2017-09-14 / News

Archaeological dig for Saginaw’s history continues for third year

By Cameron Kerkau


Volunteer Nick Bacon works in a unit about 1.30 meters deep. Artifacts and animal bones dated to the 1830s have been discovered here, suggesting that the Steltzriede’s were raising most of their food. According to Sommer, this hole is at the edge of what was likely once a pond. 
Photos by Cameron Kerkau Volunteer Nick Bacon works in a unit about 1.30 meters deep. Artifacts and animal bones dated to the 1830s have been discovered here, suggesting that the Steltzriede’s were raising most of their food. According to Sommer, this hole is at the edge of what was likely once a pond. Photos by Cameron Kerkau In 1838, Henry and Katherine Steltzriede settled on present-day Brockway Road. Now, Jeffrey Sommer, curator of archaeology at the Castle Museum, is searching the property for remnants of their lifestyle.

According to Sommer, the 1830s saw the first big push of immigration to the area, meaning the Steltzriede farm could offer insight into life in the earliest days of Saginaw County.

“This family kind of gives us a glimpse at what it was like for other families settling in and growing the community,” said Sommer.

Sommer has been at the Castle Museum since 1997 and has done archaeology projects all around the county. He’s been working on the Steltzriede farm site since 2014.


A corner of the cellar was uncovered last year. According to Sommer, the cellar is likely 12 by 16 feet. Almost twice as large as expected for this kind of structure. The other three corners are likely underneath the property’s driveway. A corner of the cellar was uncovered last year. According to Sommer, the cellar is likely 12 by 16 feet. Almost twice as large as expected for this kind of structure. The other three corners are likely underneath the property’s driveway. “We knew that the Steltzriede family had settled on this property in 1838 and in 1848 they built the house that’s still standing on the property,” said Sommer.

The Steltzriedes also helped to found Holy Cross Lutheran Church in 1849 and church services were often held in the house they built, now occupied by Chuck Hoover, former director of the Castle Museum, and his wife, Karen. According to the oral history, before building the house in 1848 the Steltzriede family lived in a log cabin on the property.

“So, our goal, starting three years ago, was to find evidence of this log cabin,” said Sommer.


Chinking used to fill gaps in the structure of the log cabin. Chinking used to fill gaps in the structure of the log cabin. The Steltzriedes were the maternal great-grandparents of Saginaw Historian Ralph Stroebel, a founding member of both the Saginaw County Historical Society and the Michigan Archaeological Society. Stroebel, who passed away in 1987, conducted test excavations to confirm there being a log cabin on the property. Sommer’s team began its search based on Stroebel’s findings.

In the first year of excavations, artifacts from the correct time period were discovered, but no evidence of a log cabin was found. According to Sommer, there may be nothing left of the cabin that can be found archaeologically.

“These early cabins may not have had a foundation at all. They may have just been logs on the ground,” said Sommer.

Last year, the team uncovered what they believe to be the cellar or basement of the cabin, along with hundreds of pieces of chinking, material used to fill gaps in between the logs of a cabin, which seems to date to the early 19th century.

“So that’s a great sign,” said Sommer.

A key reason for continuing the excavation this year was to determine the size of cellar structure. According to Sommer, the cellar is likely 12 by 16 feet.

“That’s twice as big as what I would have expected,” said Sommer.

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