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.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Huge Thanks

Well, we wrapped up excavations last Friday, and I drove home to Maryland on Monday, with a brief stop-over at the New York State Museum to check out their curation procedures and return the equipment they generously loaned me. I will be working in the lab now, washing, sorting, cataloging, and analyzing the artifacts recovered from this summer. Right now, there are approximately 33 document boxes worth of artifacts, 12 of which have been washed. I'll be posting more regularly here, now that I'm out of the field, and will have a little more brain power left at the end of the day...

Before I completely transition to lab rat, I want to express my sincere gratitude to all those who helped out this summer. I especially want to thank the folks who volunteered their time to help out with the fieldwork through cold and rainy June, and hot and sweltery July. It was an absolute pleasure to work with all of them. I hope they all got something positive out of the experience. I can honestly say that because of them (as well as the staff and Board of Directors of Wiawaka and all the people and organizations that lent equipment) the field season was a huge success.

So... a huge thank you to all these folks:

Jen Allen, Field Supervisor
Greg Anglin
Sandy Arnold
April Beisaw
Gary Bernhardt
Nancy Brennan
Michael Carraher
Declan Dwyer-McNulty
Sally Dwyer-McNulty
Marie Ellsworth
John Farrell
Cameron Felt
Will Fisher
Maureen Folk, field commission to Field Assistant
Sara Foss
John Foster
Sue Gade
Karen Garner
Katherine Giesa
Gregg Griffin
Cheryl Jenks
Lucy Johnson
Sean Keller
Kylie Kerr
Samantha Koslowsky
Chris Manning, Field Supervisor
Marcia Martin
Allison Matthes
Pat Meaney
Monica Mercado
Sarah Mincer
Donna Moran
Rebecca Morehouse
Carol Obloy
Sean O'Connell
Jared Payson
Lily Rozell
Cassie Segrell
Chris Shaw
Penny Shaw
Nellie Slocum
Rebekah Tanner
Nghiem Tran
Kirsti Uunila
Lorraine Wilson
Claudia Young
Joe Zarzynski
Lizz Zieschang

Wiawaka Folks
Christine Dixon, Executive Director
The Board of Directors
Lisa, Karen, Stephanie, House Managers
Joe Wylie, Caretaker and Schlepper of Big Things
Bonnie, Joan and everyone in the kitchen
And all the other Wiawaka staff and volunteers for making it such a joy to be there.

Equipment Loans
Maryland Highway Authority
New York State Museum
University of Maryland Center for Heritage Resource Studies
Vassar College Department of Anthropology
Joe Zarzynski, Amy R., Adam Fracchia

Again, many thank yous.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Wrapping Up Week 2

Excavating the dump area. Chock-a-block with artifacts.

It has been so busy here that this is the first chance I've had to post to the site about the excavations!

We are just finishing up in Area A, a dumpsite on the other side of Route 9 from the main part of Wiawaka. We knew it was there because there were artifacts (ceramics and glass) on the surface of the ground back in the woods. The artifacts appeared to be early twentieth century, the right time period for early Wiawaka history. We dug two one-meter square units (3 x 3 feet) in the center of the dump to get a sample of the artifacts and several shovel test pits (one foot round holes) across the area to determine how big it is. The shovel testing isn't completed, so I will have to report back!

Excavating shovel test pits in Area A.

We have recovered lots of artifacts from this area, including broken plates, cups, and saucers, bottle glass, table glass (pieces of stemmed water glasses and tumblers), and glass from oil lamp chimneys (and one of the wick mechanisms from one of these oil lamps). There are also lots of rusted tin cans and coal here. Small artifacts we recovered include several sewing pins, small ceramic buttons of the size that you would find on underwear or collars, eyelets from shoes (lots of these!), and a few very small faceted black glass beads. Also found was a Sacred Heart of Jesus medal.

Sacred Heart of Jesus medal, machine made. The motto (on the other side) is in French. On this side, Jesus is surrounded by fleur de lys.

There were a few earlier artifacts, including early nineteenth century shell edged creamware and a tiny piece of pre-contact Native American pottery mixed in the dump, as well as late twentieth century materials. This tells me that the dump did not accumulate in place, but was dumped in this location from somewhere else. From the late twentieth century materials, probably in the 1970s (though I need to do more research to get specific dates on these artifacts). The rich black soil in the dump makes me think that this was perhaps from a privy clean-out.

Lamp hardware from an oil lamp. This FIRESIDE model was patented in the late 1870s.

Next week, we move to a dump area closer to the main buildings. There are still spaces available for volunteers to come out; email me at for more information.

I post daily photos to the Wiawaka Project Facebook page here.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Field Season Starts Soon!

The first batch of equipment arrives on-site this weekend and preparations are well underway to begin excavations at Wiawaka this summer. We will be excavating two middens (garbage scatters/dumps) and at the location of the original Pine Cottage, looking for evidence of the experiences of those who stayed on-site.

Regular research posts will begin to be posted here as work gets underway. For more photos and quick updates, follow us on Facebook!

There are several volunteer spots still available for this summer's excavations. We'd love you to come join us and learn about archaeology hands-on, uncovering Wiawaka's history. More information is available here.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Dig at Wiawaka: Summer Volunteer Opportunities


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 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.

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

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? We will be excavating at areas on-site where evidence of Wiawaka’s early years is expected. Excavation involves the following physical activities: crouching or kneeling on the ground for long periods of time, occasional shoveling, lifting buckets of dirt to pour it 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: 
June 3 through June 28, 2013 and July 15 through July 26, 2013

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

For information and to sign up for this unique opportunity, contact Megan Springate at or 732-768-2985

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