Digging up history
Art Shaw with the ‘bear’ of the smelter.
LYNDHURST – Dig deep into the industrial history of this village and here’s what you’ll find: Iron slag, window glass, a 1910 dime, a penny stamped with a Masonic Lodge symbol, clay pipes, lots of nails, bits of china and ceramics – and a fishnet stocking.
These were a few of the 5,000 items uncovered in a six-day archeological dig at the oldest industrial site in the Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands and the first iron smelter in Upper Canada.
Working with hand trowels, the archeological experts and a team of volunteers dug out eight exploratory pits in hopes of finding remnants of the village’s industrial past.
The first find was an easy one. The “bear” of the furnace, which is the molten cast iron, ore and charcoal thatwould lie in the bottom of the smelter furnace, was already on the surface. The volunteers man handled and bock-and the hundreds of pounds of 206-year-old metal onto a trailer.
The volunteers dug their holes five or more feet deep into the archeological site on the banks of the Lyndhurst River. They were in search of the foundations of the Lansdowne Iron Smelter, which was built starting in 1800 and operated until it burned down in 1811.
Art Shaw of the township’s historical committee said the diggers’ hunt for the foundations was thwarted byman-sized chunks of granite that had been rolled on top of the old foundation more than 100 years ago.
Why, when and how the granite was placed on top of the iron smelter site are a mystery, said Shaw, adding that more research is needed. After the demise of the smelter, the site become home to other industries, including a mill, that took advantage of the power-generation properties of the nearby falls.
The volunteers managed to roll some of the granite out of the way, only to find more boulders underneath, Shaw said.
If the archeologists return to the site, they will need heavier equipment to lift the granite out of the way, Shaw said.
He added the historical committee’s next steps depend on money. Originally, the committee applied for a Parks Canada grant to dig on both sides of the Lyndhurst River: At the smelter site on private land and at the site of a forge built a few months earlier across the river on land that is now owned by the township. The Parks Canada funds were supposed tomatch money raised privately by the committee.
But Shaw said Parks Canada refused the committee’s application because it doesn’t fund digs on private property. Shaw said the committee decided to use the money it raised to do a dig on the private land now and make another application for a Parks Canada grant for the township land in 2018. He said the committee intends to fundraise over the winter in hopes that Parks Canada will match the money.
Aside from the foundation site, the volunteers carefully extracted artifacts from the small pits. In a report on the dig, Shaw described the process this way:
“In most cases, digging was done with small mason’s trowels. Material was placed in pails and then screened ina swinging frame of 8mm screen, which let the fine material pass and caught everything over 8mm in size, which was then scrutinized for anything that looked man-made.
“The keepers were placed in bags labelled with the pit number and the strata number and sent to the lab. These incidentals mostly indicated what age each strata was as wew ent deeper.”
It was that process that led to the discovery of the fishnet stocking.
“Everybody has their own interpretation of that,” he said with a laugh.
Art Shaw with the 'bear' of the smelter.