Archaeological study underway at Old Lighthouse Museum in Stonington

Moria Magni and John Kelly, with the Public Archeology Lab out of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, look through dirt from a test pit on Thursday, May 31, 2018 at the Stonington Lighthouse Museum.  The archeologists are conducting at two-day dig ahead of museum improvements. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Moria Magni and John Kelly, with the Public Archeology Lab out of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, look through dirt from a test pit on Thursday, May 31, 2018 at the Stonington Lighthouse Museum. The archeologists are conducting at two-day dig ahead of museum improvements. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Stonington — The Stonington Historical Society has undertaken an archeaological dig on the grounds of the Old Lighthouse Museum in preparation for seeking state and federal grants to help fund a $2.2 million expansion project to improve handicapped accessibility.

This past week, two archeaologists from the Public Archeaology Laboratory were at the museum at Stonington Point, digging test pits and screening for artifacts that they will bring back to their Pawtucket, R.I., lab for analysis. The laboratory then will issue a report on its findings and make recommendations for managing any cultural resources that are identified or any further study.

Historical society Executive Director Elizabeth Wood said Thursday that the grants the society is seeking, such as a $500,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant, require the society to perform an archeaological study.

She said performing the $8,000 study now will not hold up the processing of grant applications and future groundbreaking.

Wood said Thursday afternoon that no initial major discoveries had taken place, with much of what was found being 19th and 20th century debris such as pottery fragments.

Wood said the society has completed its design for the expansion project and is in the midst of its quiet phase of fundraising, with the public phase to come. The society will be holding its annual gala on the lawn of the lighthouse on June 30.

In May 2017, after four years and four revisions, and despite repeated opposition from some neighbors, the borough Planning and Zoning Commission approved a proposal for a 500-square-foot addition.

The approved plan was the society’s fourth attempt to renovate and slightly expand the size of the museum. Neighbors opposed all the previous plans, including two larger designs in 2013 and 2015, and one in 2016. They criticized the size of and rationale for the addition, landscaping, additional traffic and the society’s holding of special events such as weddings on the scenic waterfront property adjacent to Stonington Point.

Six months before the approval, the commission approved its own zoning amendment that allows it to grant a special-use permit to nonconforming uses that serve the public, such as the museum, restaurants and shops in all zoning districts, to expand for the purpose of complying with public health and safety standards, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act. As the lighthouse is a nonconforming use, the amendment paved the way for the society’s new application.

Up to 15 members of the public will be able to do their own dig at the lighthouse in the company of State Archeaologist Brian Jones on July 2 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information about the program email Wood at ewood@stoningtonhistory.org.

j.wojtas@theday.com

A rendering of the proposed addition to the Old Lighthouse Museum in Stonington. An archaeological dig is being conducted on the site in preparation for the expansion project. (Courtesy of the Stonington Historical Society)
A rendering of the proposed addition to the Old Lighthouse Museum in Stonington. An archaeological dig is being conducted on the site in preparation for the expansion project. (Courtesy of the Stonington Historical Society)
John Kelly, left, with the Public Archeology Lab out of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, digs dirt as and Moria Magni takes notes on Thursday, May 31, 2018 at the Stonington Lighthouse Museum.  The archeologists are conducting at two-day dig ahead of museum improvements. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
John Kelly, left, with the Public Archeology Lab out of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, digs dirt as and Moria Magni takes notes on Thursday, May 31, 2018 at the Stonington Lighthouse Museum. The archeologists are conducting at two-day dig ahead of museum improvements. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Moria Magni, with the Public Archeology Lab out of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, looks through dirt in a screen on Thursday, May 31, 2018 at the Stonington Lighthouse Museum.  The archeologists are conducting at two-day dig ahead of museum improvements. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Moria Magni, with the Public Archeology Lab out of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, looks through dirt in a screen on Thursday, May 31, 2018 at the Stonington Lighthouse Museum. The archeologists are conducting at two-day dig ahead of museum improvements. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

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