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The 20-Year Dig: 150,000 Artifacts Paint Picture of Early Stoney Creek

New book chronicles findings of archaeological dig on grounds of Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm.

Years of work and countless hours clocked by local historians, history students and volunteers have culminated in the recent release of two major publications about local history.

The first is a print publication detailing a 20-year archaeological excavation on the property of the . The second is a new website featuring an interactive map of local historic sites and resources.

These two newly released publications are among the most significant contributions made to the preservation of local history, genealogy and anthropology in the past two decades.

Digging the past

“Into the fertile valley of Stony Creek . . .:” An Archaeological Interpretation of the Van Hoosen Farm Site was written by Deborah J. Remer, a longtime museum volunteer and supporter. The book, released in September, was a major undertaking, as Remer and several contributors reviewed more than 150,000 artifacts uncovered from dig sites all across the museum grounds, as well as countless numbers of photographs, maps and charts detailing the founding of Stoney Creek Village and the lives of its early pioneer families who traveled to the Michigan territory from the East Coast in the early 1820s.

Not only does the book include a full and detailed history of the Stoney Creek settlement (including the difference between "stoney" and "stony"), it also traces the lineage of its pioneer families including the Taylors, Millards, Van Wagoners and Van Hoosens, revealing some information that may surprise area residents.

For example, the 13th president of the United States (1850-1853), Millard Fillmore, was the son of Nathaniel Fillmore and Polly Millard and a cousin to the Millard family in Stoney Creek.

Fillmore, of course, was not the only relative of a Stoney Creek family to make a name in national politics. Former is a descendant of the Taylor family.

Of course, Dr. Bertha Van Hoosen and Sara Van Hoosen Jones, who was the last of the Van Hoosens to live in the 1840s farmhouse that is now part of the Rochester Hills Museum complex, are among the most notable and recognizable descendants of the Stoney Creek Village pioneers.

A 20-year excavation

The archaeological excavation chronicled in the book began in the spring of 1988 as a way to determine the original site of the 1840s farmhouse, the location of a log cabin and other out buildings used before the farmhouse was built, as well as the size of the “Big Barn,” which burned down in 1968.

Over the years, hundreds of volunteers – retirees, students, families and others – excavated the museum property. The dig site eventually expanded north and then south, reaching the barns by the mid-1990s.

I was fortunate to be a part of this exciting and significant excavation while still in my teens. It may not have been like Indiana Jones searching for the Holy Grail, but to the field of local history, the 150,000 plus artifacts uncovered during the excavation tell the story of how the Rochester area came to be and how the early settlers lived and worked. A lot of history can be learned from the handle of a spoon or an old penny and when you are part of such an interesting project like an archaeological dig, finding a nail or a bit of pottery is a great experience.

For two decades, teams of volunteers and budding anthropologists uncovered all sorts of clues about the site’s original layout and condition and about the people who once called it home. The artifacts carefully extracted from the ground include window glass, farm tools, door hardware, nails, thimbles, broken dishes and cups, clay pipes, footwear, an ink bottle and much more. All items were cataloged and tagged and are in permanent storage at the museum and are occasionally featured in museum exhibits.

For those who worked on the excavation and those who support local history, “Into the fertile valley of Stony Creek:” An Archaeological Interpretation of the Van Hoosen Farm Site is a testament to the Rochester area’s rich and abundant history.

As Pat McKay, the museum's supervisor, states in the book’s introduction, “this report will push us to keep asking questions, keep discovering, and keep appreciating our local history.”  

The book can be purchased in the gift shop of the Rochester Hills Museum. Visit the museum’s web site or call 248-656-4663 for more information about this and many other museum publications.

History online: Later this week on Rochester Patch, we'll tell you more about the new website that highlights local historic sites.

Kristin Bull (Editor) October 25, 2011 at 01:37 PM
What *is* the difference between Stoney and Stony? Have always wondered that.
Patrick McKay October 25, 2011 at 07:46 PM
Kristin - check out our website at http://www.rochesterhills.org/city_services/museum/history/stony_creek_or_stoney_creek.asp - we wrote this article to help shed light on the spelling - all we do is muddy the waters some more! Patrick Mckay, Rochester Hills Museum Supervisor
fulgenzimama.com October 26, 2011 at 12:54 AM
Great story on the dig! Deborah J. Remer's book sounds like a wonderful holiday gift. Of course, the museum is filled with great gift ideas!
Kristin Bull (Editor) October 26, 2011 at 05:17 PM
You say Stoney, I say Stony .... thanks for clearing that up, Pat!

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