Every handful of dirt that is uncovered this week at the Wolcott House in Maumee brought into focus an unknown past.
Ceramic fragments, turned up in an archaeological dig near the historic house, now a museum, show that Judge James Wolcott and his family used expensive English china, though living on the frontier in the first half of the 19th century.
Yet they relied on the wildlife of the frontier for at least some of their food, as animal bones left behind attest.
“In history, this stuff is the treasure you find,” said Dr. Wayne Bischoff, an archaeologist at the site. “The ground tells stories that documents never can.”
The archaeological project was prompted by the impending installation of a new drainage tile system at the house, the need for which became clear when spring rains seeped into the basement.
But such work means digging and, potentially, upsetting long-buried artifacts.
Chuck Jacobs, curator of the Wolcott House Museum Complex, said: “We stood to put the hallowed ground at risk.”
The Lucas County/Maumee Valley Historical Society hired Marushia Consultants, Inc., of Okemos, Mich., which is run by Michelle Marushia, who is Dr. Bischoff's wife. Some days this week, the couple were joined by as many as eight volunteers. The project ends today.
The real find of the excavation is evidence of a summer kitchen that served the original house around 1827, but was torn down several years later as the mansion was built around the original structure.
No documents mention such a building, said Mr. Jacobs, who also is executive director of the historical society.
But at the bottom of a neat rectangular hole are signs of a prepared dirt floor. Architects found a platform of stones and brick fragments and animal bones.
Summer kitchens were built several feet from houses because of the heat - and fire hazard - of cooking at a hearth or in a wood stove, Dr. Bischoff said.
Judge Wolcott was a farmer who had a shipyard on the Maumee River below his home.
He was a merchant who was mayor of Maumee and, later, sat on the Lucas County Common Pleas Court.
“The Wolcotts lived just as plainly as the rest of the people in Maumee at the time,” Dr. Bischoff said. “They were quite human behind the pillared fa ade, and that's what we're trying to get at. We want to present people a balanced view of the past.
“It's a much richer history now,” he said.
The city of Maumee, by appropriating $100,000 a year over three years, is paying for the drainage, as it has paid for other work - a new roof, improved downspouts, Mr. Jacobs said.
But the historical society is seeking donations to pay for the archaeological work - about $13,000.
“It's been exciting,” Mr. Jacobs said. “It's not King Tut's tomb, but we have a new perspective of the house.”