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2010 Collier Lodge dig articles


Volunteers sought for Collier Lodge dig

By Times Staff | Posted: Monday, June 7, 2010 12:05 am

KOUTS | There are secrets buried beneath the ground along the Kankakee River , and members of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society are signing up volunteers to dig them out.

The KVHS will hold a general membership meeting Tuesday, which will include archaeological dig informational and volunteer signup.

KVHS president John Hodson said the dig at Collier Lodge, south of Kouts along the Kankakee River , runs July 5 through July 22. Volunteers will continue searching the site for artifacts from the past, and more clues about an underground structure, which was the focus of work last summer.

Hodson said dig leader Mark Schurr , associate professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, thinks the underground structure they're studying may extend under the historic Collier Lodge.

Hodson said all volunteers are welcome to join the dig, and they will join a handful of graduate and undergraduate college students. They average about 100 volunteers each year.

The meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Kouts Public Library, 101 E. Daumer Road .

Hodson also will show the 2010 Collier Lodge Archaeological National Register nomination video. 

After the video, KVHS members will answer any questions and take applications. On June 19, there will be a Collier Lodge dig site and field lab cleanup. Work will begin at 9 a.m. Participants are asked to bring any cleaning supplies and equipment to clean the field lab. 

Suggested items include cleaning solutions, pails, mops, brooms and gloves.  For the grounds cleanup bring weed whackers, chainsaws, rakes, trimmers, shovels and gloves.  Hodson said this is a good time for new dig volunteers to meet with dig veterans.

The KVHS Aukiki River Festival will be held Aug. 28, which drew about 2,000 people last year. The organizations is looking for more volunteers to work ARF, vendors and re-enactors from the Native American, voyageur, fur trapper, Civil War eras and others up to the 1930s. 

For more information, call Hodson at (219) 766-2302, e-mail jophod@gmail.com or go online at www.kankakeevalleyhistoricalsociety.org.


Annual search for treasure coming to Collier Lodge site

June 6, 2010


It's always easy for Kankakee Valley Historical Society president John Hodson to sound like a kid around this time of year.

"It's exciting, like school is starting again," he said, looking forward to the eighth year of the society's archaeology project on the grounds of the Collier Lodge at Baums Bridge on a section of the original channel of the Kankakee River .

Past dig volunteers will be on hand Tuesday for an information and signup session for volunteers on this year's dig, which will run from July 5 to 22.

The meeting will be held in the Kouts Branch of the Porter County Public Library at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. It will begin with a 20-minute video produced and narrated by Schurr about the process of applying for the designation of the lodge as a Registered National Historic Landmark archaeological site, which was approved for the society last year.

A companion application for the lodge building, the last of the hunting clubs that once dotted the Grand Kankakee Marsh, as a historical site is pending, Hodson said.

"We want to sign up as many people as possible beforehand so we can get right to work on the first day," he said.

Many of them will be veterans of past summer excavations.

He said a main focus will be the cabin, discovered in 2008, that Schurr believes may be partly underneath the lodge.

"We know it dates from around 1840, the Removal Period (when the U.S. Army moved the Potawatomi out of Northwest Indiana ). Mark has been researching and testing a piece of timber that we found," Hodson said.

He said Schurr will open up more "units" in hopes of adding to the thousands of artifacts, many of them thousands of years old, that have been unearthed on the site.  

Nonagenerian digs history

By Kathryn Kattalia Times Correspondent | Posted: Tuesday, July 6, 2010 12:00 am

Hobart woman, others seek answers to previous Collier Lodge excavations' questions

At 90 years old, Sophie Wojihoski said she isn't afraid to get her hands dirty.

Wojihoski, of Hobart , was the oldest volunteer to arrive at the kickoff of this year's Collier Lodge dig Monday, eager to begin excavating more than 9,000 years of history buried along the Kankakee River .

"I love it," said Wojihoski, who has participated in several previous digs. "There are a lot of treasures buried here that we'll never find."

This is the eighth year for the Kankakee Valley Historical Society's three-week dig at the historic Collier Lodge, a site loaded with artifacts dating back to prehistoric times.

While past digs have produced old bits of pottery, arrowheads, musket balls and even an ancient roasting pit, the focus of this year's project is to answer many of the questions left over from last year's efforts.

Dig leader Mark Schurr , an anthropology professor at the University of Notre Dame, said he hopes to establish the dimensions to an underground structure unearthed three years ago up against the lodge. Originally thought to be a cabin, Schurr and his team of amateur archaeologists concluded last year that the structure was a root cellar extending 4.5 feet underground, the width of which remains uncertain.

"We never found the western edge," Schurr said. "It seems to go under the lodge."

Historical society President John Hodson said the dig also will delve deeper into the riverbanks of the Kankakee River where he believes they may find more artifacts hinting at how the land has historically been used.

"You can find anything," Hodson said. "There's so much stuff that happened here."

Surrounded by a crew of volunteer diggers spanning the spectrum of experience, Schurr spent Monday morning explaining the ins and outs of the site, teaching novices how to use equipment and emphasizing the need for patience.

"This week, were going to get instruments set up, stake out units and start excavation," Schurr said. "It might take us a couple days to get totally ramped up."

Volunteer Amanda Barron, who grew up in Valparaiso and recently graduated from Purdue University , said this is the second year she has participated in the dig.

"It's local history," Barron said. "You can't go wrong helping out a little bit. I've been to other field schools but didn't learn as much as I have here."

Wojihoski, who dug up a German ring from World War II at last year's dig, said she is excited to see what treasures she'll unearth this time around.

"Boy, if these things could talk to us, they could answer a lot of questions," she said.

Annual excavation hopes to find cellar

July 8, 2010


KOUTS -- A 3,000-year-old arrowhead, shards of prehistoric pottery, hand-made, square-head nails and an 1893 cent were among the finds the first couple days at the annual Collier's Lodge dig site.

"There is thousands of years of history here," said Melissa Unruh, a research assistant for professor Mark Schurr from the University of Notre Dame, the man behind the archeological excavation of the site for the past six years.

Unruh displayed some of the finds and explained there has been civilization at the site for some 9,000 years.

"It was an early crossing of the Kankakee River ," she said.

While the river's path has changed over the millennia, what the travelers have left behind tells a tale of how the spot evolved to its most recent carnation as the Collier Lodge built in the late 1800s, where Baum's Bridge Road crosses the river.

Schurr said this year his students, volunteers and members of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society are working to uncover the west and east foundation of a pit cellar from an 1840s cabin at the site. The group also has discovered roasting pits used 600 to 700 years ago.

"Hopefully by the end (of the three-week dig) we will know the size of the cellar and have a better idea what was roasted in the pit," Schurr said.

Notre Dame students Laura Mittelstaedt of Valparaiso and Drew Webster of LaGrange Park , Ill. , listened to instructions on how to properly handle the trowel to scrape away tiny layers of dirt and material in the excavation pit to reveal its hidden secrets.

The Collier Lodge is their first archeological dig.

"You can learn about it in class, but it's really exciting to get hands-on experience," Webster said.

Mittelstaedt shared his enthusiasm.

"It's really fun and very different. It's a different process every single time," she said.

The pair worked the pit together, slowly revealing what is hopefully the outer edge of the cellar. In one corner, part of a metal toy car could be seen. It was unclear how many layers they would have to scrape away before the entire toy could be revealed.

Ralph Klapis , a music professor at Valparaiso University and a volunteer at the site since the dig began, was overseeing their work. Klapis said they have found a lot of toys at the site over the years include one or two toy soldiers almost every year.

John Hodson, president of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society, said uncovering those layers of history is part of the excitement of the project. He said it is interesting to see the variety of materials that turn up each year and he expects the work to produce even more exciting finds.

"We always find something good the last day or two," Hodson said.  


Extinct bird's bone found at Collier Lodge dig site

July 21, 2010


Like the great bison herds than once blackened the Great Plains, the American passenger pigeon filled the skies over the Midwest more than a century ago.

On Monday, a cousin of Martha, the last bird that died in 1914 in the Cincinnati Zoo, reappeared during a field workshop of the seventh annual archaeological dig by the Kankakee Valley Historical Society at its Collier Lodge site on the Kankakee River .

"It's just a little bit from the wing. It was actually dug up last year," said Notre Dame anthropology professor Mark Schurr , who has supervised the mostly volunteer dig for the society since it began the year after test digging in 2003.

Successive summers with students, society members and interested amateurs have proved Schurr's judgment that the ground around the last of the hunting lodges still standing that once dotted the Great Kankakee Marsh is a trove of historic and prehistoric artifacts dating back to the melting of the Wisconsin Ice Sheet over 10,000 years ago.

The final day of the 2010 dig, which is open to the public, is Thursday.

Schurr said the diggers brought small bags of excavated bones Monday to check them against samples shown by Terrence Martin, director of archaeology at the Illinois State Museum , who visited the dig.

"He's the leading faunal (animal) expert in the Midwest ," Schurr said.

He said the bone was similar, but with subtle differences, to the wing of a rock dove, a relative of the pigeon that is as common as the pigeon once was.

Other bones from the site proved to be elk and black bear, extinct here since before 1870, possibly prehistoric, showing why the marsh was a mecca for hundreds of generations of hunters, he said.

"It's just a little thing," said field school worker Caitlin Monesmith , 20, of Jasper, who found the pigeon bone.

Society president John Hodson said another milestone was passed Tuesday with the filing of an application to have the lodge building added to the National Register of Historic Places. The excavation site next to it received historic status in 2008.

"We've had at least 25 or 30 people out here every day. It's been going slower this year because of the heat. We're planning on having an artifact-washing party at the end of the week," he said. He hopes the historic status will open up more funding opportunities through grants and donations.


More treasures unearthed along Kankakee River

By Kathryn Kattalia Times Correspondent | Posted: Thursday, July 22, 2010 12:00 am

KOUTS | There still were treasures to be found at the Collier Lodge dig site even as diggers began wrapping up excavation Wednesday, finishing another successful dig along the Kankakee River.

Knee deep in dirt, volunteers pointed excitedly at the end of a spoon barely visible under layers of soil and sand.

As usual at the end of a dig, a lot of stuff turns up, said John Hodson, president of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society.

Today is the last day of the historical society's eighth annual archaeological dig at the historic Collier Lodge, a site where in three weeks artifacts have been found representing nearly 3,000 years of history and a lot of questions, many of which will go unanswered until next year. Dig supervisor Mark Schurr , a professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, said one of the more intriguing mysteries unearthed this year involves two late prehistoric roasting pits found a few feet away from the lodge.

"There are always questions," Schurr said. "We're still wondering about this part of the site. How far do these pits extend? How big was this prehistoric camp?"

Schurr and his crew also continue to puzzle over the dimensions of an underground structure discovered three years ago. Originally thought to be a cabin, Schurr said he and his team since have concluded the unit to be a root cellar, though its full width remains to be determined.

"It's still a little ambiguous," Schurr said. "We're probably pretty close."

Also among this years more notable finds include ancient arrowheads, a 19th century lice comb and the wing bone of an American passenger pigeon, a creature known to be extinct for almost a century.

There are so many periods represented that are relatively undisturbed, Schurr said. "We have one little acre of land that people have been using for 10,000 years."

Novice diggers and amateur archaeologists came out to help with excavation, some sifting through layers of dirt for shards of pottery while others stood by, documenting each uncovered artifact. Vanessa Wirth, a volunteer from Valparaiso , said that while she has worked at other digs, she remains impressed by the spectrum of history present at Collier Lodge.

"It's so rare to come by a really good site like this," Wirth said. "I feel like I've been able to learn so much."

Hodson said each piece will have to be cleaned before it is taken to Notre Dame to be sorted, identified and recorded. Meantime, he said he looks forward to seeing what next year's dig will bring.

"It's just like reading a book," Hodson said. This is just another chapter."