currents National Park Service
Virginius Island
Historic Overview
Existing Conditions
Assessment & Analysis
Preservation Philosophy
Implementation & Management
Outreach & Education

Excavation reveals the former sawmill wall once buried, 1993. NPS Photo

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outreach & education
As discussed in the Assessment and Analysis section, a team of park archeologists undertook a parallel effort to understand domestic life on the island. As with the earlier historical studies, previous archeological investigations, starting in the 1960s, had dealt solely with the industrial structures. The cultural landscape team and archeologists had many common goals. The opportunity to find out more about the workers living on the island enhanced the team's ability to understand the complexities of the no longer extant yards and streetscape in the old residential core. This connection to the complex physical fabric of domestic life went beyond buried bricks and mortar to include children's toys, bottles, pipes, ceramic pieces, all of which helped to tell a previously unrecorded story.

Painting of Virginius Island as depicted by Edna Farmer. NPS Photos


Several interviews with past residents also made a personal connection to some of the excavated objects. For example, interviews with Edna Farmer, who had lived in a rowhouse as a young girl, yielded details about life in the 1920s and 1930s along Wernwag Street. From their excavations, the archeologists also uncovered information about the types of materials used in the original construction of the Wernwag streetscape (sidewalk, curbing, gutter, and road surface). From the richness of the information contained in both the oral histories and the archeological record, new appreciation for this residential community was gained. As a result, highlighting the rowhouse area was recommended, even though the domestic ruins were subtle in comparison to the island's spectacular industrial ruins.

Archeological investigations of the west rowhouse where Edna Farmer once lived, 1992. NPS Photo


Among the other recommendations made was a proposal to investigate other archeological sites on the island. As a result, archeologists examined two sites that were related directly to phase one implementation of the historic circulation. The plan recommended locating and reestablishing the roads that had once led to the sawmill and the machine shop, both of which were destroyed in the 1870 flood. Previous attempts to find remnants of these structures had been unsuccessful due to the unanticipated depth of the required excavations. Archeologists finally located both building foundations under more than ten feet of soil. The historic roads were then laid out in those areas.

During this very active period of archeological investigation (1992-1994), park rangers led interpretive tours and posted temporary informational signs (waysides) related to the excavations of Wernwag Street, the rowhouses, the machine shop and sawmill sites. This period also coincided with the park's 50th anniversary celebration (1994), when the park experienced more than normal levels of publicity and increases in the number of visitors.

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