One Tank Trip: Mansion at Fort Hunter Park

HARRISBURG, Pa. - A stately home is built on a bluff with stunning views of the Susquehanna River and the Blue Mountains. At this moment though, it's what's in the backyard that is most intriguing.

The mansion at Fort Hunter Park in Harrisburg is under investigation.

Long before folks lived here, they fought here and before that camped here, and archeologists from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission are here to prove it.

"Our first year, we came here and it was a great success," said Jim Herbstritt, senior archaeologist.

The first dig was in 2006, and they have returned every September through early October since then.

"We use dust pans. We use spoons. We use whisk brooms. Any tool that we come up with that we find works well for us we adopt and use an excavation tool," said curator Janet Johnson.

They are looking for the fort that stood during the French and Indian War. Documents describe it being here.

"The historical background will say that something was built, but it won't give you a description of it, so by doing the archaeology, we're able to investigate it and find out what was constructed," Johnson explained.

So this summer, part of the dig got as close to the house as it could, right up to the porch. They're looking for a heavy concentration of French and Indian War period artifacts. Early on, they uncovered gun flints and musket balls, but not many all in one area.

"What we did find was much more glass trading beads and cut brass scrap," Johnson said.

Map: Fort Hunter Mansion and Park

Materials, archaeologists said, were used for trading. So, could this be a link? Possibly. A trading post perhaps. They told us it could also have been a camp for Native Americans, or maybe the builder just happened to have the beads and scraps with him. No specific fort sightings yet, but it's like putting a puzzle together, and you can watch them work.

On the other side of the yard is a smokehouse they uncovered. They found 17th and 18th century ceramics next to it.

They are working on different time periods all at once.

"Just envision this property as an enormous layered cake and all of the things that we find in the soil are layered according to the time period when they were laid down," Herbstritt said.

"It's a better way of appreciating your past when you can actually see it uncovered and understand that history is below your feet," Johnson added.

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