Saturday, June 7, 2014

Field Season Starts Soon! And Good News re: Project Funding

Excavations start at Wiawaka on Monday, June 16 at 8:30 am! It isn't too late to join us; if you're interested in volunteering, send an email to mes (at) umd (dot) edu and I will send a volunteer application.

Project Funding
The Wiawaka Project has received a generous private donation of $200 that has been used to purchase a builder's level and associated equipment. This equipment allows us to record where exactly on the property we are digging.

A Summer Research Fellowship from the University of Maryland covers the cost of other field supplies and equipment, travel expenses, and research expenses for fieldwork and the last bits of archival research that need to be done (I will be visiting repositories in Rochester, Ithaca, and Syracuse).

Finally, the Women's Philanthropy Institute has granted me their 2014 Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship. They grant these fellowships, intended to assist scholars in writing their dissertations, to projects that examine the history of women's philanthropy. I am honored to receive such a prestigious honor. You can follow the WPI on Facebook at

Many thanks again to all the volunteers and those who have supported this project financially and with the loan of equipment. It would not be possible without you all. See you on-site soon!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Few Updates...

Name Change!
Wiawaka has changed it's name from Wiawaka Holiday House to Wiawaka Center for Women to better reflect their current mission and programming.

Wiawaka Holiday House
New logo.

Volunteer Opportunities for Summer 2014
People have started volunteering to come excavate at Wiawaka this summer. I am looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones as we look for evidence of the various groups of people at Wiawaka in the early 20th century: visitors, organizers, and staff. A special workshop will be offered for volunteers... stay tuned, I'll post more when the details are set!

For more information on volunteering to help with the archaeology program at Wiawaka this summer, check out this post:

What I've Been Up To...
It's been a busy spring. Last week I spent some time in Copper Country, on the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan (it's the uppermost point of the Upper Peninsula) as part of the Park Break Fellowship program of the George Wright Society. Myself and seven other graduate students from across the country spent the week with staff and Park Partners of Keweenaw National Historical Park and Isle Royal National Park. We worked to develop ways that these parks could engage with the public to increase awareness and stewardship of the rich archaeological heritage in the area.

A 17-ton deposit of pure copper from the Keweenaw. Me for scale.

This region has an incredible history. There is archaeological evidence that Native Americans were mining and using the almost pure copper that naturally occurs in this region to make tools and ornaments that were traded across the North American continent at least 7,000 years ago. Recent analysis suggests that they were mining and working copper here as early as 8,000 years ago, making the Keweenaw and Isle Royal the sites of the earliest metal working in the world.

Touring the Quincy Mine Hoist House. This hoist was used to lower workers into the Quincy Mine and to raise buckets (called kibbles) full of copper from deep in the ground. This building is enormous. It was one of the first built with reinforced concrete. It is open for tours, and you can go into the mine itself!

In the historic period, mining companies used the Native mines as indicators of where to sink their mines, and industrial copper extraction boomed here in the second half of the nineteenth- and into the early twentieth century, when the copper began to run out. Copper from this area was used in wires that connected the nation via telegraph and telephone, was turned into munitions for the Civil War, minted into pennies, and even shipped to France and returned to the United States as cladding on the Statue of Liberty. People came from around the world to work in the mines, finding ways to live and work together largely peacefully, despite often deep language and cultural differences. Struggles between workers who wanted to unionize and the mining companies and other business interests in the area were ongoing. They came to a head in 1913, when the National Guard was called in to support the mining interests. Later that year, as miners and their families were celebrating the Christmas holidays upstairs in the local Italian Hall, someone yelled "Fire!" In the rush to get out of the building, people crowded into the stairwell and pushed against the doors -- doors that were designed to open inward. Over 70 people, mostly children, died in the crush. There was no fire.

After the mining boom, the economy of the Keweenaw declined. The landscape is dotted with remnants of the copper boom, from intact structures to ruins, mine shafts to waste rock piles. The region now draws tourists to enjoy its history, unique geography, and outdoor activities (in the Porcupine Mountains at the western end of Copper Country, you can hike into some of the oldest surviving growth forest in the country). While in Calumet, Hancock, and Houghton I enjoyed excellent hospitality, ate excellent food, and very much enjoyed the locally produced coffee and beer. Long story short: If you have the opportunity to visit Copper Country on the Keweenaw, take it!

What's Next?
On April 24, I will be presenting a paper on my research at Wiawaka at the Society for American Archaeology in Austin, Texas. I will be exploring the differences between how women presented themselves in the single-gender environment of Wiawaka as compared to how they presented themselves when back in the mixed-sex world of work and home back in the cities.

"Beware the Little Flaws That Make One Homely": The Interplay of Intimacy, Sexuality, and Gender at an Early Twentieth Century Women's Retreat.
An assortment of toiletries from an early twentieth century privy deposit provides an intimate glimpse of guest experience at a women's retreat on the shores of Lake George, New York. Founded in 1903, Wiawaka Holiday House provided affordable vacations for single working women free from the potentially corrupting presence of men. Drawing on queer theory, these toiletries are used to explore the relationships between sexuality and gender expression/performance in the context of this single-gender environment and what the implications are for understanding these relationships once the women returned to their lives in the cities. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Join Us for the 2014 Archaeology Volunteer Season at Wiawaka!


We are looking for volunteers to help excavate at Wiawaka Holiday House at the southern end of Lake George, New York. We will be documenting the early years of the Holiday House by looking at the materials the visitors, staff, and organizers left behind. Wiawaka Holiday House was founded in 1903 to provide affordable vacations for the working women in the factories of Troy and Cohoes, New York. My dissertation research looks at the intersections of class and gender in the early twentieth century.

No previous archaeological experience is necessary; you will learn archaeological techniques hands-on at the site. All equipment will be provided.

If you have no previous archaeological experience, please agree to volunteer for 3 or more days; 18 years of age or older only.

Accommodation and meals are available at Wiawaka Holiday House for a fee.* There is no charge to volunteer.

What can you expect?
This summer, we will be excavating in three areas of the site to document the experiences of visitors, summer staff, and of the year-round caretakers.

Excavation involves the following physical activities: shoveling, crouching or kneeling on the ground, lifting buckets of dirt to pour into a screen, shaking the screen to separate artifacts from the soil, and filling the hole back in once all the information has been recovered. We will spend 8 hours a day Monday through Friday excavating, taking one hour for lunch in the middle of the day. Instruction will include archaeological methods, note taking, and basic artifact identification and interpretation. Rain day volunteers are more than welcome to help process artifacts in the lab. Participants can either purchase lunch at Wiawaka* or pack a lunch to eat on-site. There is no smoking permitted anywhere on Wiawaka property.

Excavation Dates:
Monday to Friday, June 16 through July 11, 2014

Megan Springate, excavation director, is a PhD candidate at the University of Maryland.

For information and to sign up for this unique opportunity, contact Megan Springate at
Find out more about the excavations at and follow The Wiawaka Project on Facebook.

* Volunteers are welcome to stay overnight at Wiawaka for $75 per night prior to June 19. Meals are available only after June 23rd. After June 23rd, the room rate per person is $110 weekdays and $125 weekends, including meals. Volunteers who wish to purchase meals onsite after June 23rd may do so: $8 for breakfast, $12 for lunch, $16 for dinner.

The Wiawaka Holiday House website is
Megan Springate, MA
PhD Candidate
Department of Anthropology
University of Maryland

Monday, January 6, 2014

Sad News

John sorting piles of can metal (and other artifacts) over in Area 2.

It is with great sadness that I post this. John Farrell, who volunteered for most of this past field season at Wiawaka, passed away on December 27, 2013.

When John first contacted me about volunteering, he was very concerned that his health would be an impediment. I assured him that he was welcome, and that we'd work with whatever limitations he had. I had no idea at the time what an important role John would play.

John watching over Area 1, ready to map.
When he was able, which was most days, John would arrive early in the morning and hang out while I obsessed about the weather and finished coffee as other volunteers would arrive. Once on-site, John set up in his chair, positioned so he could see everything going on. In between wrangling bag tags and bags, sorting artifacts, and prepping maps John would identify mysterious things that came out of the ground and tell tales of the other terrestrial and underwater sites he'd worked on. He provided volunteers with an idea of the breadth of possibilities within archaeology and spun tales of some of the crazy things (good, bad, and indifferent) that can happen on digs.

I'm not sure John ever believed me when I told him how spoiled I felt having someone on-site who just made maps (and who would help walk volunteers through the process). And I never really believed him when he shook his head and grumbled at me when he dumped out yet another bag of non-diagnostic flat can metal. I will not forget John's contribution to the excavations at Wiawaka, nor his quiet mentorship.

John and I collaborating on something in Area 2.

You can read John's Obituary online here:

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Manufacture of Clothing Then and Now

Some early visitors to Wiawaka worked in the garment and textile factories of Troy and Cohoes, New York. The book, Maggie: Millhand and Farmer (Harrigan 2002) is an autobiographical description of life in and around these mills.

One of the Harmony Mills buildings, Cohoes, NY 2008. Photo by Daniel Case.

After being fired from her salaried job at the Harmony Cotton Mills, Maggie gets piece-work employment at Murphy's Mill: "I was paid for the pounds that I would wind off the tubes that came in wooden boxes from the jackspinner's frames. Taking the tubes of yarn from the boxes and placing them in the shelf of the winder where they were easy to reach and by keeping my ends running, it was an easy matter to take off a good day's pay.... On the same floor with the winders were the knitting frames, and also the brusher machine. All were run by young men, expert knitters and brushers. The men that worked the knitting frames would go over into the winders alley and take what combs we winders had filled, then knit the yarn into heavilyt irbbed cloth. The large rolls of cloth were put through a large machine called the Brusher; then a fluffy nap was brushed on it named fleeced lines cotton. Other workers would take it down on the elevator to the cutting room where it was cut, to be sewed into shirts and drawers for men and women, by girls and women who ran the sewing machines on the lower floor." (Harrigan 2002:69)

Compare the weaving of cloth and sewing of garments that took place in a single mill in the early twentieth century with the global involvement in the manufacture of a single T-shirt as reported by National Public Radio. In a fascinating report, they traced the manufacture of a shirt from the fields the cotton came from to final product: Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt.

Harrigan, Margaret Sheridan (2002) Maggie: Millhand and Farmer. Edited by Kathleen M. Gill. Peckhaven Publishing, Saratoga Springs, NY.

Monday, December 2, 2013

More on Georgia O'Keeffe at Wiawaka

Early on in my research on Wiawaka I found a newspaper reference to artist Georgia O'Keeffe having spent the month of June 1908 on the property. It seemed at the time that she stayed at what is now Wakonda Lodge, which at that point in 1908 was still owned by Spencer and Katrina Trask. O'Keeffe was one of several artists from New York City who were chosen, based on their skill, to spend time at what the newspaper article describe as Trask's property.

Click the image to see it larger.

Tonight, however, while transcribing one of the Wiawaka guest registers, I found the entry for Georgia O'Keeffe and several of the other artists. This suggests they may not have stayed in Wakonda Lodge but in Fuller House, Rose Cottage, Mayflower Cottage, or Pine Cottage. She stayed in Room No. 18, though there is no indication of which building that might have been. Further work with the guest registers and other archival documents may provide the answer...

Friday, August 9, 2013


Clam shell from Area 1. Pieces with the hinge portion are cleaned and kept;  the non-diagnostic pieces are counted, weighed, and discarded.

In many archaeological excavations, there are lots and lots of non-diagnostic materials. These are artifacts that, except for their presence, don't tell much about the site or its people. Diagnostic artifacts give additional information, like dates or social status, consumer choice, etc. On an historic site, like Wiawaka, non-diagnostic artifacts include bricks, mortar, foundation stone, coal, and flat metal from tin cans.

Why cull? There is a real shortage of storage space for archaeological collections; museums and other repositories are literally bursting at the seams. Yet, it is still important to preserve important archaeological collections. One way to help is to cull non-diagnostic materials from collections so that you minimize the amount of storage space needed while maximizing the information held within the collection.

When we were in the field, we kept all the non-diagnostic materials. I wanted to know how much of what I was getting from the different levels and areas of the site (sometimes archaeologists will just take a sample in the field and not collect the rest, but I wanted to get at quantity not just presence). Now that I'm working in the lab, I am culling these. The culling process for this project includes keeping a very small sample (a few pieces) for reference, then counting and weighing the artifacts I'm not keeping (counting gives how many pieces, counts with weights allows for a sense of the average size of the pieces; combined with the total mass these allow for comparison across the site).

Some examples of things culled (all sampled, counted, weighed):

Brick: samples of brick kept. If there were different types of brick, samples of each kept. Preference for pieces of brick with exterior edges so that information on the manufacture was available. Where present, whole bricks (or mostly whole bricks) were kept for measurement. Once measurements are taken, these will also be culled.

Mortar: samples of mortar kept. Again, where different types of mortar are present, samples of each.

Clam shell: All clam shell with the hinge portions were kept, as this is the area that provides the most information. All non-hinge pieces were discarded.

Coal/clinker/charcoal: Samples of each kept.

A bag of flat metal waiting to be sorted into keepers and pieces for culling.
Cans: All seams kept for information on manufacturing technique and dating, as well as pieces of can that can provide size/shape data. All the flat metal from the sides of cans is counted/weighed/discarded. Seams will be grouped by manufacturing technique and described, then these will be sampled/counted/weighed/discarded.

Foundation stone: Samples of architectural stone are kept, with the rest counted/weighed/discarded. Much of the foundation stone that has been recovered exploded from the head of the hotel fire.

All together, so far, over 1,000 lbs of artifacts have been culled from the Wiawaka collection, with more to go as I work through the rest of the boxes.