”

The cistern is 11 feet deep and 8 feet wide. Old cisterns usually had one of two water filters, either a brick wall filter or a sand filter, but the cistern on the Fenton property has both. The collected rainwater would first be filtered through porous bricks, then through a sand trap, which would filter the water further before being pumped to the surface.

“People say ‘What are you going to do when you’re done excavating the cistern?’ I told them we’re going to fill it back in again,” Greer said. “It’s always so exciting. We’re hoping to find an elusive, dated coin so we know what year these all came from, but I think the odds of that are slim.”


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