BEDMINSTER, NJ - You never know what will happen when you dig in the dirt. That was especially true this month for eighteen children participating in a week-long archaeology camp at Bedminster’s historic Jacobus Vanderveer House. They uncovered evidence of an early barn foundation and other outbuildings on the property. The field work was conducted last week at two 2 ½ by 10-foot trenches, each extending north to south, at the site of an 1850’s barn that was destroyed by fire in the 1950’s.
“This archaeology camp was more than just about playing in the dirt,” said Craig Sutherland, president of the nonprofit Friends of the Jacobus Vanderveer House, which offered the program in partnership with the Township of Bedminster Recreation Department. “It involved an authentic field study, led by archaeologists from Hunter Research Inc., of Trenton, who conducted preliminary field work at the proposed barn site in 2007. What the campers found will assist us in determining the location at which to reconstruct our recently acquired 1830 Dutch barn. It helps us get as close to the original footprint as possible.”
The campers, who ranged in age from eight to twelve years old, admitted that the digging had added meaning when they understood how it related to the history of the circa 1772 farmstead, which was once owned by Jacobus Vanderveer, who lent his home to General Henry Knox during the winter of 1778-79 while Knox commanded America’s first military training academy in Pluckemin (known as the Pluckemin Artillery Cantonment).
“I think it’s wonderful. It’s not only lots of fun, it’s a great opportunity to help uncover lost details of the property,” said John Tober,11, of Bernardsville. “Solving missing puzzles about history is just awesome!”
“Because of what the students found, we can confirm that the northern wall of the barn’s foundation is still intact,” said Joshua Butchko, Principal Investigator/Laboratory Supervisor, at Hunter Research Inc. “We also found further evidence to support that a fire had occurred in that location.” Butchko indicated that, in addition to fragments of coal, charcoal and brick, the campers found pieces of glass, nails, and some unique late-18th century/early 19th century ceramic stoneware that would, most likely, match other items found closer to the Vanderveer House.
The camp, which received a historic preservation and history award from the Somerset County Cultural and Heritage Commission, was made possible by a grant from Investors Bank Foundation and the Anne L. and George H. Clapp Charitable and Educational Trust.
Throughout the week, campers also learned more about Colonial life during a field trip to East Jersey Olde Towne Village in Piscataway, where they visited the home of Elias Vanderveer, younger brother of Jacobus Vanderveer. Students met 18th Century re-enactors and Colonial demonstrators, who led an interactive presentation on the earliest inhabitants of the area – the Lenape Indians – and supervised them in activities such as clay pottery and ice cream making, open hearth cooking; and a mock artillery drill and attack led by a re-enactor portraying black Revolutionary War hero Ned Hector.
“What makes this camp so unique is that it’s the real deal,” said Butchko. “We’re adding further historic value to a site that already has so much history.
The final report, which will be submitted to New Jersey’s Historic Preservation Office, will include the names of all the camp participants.”
If there’s anyone who understands the lure of digging in the dirt, it’s Butchko. “My inspiration to become an archaeologist developed when I was their age. I was always digging around trash pits at our family’s property in Vermont, finding things and figuring out what they meant. Luckily, I figured out how to turn that passion into a full-time job.”
The Jacobus Vanderveer House & Museum offers educational programming throughout the year for visitors of all ages, cultures and interests. Open houses will be held Sunday, Aug. 13 and Sunday, Sept. 10 from 1 to 4 pm. To learn more about The Friends’ plans to reconstruct an authentic farmstead featuring the 1830 Dutch barn, visit http://www.jvanderveerhouse.org.
About The Jacobus Vanderveer House & Museum
The Jacobus Vanderveer House served as headquarters for General Henry Knox during the winter of 1778-79 and is the only surviving building associated with the Pluckemin Artillery Cantonment, now recognized as America’s first military training academy and the precursor to The United States Military Academy at West Point. The Jacobus Vanderveer House & Museum interprets Dutch colonial life in America as well as the stay by General Knox and his family during the 1778-79 encampment. A National and New Jersey Historic Site, the Jacobus Vanderveer House is a true landmark that offers a vivid look into the history of our country and the lives of those who made it.
Operated by The Friends of The Jacobus Vanderveer House, a non-profit 501(c)(3)organization, the House is located at 3055 River Road and can be accessed via River Road Park. The Friends sponsor public events throughout the year; for directions and more information, visit www.jvanderveerhouse.org.
The Friends of the Jacobus Vanderveer House received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State.