What We Want to Do
The Center for Archaeological Site Exploration proposes to host the Brownsville Archaeology Festival, active during the month of May 2013, which will feature the excavation of an early 19th-century iron foundry. This will include public interpretation, participation, and hands on artifact processing. Partners include the Brownsville Area Revitalization Corporation, and California University of Pennsylvania. This project aims to attract visitors to the downtown area, teach them about the unique site heritage, and increase awareness of this nationally important site. Activities, including hands-on excavation by public volunteers and informative lectures and demonstrations by CASE members, will take place at the excavation site and at the local public library. All members of the local and surrounding communities are encouraged to participate; CASE is reaching out to students of all ages to join us in uncovering Pennsylvania's past.
Why We Want to Do It
The ultimate goal of excavations at this historically and industrially significant location, in addition to introducing the Brownsville community to its hidden past, is to produce a mobile artifact and photograph exhibit to be displayed not only within Brownsville but at historical societies in the surrounding area in order to educate a broader audience on local history. Excavation efforts, undertaken exclusively by volunteers from CASE as well as the public, will also serve as the basis for research to be presented at various professional archaeological conferences, including the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference, and Eastern States Archaeological Federation meetings.
How We're Going to Do It
Even if unfamiliar with archaeology, you will realize that when something is buried, the layers above it accumulate over time. Sometimes this happens gradually, and sometimes this happens all at once. When the railroad bordering the Monongahela River was built in Brownsville, the foundry complex with which we are concerned was razed and buried under 2-plus feet of track ballast and fill. It is our mission to chisel through this hard, unforgiving mixture of stone and grit to reach the culturally significant foundry layer, the layer at which we begin to find artifacts and structural remains related to the once thriving John Snowdon & Sons Vulcan Iron and Machine Works. This will be accomplished primarily with shovels, mattocks, and hand tools like trowels and rock hammers. It may sound difficult, and it is, but no one said archaeology was easy.
Why is This Site Significant?
For more information on the John Snowdon & Sons Vulcan Iron and Machine Works, including pictures of past excavations and volunteers as well as the below excerpt, please visit CASE president Marc Henshaw's blog at http://www.archaeologydude.com.
The turn of the 19th century and the introduction of steam power ushered in a new industrial rush in Brownsville and Bridgeport, Pennsylvania. In 1818, John Snowdon arrived in Brownsville from Yorkshire, England. After apprenticing for a few years in a local foundry, he opened his own machine shop and rolling mill within close proximity to the riverbank. Named after the Roman god of fire, the Vulcan Iron and Machine Works opened in 1824. The Vulcan factory built the engines for the steamer Monongahela in 1827. Snowdon improved and extended the factory in 1831. In 1853, the establishment burned down and was subsequently rebuilt. The business renovated to include a forge, rolling mill, pattern shop, foundry, boiler yard, and finishing shop all located on an acre of land on the bank of the Monongahela River. The main two-story buildings were made of brick and faced the river. The purpose of this main building was the finishing shop where parts were completed. An excerpt from Thurston’s (1859) town directory describes in detail the factory: "Within its walls and distributed over the use of two rooms, with nice regard to their convenient use, is gathered a large amount of machinery, of the latest improvements, adapted to all the requirements of machine manufacturing; among them are 19 turning lathes, 6 planning machines, 4 boring machines and 8 drill presses. There upon the lower floor, 10 blacksmith fires, with all of their accompanying cranes, steam forge hammers, and etc. The foundry and finishing shops were constructed of brick and connected with the main building. This area contained cranes and two large 12-ton capacity cupolas for delivering molten iron. The foundry was in the forefront of the rolling mill and the forge was contained in another one story building. Within this structure were six pairs of rolls, two puddling furnaces, two heating furnaces, one spike and one rivet machine that turned out 600 tons of bar iron a year. A pattern shop used for cutting different shapes of metal adjoined the foundry."
The Vulcan Iron and Machine Works, later called Snowdon & Sons, employed 110 people with a weekly wage of $6.83 per person. This factory produced a similar number of land use stationary steam engines such as those used to power the large belts of the machine shop. The convenient location of the factory next to the Brownsville wharf allowed engines to be fitted to hulls while incoming boats unloaded goods. In 1863 the Vulcan Iron and Machine Works built the engines and boilers of the ironclads Manayunk and Umpqua. John Herbertson arrived in Brownsville in 1829 after learning the trade of steam engine building in Pittsburgh. Originally from Glasgow, Scotland, Herbertson became a foreman in the Vulcan Iron and Machine Works engine shop. When the wooden bridge collapsed over Dunlap’s Creek connecting Brownsville to Bridgeport, Snowdon took the contract for the erection of a cast iron bridge. This is the first cast iron bridge in the United States. Herbertson designed the bridge and supervised its construction.
Herbertson eventually went into a partnership with Thomas Faull who was already operating a small foundry in Bridgeport. Together they formed the Fayette Foundry, until 1842 when Faull withdrew from the partnership. Herbertson later created Herbertson & Company with his sons in the 1880s as the business grew.
Risks and challenges
As a volunteer organization, we rely solely on the willingness of interested individuals and passersby to participate and make our project(s) a true success. We cannot expect everyone who visits our site to grab a shovel and start heaving dirt, and at times the ratio of watchers (who are more than welcome and are encouraged to watch us do our thing!) to diggers makes the prospect of excavating such difficult material a daunting task. However, over the years that we have been active, we have garnered the unwavering support of a growing number of regular CASE members and volunteers who will ensure that Brownsville Archaeology Festival is executed to the best of our abilities and that a meaningful, informative, and significant exhibit is produced from our labors. Once completed, we must have avenues for exposure of said exhibit and research. Our local connections to associations within Brownsville, such as the Brownsville Area Revitalization Corporation, as well as local historical societies, provide us with the means to reach a wide audience with the fruits of our efforts. In the end, if we can teach even one person something about history, archaeology, or their own heritage, then we will have succeeded.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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