That History Column: Parkside students uncover pioneer family site in Petrifying Springs Park

BY DIANE GILES
dgiles@kenoshanews.com
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Eight years.

That’s about how long members of the Jacob Montgomery pioneer family lived in a pair of cabins in what it now the southwestern part of Petrifying Springs County Park in Somers, starting in 1834.

And that short time period is what made an archeological dig at the site so appealing to University of Wisconsin-Parkside associate professor of anthropology Bob Sasso and his team of students who worked there in June and July.

The Montgomery homestead maintains a high level of integrity. There are not a lot of materials from later time periods, beyond a couple of modern beer bottles and bits of safety glass.

“We’re starting to make sense of the things we have recovered,” Sasso said. “Sometimes you know what something is, but you may not know all you’d like to right off the bat, and it takes awhile to figure things out.”

Many items found

The team found a variety of items, including pottery shards, buttons, fasteners, square-headed nails, brass thimble fragments, bits of slate pencils and larger pieces,such as barbed-wire wrap, chips of fencing and a barrel-tie fragment.

The blade of a knife or razor left Sasso speculating that the handle was probably made of wood as a bone or antler handle would have endured the elements better.

One metal object — a small hand drill — was identified by Kenosha Public Museum archaeologist and senior curator Dan Joyce.

The dig was done in conjunction with the museum and the Kenosha County Archeological Society.

“This is the first year we’ve been out there, so we were just getting our feet wet, but all of these things showed up,” he said.

Blue transfer ware pottery shards — possibly enough to reconstruct half of a teacup — were recovered.

“If there’s a big enough piece, it’s possible to tell what pattern it is,” Sasso said.

When a pocket watch winder was unearthed, one student knew immediately what it was only because he had a pocket watch with a similar winder.

Artifacts can tell time period parameters. In some cases, things like ceramics can tell archaeologists about the socio-economic status of the people who lived there.

Who were the Montgomerys?

Written records indicate that Jacob Montgomery and his two sons came to the site not long before the Western Immigration Co. arrived at the Kenosha harbor in June 1835.

Although she’s not mentioned in the records, it’s pretty certain that Montgomery’s wife resided at the homestead, because of the domestic artifacts that have been found, Sasso said.

One written source said Montgomery was ready to move from the site because he was tired of smelling the smoke from his neighbor’s chimney.

The Petrifying Springs site is the third area site of the same time period that Sasso has worked, the other two being the Vieau Fur Trade Post in Franksville and the Resique Tavern site on Simmons Island.

The importance of the Montgomery site ranks high in our history. The older of the two cabins was reportedly the first cabin built in what would become Kenosha County.

When the diggers finished at the site in July, they returned the site to its prior condition, even spreading leaves over the area to conceal it. Sasso plans to bring another dig team to the site in the summer of 2015.

Starting with the Nov. column, each month That History Column will have a sidebar with photo for the Kenosha History Center’s Artifact of the Month. The bottom one or two paragraphs can be trimmed off of this is you have the need.

Artifact of the Month

The Kenosha History Center Artifact of the Month for November is a fraternal cap of the Knights of Pythias.

This cap belonged to Albert Fransway of Kenosha, who donated many Knights of Pythias items to the Kenosha County Historical Society collections. He was the owner of the Remer's Laundry, a commercial laundry at 2224 63rd St.

Fransway was a member of the Red Cross Knights of Pythias Lodge 30. The local lodge of Kenosha met at Castle Hall, 252 Park St. The Knights of Pythias are a fraternal group that promoted cooperation and friendship among people of goodwill.

The cap was manufactured by one of the country's leading producers of uniforms, the Henderson-Ames Co. of Kalamazoo, Mich., between 1893 and 1933. The company manufactured uniforms, regalia, ceremonial swords, flags and emblems for fraternal organizations, secret societies, bands, police and fire departments, railroad workers and even the U.S. military.

Although it has been out of business for more than 60 years, many of its products, particularly its uniforms and swords, have become heirlooms and collectors items, which continue to carry the company's legacy all over the world.

Each month That History Column will feature the Kenosha History Center’s Artifact of the Month.

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