Little more digging reveals possible site of Astor House

Graham Jaehnig/Daily Mining Gazette James Schwaderer, Industrial Heritage and Archaeology at MTU, stands among several of the archaeological trenching units opened up in searching for the exact building site of an 1845 log structure that became the Astor House hotel.

COPPER HARBOR — Michigan Technological University’s Industrial Archaeology (IA) Department conducted a two-week field school in two locations earlier this month within 100 yards of each other.

One site is the Copper Harbor range lighthouse, located across the road from Fort Wilkins. The other is just to the east, where the team was looking for the site of the old Astor House. Both sites have been added to the Fort Wilkins State Park complex.

The work follows a study contracted in 2014 by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Parks and Recreation Division, in cooperation with the Michigan History Center, and with the help of an archaeological survey conducted by Michigan Technological University at Houghton. The Michigan Tech Archaeology survey report was published in 2016. Based on the previous findings, field work was continued this year.

James Schwaderer, PhD student of Industrial Heritage and Archaeology at Mich. Tech, said during the survey work done at the site last year, workers thought they had located what may have been part of one of the foundation logs.

“So, we came out based on that information,” Schwaderer said. “We thought this hillock looked interesting, so we put in a couple units (small trenches).” Additional units were placed at various points to locate the probable corners of the structure.

“But we really didn’t find anything,” he said. “We were wondering what is going on here, we just couldn’t put it together.”

Working with LouAnne Wurst of the IA Program, this year’s team brushed out additional ground in the vicinity and discovered a horseshoe-shaped berm

“We measured it out, and by golly, it’s 16 feet on the nose,” Schwaderer said, “and the Astor House was 16 by 24 feet.”

“We believe that what they thought was a berm was just a collection of clay silts from snowmelt or storms and things, there was this natural depression that just happened to create this nice line that looked like a sill.”

“So, we started opening units to look at where the corners would be, to look at structure, both sides of the berm to see what we could find. We found little bit, there is really not that much in terms of material culture coming out of here. Some (smoking) pipe fragments, some very fine ceramic pieces, and a little bit of glass.”