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Cabin’s history uncovered

Riddle farm focus of excavation site

June 30, 2013
By ESTHER MCCOY - Staff writer (emccoy@heraldstaronline.com) , The Herald-Star

MOUNT PLEASANT - There is plenty of activity taking place on the peaceful farm of Beverly and Bruce Riddle at 621 township Road 100, just a few miles from the Belmont County line.

Philip Fitzgibbons, a professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville; Brian DaRe, field supervisor; Christy Renforth, field assistant; and Samantha Merrit, James Wood, Benedict Martin and John Beck, students in anthropology and history, are working diligently on a site near the Riddle's present home where a log cabin 14 feet wide and 12 feet long once stood.

"This is an unusual shape for a cabin. But back then, they didn't use measurements, it was determined by ax handles. The cabin happens to be four ax handles by five ax handles," DaRe said.

Article Photos

CABIN WORKERS — Among those working at the cabin are, from left, front, Beverly Riddle, owner; Benedict Martin, archeology student; Christy Renforth, field assistant; Samantha Merritt, student; and Brian DaRe, field supervisor; and back, Bruce Riddle, owner; Philip Fitzgibbons, professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville; and John Beck and James D. Wood, students. -- Esther McCoy

Six years ago, when the log structure was falling in on itself, the Riddles made a decision to carefully tear it down, marking the timbers to make sure the rebuilt structure would be the same as the original structure.

After they got a duplicate of the cabin built, with the help of a contractor, they added a front porch, a large sandstone stepping stone and a wooden floor to replace the earth flooring.

Then the Riddles had to decide what to do about the former site of the cabin.

The university's anthropology studies team was called, and Fitzgibbons, DaRe, Renforth and anthropology students became a working team at the site.

Students ran the soil from the site through a large screen, sifted out anything of historical interest, carefully removed stones and found evidence of family life in the cabin through glass, bottles and pottery items. DaRe, Fitzgibbons and students then reached the hypothesis that something else had been located in the same spot before the cabin was built.

"Taking a core of the logs from the cabin, it was determined that the trees were felled in 1834 and the cabin built in 1835. But fire-reddened rocks intermingled with other cabin foundation stones showed that they had been exposed to extreme heat that would not be in keeping with family living," DaRe said.

"We came to the hypothesis that there was something there before it was the site of the cabin, using the redden rocks as evidence. Heat will alter rocks. Also, there was a trough that ran under the center of the cabin that would normally not be located beneath a structure," he said.

Further excavation brought the discovery of red ware shards with a dark magnesium interior and a lead glaze overall that could very well have been maple syrup bowls that were used for the material that was collected, DaRe mentioned.

"There is a picture of a maple syrup processing unit with a kiln for boiling down the liquid collected from the trees that is on line at Pettigrew/Taylor Maple Sugar Camp near Miamisburg in Montgomery County, and the conditions of the site are conclusive with this," he said.

"Processing the sap is hard work - it takes 40 gallons of raw maple liquid to bring about one gallon of rich maple syrup. The kiln would not have been a large enough operation to sell syrup to the public, but it would have kept a family supplied with the sweetener that was used rather than sugar in those times and could be used for bartering," he said.

Information from the Professional Archaeological Services Team shows that maple sugar processing was an integral part of farm operation in the Midwest, Northeast and Great Lakes regions during this period.

Excavations at the Pettigrew/Taylor Maple Sugar Camp provided archeological perspectives and findings about a topic which is terribly under reported, it was noted.

It was pointed out that the kiln had a perfect draft situation that went west to east and the sandstone slabs were directed into a place where there was one kettle for cooking down the liquid.

"It was in existence until 1834 or 1835, then the stones were dismantled from the chimney and part of the fire bank and laid into a foundation for the cabin,"DaRe surmised.

The university group carefully went through the layers of soil under the rock to see if wood charcoal would be found at the first site to help determine if a residence cabin had been located there. Earlier in the week, DaRe confirmed this was found. The maple syrup camp had been located there first and then converted into a residence.

A finial from the top of a grandfather clock was found during the excavation. Tests showed that the clock had come from Maryland. The residents of the cabin were William Sharons, who had married Esther Barcoff of Maryland in 1834. The cabin was built in 1835. It is likely that the clock was brought along with them back to Mount Pleasant.

Renforth found a J. Walters Vegetable Bitters bottle and a Lukens soda bottle from Wheeling on the site. Many hog bones and bone remnants of food consumed were found under the stone, offering further information about the way the residents there lived.

Alice Morrison, mother of Beverly Riddle's first husband, Bob, and a previous owner of the farm, told her family that she found equipment used in making maple syrup in the corn crib when they moved there.

Bob Morrison, who is now deceased, became owner of the farm in 1972, acquiring the land and buildings from his parents. There are two sons, Bob and Bart. The elder Morrisons bought 138 acres from Issac and Velma Thomas in the 1950s. After a fire damaged the original home in 1916, the Thomas family built the present house where the Riddles now reside.

They now own 187 acres, but when the Thomas family owned the land, it was a large apple orchard and horse farm where Angus cattle also were raised.

Flora VerStraten-Merrin, president of the Ohio Genealogy Society/Jefferson County Chapter, will be researching the first owners, the Sharons family whose members cleared the land and developed it as a working farm.

There is confusion about the history of the original land owners, according to VerStraten Merrin, as some researchers have said that the Sharons and Sherrard families are one and the same. Further research through maps, tax records and deeds records will be traced back to the original owners and noted at another time.

A look at the cabin's usage shows that after being a residence, it was used as a smoke house, a storage area and then a place to house 11 family dogs. A bowl engraved with the name Buster was found in the diggings.

Beverly pointed out ceiling logs that were from the original cabin. Some had to be replaced with aged lumber that was purchased to look old, because the original lumber was not suitable in some instances. But some of the old timbers remain in the ceiling.

Bob and Beverly Riddle laid the stone foundation, porch and floor to the cabin. Stones or wood still need to be placed in the chinks of the logs to make it free from the weather. And, it needs to be plastered, according to Beverly.

In talking with the Riddles, VerStraten-Merrin said that she could see their love for the farm, the dig site and the area.

"The view from their farm is of beautiful rolling hills and breath-taking beauty. But I pictured the first owners, standing where I was, seeing instead thick, dense forest but also a dream of the future with their families. They must have seen past the trees thick in the hills and pictured the land as we see it today."

The university is interested in historic and pre-historic sites to excavate. Fitzgibbons said he can be contacted at (740) 284-5386 or (412) 303-3554.

(McCoy can be contacted at emccoy@heraldstaronline.com.)

 
 

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