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Secrets of early Westport unearthed at Sherwood Island dig

Published 10:32 am, Friday, July 12, 2013

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  • Ernie Wiegand, Professor of Archaeology at Norwalk Community College, gives a tour of a dig site at the 1780's Daniel Sherwood Homestead within Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Conn. Thursday, July 11, 2013. Photo: Autumn Driscoll / Connecticut Post
    Ernie Wiegand, Professor of Archaeology at Norwalk Community College, gives a tour of a dig site at the 1780's Daniel Sherwood Homestead within Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Conn. Thursday, July 11, 2013. Photo: Autumn Driscoll

 

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It seems like Sherwood Island State Park has been on the town's shoreline forever, but there was a time when it was a working farm owned by the Sherwood family.

That history was celebrated July 11 as Norwalk Community College archaeology professor Ernie Wiegand led a dig at the site of the Sherwood home.

The house stood until the 1940s, but little is left of it today.

"This land was a wedding present for Daniel Sherwood," Wiegand said, adding that the original home was erected in 1789 when George Washington was in his first presidential term.

The professor, assisted by a few of his former students, spent the last two weeks painstakingly removing soil and stone at what used to be the front stoop. A backhoe, more indelicately, dug a larger hole near what used to be the center of the home.

"We could use the power shovel there because that area was already disturbed," Wiegand said.

For his trouble, he unearthed about a dozen bottles and jars, mostly from the 1930s to the 1950s. Other artifacts were much older, however. The was a handmade nail from the late 1700s, and there were some Native American objects that may have been more than 400 or 500 years old.

"We also found some plastic toys from the 20th century," Wiegand said. "It's amazing the stuff people leave behind."

The dig also unearthed a large kettle and other bits of iron and sheet metal. The purpose of some of these objects remained obscure.

There were some shards of pottery that dated from the late 1700s, too.

The Sherwood home is a little inland from the present-day entrance booths to the park. The family farmed the surrounding acres for decades, and oysters provided additional income.

A hog's tooth offered another clue as to their diet.

But, as with many farms in the Northeast, the opening of the rail lines to the Midwest meant that the days were numbered for the Sherwood operation.

After research is complete, the soil will be returned from where it came and the site will look just like it did before the dig began; that is, a grassy glade.

At one point, there were three Sherwood homes in what is now the park. A second home site was also dug up, but little was found there, Wiegand said. The site of a third home was obliterated when a public lavatory was built in the 1950s.

Cece Saunders, of the Friends of Sherwood Island State Park, said that the dig is but the first of many events that will take place to mark the creation of the state park system in 1913.

Still, the state park didn't officially open for another 20 years.

"It's a true Westport story," Saunders said. "There was a Mr. Gair, a tycoon who lived nearby, who didn't want the public to visit here. He fought the park any and every way he could."

Today, 500,000 people visit the park every year, she said.

She said that other future events include the Sherwood Island Shorefest on Sept. 6, and on Aug. 15 there will be a "Sojourn," or Summer Outdoor Journey, which is a bike excursion from the state's northeast corner to Sherwood Island, passing through many of Connecticut's parks.