Thursday, August 03, 2000

Archaeologists dig up abolitionist's artifacts

Ripley foundry site being studied

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Excavators look over pottery shards.
(Gary Landers photo)
| ZOOM |
        RIPLEY — Historians know who John Parker was. A former slave who bought his freedom. A successful businessman and an inventor. A man active in the Underground Railroad.

        What they don't know is how his foundry business worked or what kind of family man he was.

        To get those answers, historians must dig deep into history — and into the ground where Mr. Parker's house still stands in Ripley, a Brown County village about 60 miles southeast of Cincinnati.

        This week, a team of archaeologists from the Cincinnati Museum Center is working to uncover artifacts in Ripley that may tell a story about the famous abolitionist, who operated a foundry on his property.

        “It's very important to save his home because it's one of the few African-American homes of abolitionists standing today,” said Betty Campbell, president of the John P. Parker Historical Society.

        The society bought the property in 1996 and has been working since then to restore the two-story house. Most of the exterior work has been completed and members are now starting on the interior.

        The society hopes to complete the restoration in 2001 and then open a museum in it dedicated to the Underground Railroad conductor.

        The historical society received a grant from the National Parks Service to do a preliminary archaeological.

        The idea is to write an archaeological development plan, which will help historical society members plan for future digs, as well as help decide where future buildings could be located on the property without disturbing artifacts.

        The artifacts collected from this week's dig will

        eventually be on display.

        “We're interested in seeing how this foundry worked and what's left of it,” said Bob Genheimer, an archaeologist at the Cincinnati Museum Center. “The industrial stuff is pretty significant because we don't have a lot of historical evidence of how these operated.

        “There are no witnesses to this anymore.”

        Archaeologists started with an 1884 Sanborn Insurance Co. map that gave a general outline of the buildings. They have already found some remains of the foundry, which was connected to Mr. Parker's house.

        “We're trying to uncover where the actual furnace was,” Mr. Genheimer said.

        They also found evidence of a fire at the foundry that dates to 1889 and of a wood-lined pit, which may have been used as a quenching area. The team believes it may have also found fragments of what appear to be crucibles, large bowls used to hold molten metal.

        “Ideally, one of these days we want to put one of these together,” Mr. Genheimer said.

        Researchers found a bracket that is of the type Mr. Parker used in his patented tobacco press. They even found a dog burial.

        “We know that Parker had a dog but we don't know what his name was,” Mr. Genheimer said. “It still had a leather collar on it with a cast iron loop.”

        Ms. Campbell said this dig may help add evidence to the stories already known about Mr. Parker and his family.

        “It will help define the lifestyle of the family who lived there,” she said.


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