Montclair State Leads Archaeological Dig at Historic Clark House
'It seemed to me the land was ripe for exploration,' said Executive Director of the Historical Society Jane Eliasof.
The historic Clark House on Orange Road is a small glimpse into Montclair’s long past, but Montclair State University students are more interested in what's under the soil than above it.
Nearly a dozen college students surveyed the backyard of the Clark House on Friday and planted small orange flags where they believed some remnants of the property’s history may be found. Students roamed in the fenced-in community garden where chickens are also raised.
With a handful of orange flags in her hand, Jaclyn Lynyak, a junior at Montclair State, said she was brushing away the top soil to uncover any unnatural or abnormal things. It was meticulous and slow work, but the rear yard was eventually dotted with a multitude of flags.
“Usually things in nature aren’t exactly straight, exactly circular or in order,” said Lynyak, “so we are flagging things that look out of place.”
The archaeological dig is a partnership between the university and the Historical Society. Last summer the Historical Society did a preliminary survey of the land when a portion of the backyard was plowed for the community garden. Digging up the soil uncovered glass and pottery, dish and ceramic fragments.
“It seemed to me the land was ripe for exploration,” said Executive Director of the Historical Society Jane Eliasof, “and it was just a matter of finding it.”
This was the land originally settled by the Crane family in the late 17th century. Near the end of the 1600s and start of the 1700s, Jasper Crane began moving westward into modern day Montclair on the very land students will excavate this weekend.
“What makes this unique is that we known this was the site of one of the first English farms,” said Eliasof. She added land around has barely been disturbed or encroached upon by modernity.
Professor of archeology at Montclair State Chris Matthews, who was leading the project with the students, said the land's confusing history is another reason more research needs to be done.
The site of the Clark House, a Queen Anne style home with a spire, was built in 1894 on the original site of the Nathaniel Crane farmhouse. A portion of the farmhouse, built in 1818, was preserved and moved behind the Clark House.
The Israel Crane house, the grey Federal style mansion built in 1796, was moved from across town next to the Clark House in 1965. And soon before that, the Nathaniel Crane farmhouse was also moved again to its current resting place behind the Israel Crane house in 1962.
On Friday, Matthews said students will be doing a shovel survey and only digging down a few inches in the ground. He hoped to find refuse or garbage left behind by early settlers which could provide valuable insights into how they lived their day-to-day lives.
“These are the kinds of historical activities that no one ever wrote about,” said Matthews, compared to significant events such as weddings.
The archaeological dig at the Clark House is open to the public this Saturday and Sunday.