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Hidden history uncovered

LaGRANGE — A group of university interns, led by a local archaeologist, are uncovering a hidden history that may add to historians’ understanding of Troup County.

At two sites near Troup Factory, the county’s first textile mill, evidence of an early cabin — possibly a slave shack — and a blacksmith shop dating back nearly 200 years have been discovered and are undergoing excavation near Flat Shoals Creek off Hamilton Road.

“At first, we thought it was one of the early settlement cabins,” archaeologist Patrick Severts said Monday. “It’s possibly related to the Thomas Leslie family, and potentially their servant. That would be about 1850s, and he (the cabin’s occupant) was still around in the 1870s, but he would have been a free man by that time. But, it’s not conclusive.”

Severts and two Kennesaw State University interns are using metal detectors to find large swaths of long-buried iron works — pieces of crude machinery, pot lids, wagon wheels and a cache of nails. It’s the nails, though, that give archaeologists the best markers for dating the site, Severts explained.

“Square nails were utilized until about 1865, or 1870,” Severts said. “Then, the round wire nails come into production, and they dominate. So that’s a good time period where we get this transition and it shows the structure (the cabin) had a long-standing occupation.”

Still more, the archaeologists are finding hand-made nails that were likely produced in a blacksmith shop about 30 yards from the cabin.

“The material we’re recovering, it indicates they were even making nails here,” Severts said. “At that time period — 1827, 1829 — it would have been early enough for a blacksmith shop to make wrought nails. There’s a difference between square cut, machine cut and hand-wrought nails made in the blacksmith shop.”

He stopped and pointed to the stone remains of the blacksmith’s furnace that intern Kaitlen Hitt was carefully uncovering from the dirt.

“They were making nails, right there,” he said with excitement. “Not only that, they were making everything.”

The blacksmith shop is unique because of its age, Severts said. In the 1820s, most blacksmith shops in more populated areas were using coal to fire their furnaces and melt iron, but at the shop near Troup Factory, coal was scarce and pine was used to heat the flames to as hot as 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

“They never used wood unless they had to,” Severts said. “But there wasn’t coal here, yet. We’ve found only wood ash, no coal at all, and that’s one of the ways we know it’s an early blacksmith shop.”

Hitt, the intern, reached into the ground near the furnace and pulled up a charred piece of wood — its blackened rings still visible as though it had been recently discarded.

“We had a local blacksmith come look at the site, and he said that’s what it looks like to him,” Hitt said. “Before we even started digging, he came down and looked at the site, and said ‘Well, this is how I would do it. I would stand here, and push my ash out here,’ and that’s exactly, pretty much what we found.”

The iron pieces collected from the site are carefully bagged and documented, and will later be washed, curated and preserved, Hitt said. The blacksmith shop, Severts estimates, was likely built in the mid- to late 1820s, although the research is still ongoing.

Back up the hill at the cabin site, intern Cynthia Sun waved a metal detector over the site, surrounded by hundreds of small, brightly colored flags marking where the detector had picked up evidence of metal.

“Basically, every time it gets that little beep, you can pinpoint it,” she said. “You just sweep it across, and if you get a beep, you pinpoint it and that indicates something’s there, then we flag it.”

The team later goes back and hand draws maps marking where the flags have been placed. They use the points to measure the density of “beeps,” which gives them a better idea of where to dig, she said.

The archaeologists estimate the cabin was built sometime around the 1850s, based on the nails they’re finding in the ground. At some point, they remodeled, because a cache of old nails were found nearby, probably dumped there when the old part of the cabin was replaced. Newer nails were found where the cabin once stood, showing it likely rotted and fell into the ground.

But for Sun, the evidence is more than plots on a grid — it’s personal.

“Someone once lived here, this is your history, your past,” she said. “Especially if it gives a name to who lived here. I feel like that’s always a good thing. For history, you have evidence, that’s how you prove it.”

The interns will continue their work for the next few weeks as they work to curate their findings. They will present their work to the community at a public event, the date and location of which has yet to be set.

Read LaGrange Daily News online and in print for updates.

Archaeologist Patrick Severts, left, and interns Kaitlen Hitt, center, and Cynthia Sun, both seniors at Kennesaw State University studying anthropology, work Monday on the site of a newly discovered blacksmith shop estimated to have been founded in the late 1820s. The site is near Troup Factory, a historic mill site next to Flat Shoals Creek off Hamilton Road that was founded in 1829.

http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2016/07/web1_Blacksmith01WEB-1.jpgArchaeologist Patrick Severts, left, and interns Kaitlen Hitt, center, and Cynthia Sun, both seniors at Kennesaw State University studying anthropology, work Monday on the site of a newly discovered blacksmith shop estimated to have been founded in the late 1820s. The site is near Troup Factory, a historic mill site next to Flat Shoals Creek off Hamilton Road that was founded in 1829.

Tyler H. Jones | Daily News

Archaeologist Patrick Severts examines iron materials found Monday during the excavation of a blacksmith shop estimated to be about 190 years old.

http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2016/07/web1_Blacksmith02WEB-1.jpgArchaeologist Patrick Severts examines iron materials found Monday during the excavation of a blacksmith shop estimated to be about 190 years old.

Tyler H. Jones | Daily News

Archaeologist Patrick Severts, right, shows KSU senior Cynthia Sun how to use a metal detector Monday during the excavation of blacksmith shop estimated to be about 190 years old.

http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2016/07/web1_Blacksmith03WEB-1.jpgArchaeologist Patrick Severts, right, shows KSU senior Cynthia Sun how to use a metal detector Monday during the excavation of blacksmith shop estimated to be about 190 years old.

Tyler H. Jones | Daily News

Archaeologist Patrick Severts on Monday taps a trowel on a layer of dirt that apparently became hard as a rock after being exposed to high temperatures when a blacksmith shop sat in the location about 190 years ago. Severts said the furnace at the shop would have been about 3,000 degrees fahrenheit.

http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2016/07/web1_Blacksmith05WEB-1.jpgArchaeologist Patrick Severts on Monday taps a trowel on a layer of dirt that apparently became hard as a rock after being exposed to high temperatures when a blacksmith shop sat in the location about 190 years ago. Severts said the furnace at the shop would have been about 3,000 degrees fahrenheit.

Tyler H. Jones | Daily News

KSU anthropology student Cynthia Sun brushes dirt off a piece of metal Monday during the excavation of a blacksmith shop estimated to be about 190 years old.

http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2016/07/web1_Blacksmith06WEB-1.jpgKSU anthropology student Cynthia Sun brushes dirt off a piece of metal Monday during the excavation of a blacksmith shop estimated to be about 190 years old.

Tyler H. Jones | Daily News

Archaeologist Patrick Severts looks at the remains of a cabin’s chimney at an archeological site near the Troup Factory site on Monday.

http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2016/07/web1_Blacksmith07WEB-1.jpgArchaeologist Patrick Severts looks at the remains of a cabin’s chimney at an archeological site near the Troup Factory site on Monday.

Tyler H. Jones | Daily News

KSU senior Cynthia Sun uses a metal detector to search for archaeological remains at the site of a former blacksmith shop on Monday.

http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2016/07/web1_Blacksmith08WEB-1.jpgKSU senior Cynthia Sun uses a metal detector to search for archaeological remains at the site of a former blacksmith shop on Monday.

Tyler H. Jones | Daily News

Archaeologist Patrick Severts displays a wrought iron nail found at the excavation site of an estimated 190-year-old blacksmith shop near the Troup Factory off Hamilton Road. Severts can look at the manner in which the nail was made to estimate its age.

http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2016/07/web1_Blacksmith04WEB-1.jpgArchaeologist Patrick Severts displays a wrought iron nail found at the excavation site of an estimated 190-year-old blacksmith shop near the Troup Factory off Hamilton Road. Severts can look at the manner in which the nail was made to estimate its age.

Tyler H. Jones | Daily News

Archaeologists find 1820s blacksmith shop

By Tyler H. Jones

tjones@civitasmedia.com

RELATED STORY:

Archaeologists unearth Troup’s history (April 19, 2016)

Tyler H. Jones is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2155.