A Colonial Fort Reveals Its Secrets

Aug 1, 2019

Students at work finding artifacts from Fort Saint Joseph in 2016
Credit Andrew Robins / WMUK

Life in an 17th century frontier fort will come alive this weekend in Niles. Western Michigan University will hold a public open house at the site of Fort Saint Joseph Saturday and Sunday, August 3-4. The fort was built be French explorers and traders in the 1680's and abandoned a century later.

Teams from WMU and local volunteers have been excavating the area since 2002. Western anthropology professor Michael Nassaney is the project's leader.

"It is now an archaeological site, so there are no standing structures, there is nothing above ground that we can see. But beneath the ground, the signature of their daily activities is buried just beneath a thin layer of soil."

That signature includes artifacts ranging from lead musket balls and glass beads to pieces of pottery, among other ojects. Nassaney says the work at Fort Saint Joseph has been going for nearly two decades. Even so, he says it's just getting started.

Credit Andrew Robins / WMUK

"People ask me how much longer will it go on. There's easily another 50 years of work there. We have this year expanded into a new area of the site. People who come and visit this weekend will be quite pleased to see what we're finding now."

The new area being excavated was under a 20th century landfill that had to be cleared away first. The site along the banks of the Saint Joseph River is mostly underwater except during the summer when archaeological work is underway. Nassaney admits that can be a challenge.

"We often say, between the water and the dump and the conditions there sometimes, Fort St. Joseph has not easily yielded its secrets. But they are being revealed."

The Fort Saint Joseph archaeological site will be open to the public Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the corner of Fort and Bond Streets in Niles.

You can stay in touch with WMUK news on FacebookTwitter, and by signing up for our eNewsletter.