Artifacts including dish fragments, glass, clothing and clay pipes found on the site of Oregon State Hospital may date to a prominent Salem pioneer’s 1850s-era homestead.
While the finds excite archaeologists, they could have an affect on construction of a new hospital to replace the aging buildings in use.
Aimee Finley, projects manager for the Portland-based Applied Archaeological Research, says the 1852 Morgan “Lute” Savage homestead is the best guess so far.
The firm said the site “represents one of a very few 1850s-era domestic sites discovered in the Willamette Valley,” adding that “It has the potential to yield information important in a wide variety of research dimensions related to the establishment of the American society at the end of the Oregon Trail.”
The report called for follow-up excavations.
The firm’s report, given to Salem’s Statesman-Journal newspaper, says researchers gathered the artifacts in January as part of a state-sponsored check prior to construction.
Implications of the finds on construction plans are not clear. “Ultimately, the decision on what happens resides with the state,” Finley said.
Laws protect cultural resources on public and private property. Some construction projects, especially in the West, have been slowed or scrapped because of Indian grave sites, forgotten villages and other buried cultural resources.
The recent state hospital searches also turned up some chips from the making of prehistoric stone tools. “We found just isolated instances of that, not enough to characterize it as an archaeological site at this stage,” Finley said.
If the firm concludes that parts of the campus are archaeologically important, it probably will recommend they not be disturbed.
The State Office of Historic Preservation will decide.
Consultants confined their survey to 102 acres earmarked for construction on the 144-acre property.
Some objects were on top of the ground. Searchers also dug 93 “shovel test pits.”
She said the pits determine if there is an archaeological site and just provide a sample.
“Obviously, we didn’t dig every square foot of the property. We identify areas based on their various characteristics that would have a high probability of containing archaeological sites. Then we dig these probes,” she said.”
Everything found will be sent to the State Museum of Anthropology at the University of Oregon. There may be more to be found.
“Mid-nineteenth century domestic sites often contain shaft features such as wells and privies, or other subsurface features such as trash pits and root cellars,” she said.
“These types of spaces often were used as refuse receptacles after they completed their use lives. The site might also contain architectural features such as corner piers, chimney bases, and foundation remnants.”
“When we look at the historical maps and read historical accounts, they indicate that there is a homestead there,” Finley said. “Right now, the link has not been proven, it’s merely suggested,” she said, but cannot be discounted.
Nearly 190 objects were collected, including nine old-fashioned “Prosser” buttons probably from coats, shirts and blouses.
Most of the artifacts were broken.
The report says the site may represent “a potential source of important information related to institutional care and patient therapies during the late nineteenth century at the OSH” as well as details about the homestead.
Recently, the entire campus was added to the National Register of Historic Places at the urging of local history buffs.
Snippets of Savage’s life show up in old newspaper stories.
He was born near Syracuse, N.Y., in 1816 and lived in the Midwest, arriving in the Oregon country by covered wagon in 1847.
He went to California in 1849 to seek gold and was “well rewarded” for his efforts, one clipping says.
Back in Oregon he fought in Oregon’s Indian wars and later became a flour mill operator, city water works developer, land baron and state senator.
He apparently settled on his large donation land claim in 1852 and sold it to the state in 1864.
He died in 1880.