Friends of Fort Griswold present archaeological findings, viewing platform

Groton — A pipe stem from the 18th century. Ceramics including 18th-century work and whiteware. Khakis. A pull tab from 1970. Lots of brick, and lots of nails.

These were some of the artifacts found during an archaeological dig at Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park over the course of a few days in the fall.

A team from Newington-based Heritage Consultants volunteered their time to dig 23 test pits, each 50 by 50 centimeters and 1 to 3 feet deep.

One takeaway was that "in general, there is both more shallow pits and pits with less artifact density going from the north to the south," explained Hannah Lents, GIS specialist for Heritage Consultants. She added, "Through foot traffic and erosion, things are kind of moving in that general direction."

Lents presented the team's findings Thursday evening at the annual meeting of the Friends of Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park, held at the Monument House Museum, which is across the street from Fort Griswold.

The dig was conducted below the site of the new viewing platform at the state park, and was coordinated in conjunction with the platform's construction.

When Henry Alves came on as park superintendent — he's now in his fourth season — he noticed that people were climbing on the earthworks in the southwestern part of the fort, and so it was getting destroyed.

It makes sense that people would be climbing in the area adjacent to the flagpole, because the high elevation yields the best views of the park and the Thames River below. He wanted to see a platform built there, both to keep people off the earthworks and to fit classrooms for lesson plans.

So he went to the Friends of Fort Griswold. President Hali Keeler said they got a grant for platform construction from the Society of the Cincinnati, and the platform was constructed in the spring.

Alves' plan is to add interpretive signage, along with an additional recording for the phone tour.

The concrete footings for the platform are atop the test pits from the dig, the first completed at Fort Griswold since Ricardo Elia's report in 1985. Prior to Lents' discussion on Thursday, Connecticut State Archaeologist Brian Jones gave a brief overview.

Elia's work, he said, focused on three areas: the northeast parade grounds, the southern barracks and the blockhouse. Jones said the southern barracks would be a great area for future excavation, because there are a lot of food remains that would offer more information about soldiers' diets.

For the team at Heritage Consultants to put their findings into context, they had to do a lot of research on the history of Fort Griswold.

Lents talked about the major depositional events from the Battle of Groton Heights in 1781 to the present.

There was maintenance leading up to the War of 1812, and by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1852, and in preparation for the centennial in 1881.

As part of a beautification project from 1904 to 1911, the Groton Track Commission put in retaining walls and gouged out a part of the southeast bastion, to make an area for people to sit.

After the military reoccupation in 1942 "left an absolute mess," Lents said, the secretary of war allocated $10,000 to clean up the fort.

The artifacts found technically belong to the state but Jones said the Friends of Fort Griswold can have them. Keeler said she'd like to display them in the Monument House Museum.

e.moser@theday.com

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