Fort St. Joseph

Banner indicating where the Archeology Open House at Fort St. Joseph is being held. Text reads: "Archaeology Open House @ Fort St. Joseph. Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project Western Michigan University." Image of French is one viewer's left-hand side."
Banner for the Fort St. Joseph Archaeology Open House.

Yesterday I took Merrick to the open house for the WMU archeology dig at Fort St. Joseph in Niles, MI.

Entrance of Fort St. Joseph open house. Advertisement for Western Michigan University encourages people to "Go West."
Sign promoting Western Michigan University at the entrance of the Open House.

It was not just a tour of the dig, but an interactive experience for children and adults. Musician’s played music from the time as living history demonstrators danced for, and with, members of the audience. Children could collect beads from various stations in exchange for asking them a question about what the person was doing or showing. They also had an area where children could pretend to be the archeologist by sifting sand to search for bones and other artifacts.

Living history demonstrators play music inhabitants of Fort St. Joseph might have listened to and demonstrate a popular dance of the period.

There was a lady making thread with a spinning wheel, there was a man dressed as a Jesuit priest, there was a blacksmith, someone explaining military rations for the time, and so much more.

People take a guided tour of the St. Joseph River in a canoe lead by a living history demonstrator.
Canoe rides were offered to attendees.

I talked with the lady spinning thread about how everything was carefully made by hand at that time. Including the sails on the ships. Imagine how many hours it took to complete a sail. It is staggering. Today we buy clothes we never wear and throw them into landfills. Scraps from the machine cut cloth that eventually gets shipped elsewhere to be sewn into clothing is also thrown into landfills.

We learned from the Jesuit priest that all the priests had a PHd in at least one branch of science. He also did a thought experiment with Merrick regarding transportation. Having Merrick guess by looking at the map how goods were transported at the time (rivers), then asking him what might have replaced them (railroads), and then what replaced those (highways). He then discussed how drones are being tested to deliver items now and asked Merrick how he thought we might be shipping goods when he reached 40.

A trench dug in a 20th century landfill will make it easier for future WMU archeology students to search for artifacts.
This past summer WMU archeology students dug under a 20th century landfill to research whether the fort extends any further to the south.

One of the most interesting things to me is that Students are digging under a 20th century landfill. The amount of waste in this small area is staggering. And it is so close to the water. I would love to see some of the metal and other recyclables in the area be returned to the industrial system before the these resources are beyond salvage, and for the unusable contents to be moved away from the watershed and into a contemporary, rubber lined landfill.

Image of trench two at Fort St. Joseph. Glass bottles, broken washing machines and other items tower above a pit dug out by students and instructors. A water removal system is in place to keep the area free of standing water during the digging season.
Trench Number Two
A tree stump along the trail for the WMU Fort St. Joseph open house. Vines and old shelf mushrooms cover it.

There were several activities we did not get to, but I plan to return next year.

Author's son in front of a marker from the city of Niles, MI. Text reads: "Welcome to the St. Hoseph River Park Project. Park operated by city of Niles Constructed by French Paper Co. Dam 300 feet Picnic Area and Playground 400 feet Downstream Boat Launch 1/2 mile Powerhouse downstream 400 feet on west bank. Open to the public without discrimination. Additional information available at powerhouse office 100 French Street Niles. Licensed by Department of Energy Federal Energy Regulatory Commission License No. 10624-000."
Monument welcoming visitors to the St. Joseph River Park Project.