This week I received my confirmation from University of South Alabama Archaeology Department that the archaeology dig would occur on Saturday. Mother Nature was cooperating. Months ago, I had signed up as a volunteer to assist USA during their active archaeological project at Old St. Stephens on the Globe Hotel circa 1815-1822.
I was excited when I received the email from Bonnie Gums confirming the dig. Although on Friday when I was making preparation for my early departure, I wondered what I agreed to. The dig started at 9am and it was in Washington County. My challenge was the 90 minute drive on a “perfect day to paddle”.
I have never volunteered for a dig. I did not know anything about the site. I have ready many books that had archaeology woven through its pages. I had seen many movies with this topic as the focus. I did not expect, Indiana Jones drama at the site. I really didn’t have any expectations. I was a volunteer showing up, to assist as needed.
Leaving Baldwin County, the scenery changes from busy city, waterfront Port to deep countryside landscapes and hidden away chemical plants. Small towns tucked away in rural landscapes. At the end of my journey was a small ghost town referred to as Old St. Stephens. An old river town with a past that included the following:
-site of Spanish Fort circa 1790
-Choctaw Trading Post 1803
-Federal Land office
-Alabama’s first Territorial capital and beginning
-in 1818 it had 400-500 buildings many of stone and a population of several thousands (three times the size of Mobile)
-an old curse of Pioneer Minister Lorenzo Dow
In 1819, Alabama became a state and the capital was moved from St. Stephens to Cahaba. With the invention of shallow draft paddle wheelers bringing goods up river, St. Stephens was bypassed reducing traffic and commerce. With the government and revenue opportunities leaving, the town started to decline. Yellow Fever ravaged the area in the 1820’s and completed the downhill spiral.
This almost ghost town, had a guardian angel in the citizens of new St. Stephens which had formed down the road. They formed in 1890 and maintained a Historical Society to protect and preserve their history.
Fast forward many years, a private company built a rock quarry near the old town and local residents of New St Stephens recognized the potential threat that it could have on the Old site. In 1988, the Alabama legislature created the St. Stephens Historical Commission by Act Number 88-335. This assisted in ensuring the history could be preserved for the future. The site is a great location to do archaeology work. It had not developed after everyone moved away. It was hidden away awaiting discovery.
In 2000, the Old St. Stephens Historical Park opened. The site is in a quiet hideaway filled with natures beauty. The Park contains a 100 acre aquamarine lake including a beach. The park rents canoes and kayaks. Sixteen miles of hiking and horse riding trails are available. RV hookups and primitive camp sites for overnight guests.
I glanced at the view, on my way to the dig. I did not research the amenities of the location. The beauty of the area is protected. It is unspoiled by large crowds but it looks to be primitive.
I enjoyed my day spent with archaeologist’s George Shorter and Frank. They have been working on this site for a long time and have started discovering some of the mystery to this old ghost town. George was patient and gave me instructions for how to use the tools to “dig” my assigned area.
Then transport the “dirt and such” to the screening area to screen and separate the artifacts. The artifacts are then brought back to be catalogued later by the archaeology lab. The lab will wash, inspect, identify, label and submit for review.
During the day, a Boy Scout Troupe showed up to view and “dig”the site. A family of four spent the afternoon “digging in the dirt” along side me. Their five year old looked like he was having a great time. What a great outing for a family to spend time together in nature, preserving our history.
George and Frank are devoted to this work. At this site, mysteries are still to be uncovered. If you have any interest in becoming a volunteer contact Bonnie Gums at USA, email@example.com. The digs take place once a month starting in the Fall.
On Friday afternoon prior to my “dig departure”, I decided that I should bring cookies to the site as well. It is never good to show up empty-handed. I researched cookie recipes and adapted a 100-year-old recipe. I hope that you enjoy them.
Old St. Stephens Oatmeal Cookies
Serves 3-4 dozen depending on size
1/2 cup butter room temperature
1 3/4 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons Molasses
1 cup Oatmeal
2 1/2 cup All-purpose flour
1 Teaspoon Double Acting Baking Powder
1 1/2 cups trail mix (goji berries, cranberries, walnuts, cashews, coconut chips, pumpkin seeds)
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease baking tray.
In mixing bowl add the butter and sugar and blend. Drop one egg at a time and blend. Blend in the molasses, then oatmeal ,then all-purpose flour and baking powder. Remove from mixer and fold in trail mix and chopped pecans.
Use a cookie scoop and drop on baking tray. With a fork depress slightly on the cookie. Bake cookies for 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack. The cookies have a chewy texture.
At the end of the day, I was tired. I had to drive back to Fairhope but it gave me time to reflect on our history. Join USA in their efforts to preserve and protect, it is a day well spent.
Recipe Adapted from “The Lions Club Cookbook
Billie Joe Stanley and Lion Joe Stanley