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Published: Monday, 10/20/2003

Archaeology buffs dig into quest to find Hillsdale jail

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Kevin Swiercz, 12, of Jonesville, Mich., sifts through dirt seeking artifacts at the Carl Fast Memorial Park dig site. Kevin Swiercz, 12, of Jonesville, Mich., sifts through dirt seeking artifacts at the Carl Fast Memorial Park dig site.
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A team of volunteers sifted through layers and layers of dirt, careful not to overlook even the tiniest piece of ceramic or metal.

They were looking for the remains of a log jail - the first jail in Hillsdale County - and were pretty certain that it lay buried in the depths of Jonesville's Carl Fast Memorial Park. Or at least as certain as a group can be more than 100 years later.

“It went pretty well. I do think we found a bit of the foundation for the jail,” said archaeologist Misty Jackson, who volunteered her time to facilitate the dig. “If we had more time, we could have opened up another unit to see if the line had kept on going.”

The weekend dig was one of several events going on throughout the month to celebrate Michigan's Archaeology Month. Initiated by the Michigan Historical Museum several years ago when it began hosting archaeology day, the day grew, and now the entire month is dedicated to unearthing and learning about Michigan's past.

Statewide, events have been planned in 11 communities.

“I think the main thing that we want people to know is that archaeology just doesn't happen in Egypt with pyramids, that Michigan has a long, ancient past, and that the time when the Europeans came is only about 2 percent of our past,” said Barbara Mead, assistant state archaeologist with the Michigan Department of History, Arts, and Libraries. “What we know of those thousands and thousands of years of people living before that ... comes from archaeology.”

Ms. Jackson said talk of a jail being located in the Jonesville park began in the summer of 2001 when researchers from Michigan State University began studying the historic and archaeological resources along U.S. 12 as part of a Michigan Department of Transportation project. Hillsdale County in particular was targeted, she said.

While looking through historic records, the researchers learned the county's first jail, which dates to the 1830s, was likely in Jonesville, the county seat at the time.

At the time, Ms. Jackson did limited shovel testing in the park. She returned recently to further explore those areas where bits of ceramics were found. Local high school students and area residents aided in the search.

“We looked at the fragments that we brought up, and all of them date to that period,” she said. “We'll try to get a small grant so we can get enough money to get a small exhibit box to put the artifacts on display in the city of Jonesville.”

That would please local history buff Gary Noblit, whose insistence prompted Ms. Jackson to return to Jonesville. Although he doesn't feel like the dig produced conclusive evidence of a log jail, Mr. Noblit, 58, said it did unearth quite a few pieces of pottery, clay pipe, and even a button or two.

Mr. Noblit, who has become proficient with the metal detector and who has unearthed several historic coins, said he'd like to revisit the site to find other history pieces.

“People want a sense of their roots,” he said. “I love Hillsdale County, and I want to grasp the history of it.”



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