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Local volunteers help find wall of historic Jeffersonian publishing plant

Although charred remains have been unearthed, the mystery remains alive. Another summer of excavation at the site of the Jeffersonian Publishing Plant at Hickory Hill was completed July 27, with many new discoveries. But one question remains unanswered - the discovery of any piece of the east wall of the plant.

"Finding the east wall would make me very happy," Curator Michelle Zupan said.

For the past few years, Hickory Hill has hosted archeology camps called Dig! History for elementary through high school students to learn the basics of archeology and actually participate in excavating the historical site. The 9,000-square-foot publishing plant, owned by the late senator Tom Watson, once stood on the site, which is on the grounds of Hickory Hill, the historic home of Senator Watson and owned by the Watson-Brown Foundation. The publishing plant burned down in the 1920's and the remains were later bulldozed to make a pasture for cows.

Earlier excavations produced the location of the foundation pillar of the south wall and a general idea of the location of the west wall. Progress was made this summer when a student named Jared Key discovered the origin of the fire, which proved the theory that the fire started in the supply shed along the north wall. Thomson Middle School teacher Clint Hilson assisted with the excavation.

"It was amazing because half of the unit was black, charred and hard to dig with melted metal and melted glass," Mr. Hilson said. "And the other half was yellow pristine."

Campers Jesse Kuhn and Lindsey Barrow were continuing Jared's excavation of the burn site when they discovered the foundation pillar for the north wall.

"Each artifact helps us to learn more about the site, and many times the discoveries take us completely by surprise," said Andrea Adams, an intern at Hickory Hill. "The brick foundation pillar helps us to firmly establish the location of the north wall."

Ms. Adams said campers Matthew McCraney and Ben Hawk's excavations this summer produced a high number of artifacts along the south wall including decorative glass, electrical wire and ceramic electrical equipment. And the east wall remains a secret of the past. But there is time in the future. Ms. Adams said the excavation will continue for years.

"Luckily, we are a privately funded project. So this is not a process where speed is the key," she said. "We aim for accuracy."

All artifacts and information are taken to a specialist for cleaning and identification, and then to Hickory Hill to be processed and cataloged.

"By looking for patterns of artifacts, we will be able to determine the activities carried out in different parts of the building," Ms. Adams said.

The excavations will resume next summer for camp. During the school year, other archeological programs are available at the Tom Watson birthplace, down the street from Hickory Hill. Teachers may call the WBF to schedule a field trip. For more information, call 706-597-8886 or 706-595-7777.

Web posted on Thursday, August 02, 2007

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