Digging Ends At Parker Academy For Now

May 28, 2015

An archeological dig in eastern Clermont County is just about to end for this year.  But the dig is just the beginning of the story. 

Since the beginning of May, professor Sharyn Jones and 24 Northern Kentucky University graduate and undergraduate students have been excavating the former Parker Academy site near New Richmond.  The school, founded in 1839, was radical for its time because it was fully integrated - boys and girls, black and white students all shared the classroom.

Jones, who is chair of NKU's Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Philosophy, says they've uncovered the foundations of the school and a dormitory.

“We found a lot of pretty exciting little artifacts," says Jones.  "Things like the penny from the 1830s. We have an Indian Head penny from the 1880s.  We found some clay marbles that are hand painted.”

Jones says a single musket ball was found by the front door.  She says that lends credence to the story the school was attacked by slave catchers. 

“There is some of that kind of data in the archives," she says.  "They’re really rich and highly detailed.  Unfortunately, we haven’t had a chance to go through all of them.”

An Indian Head penny from the 1880s.
Credit Bill Rinehart / WVXU

Jones says the first step was all about organizing the thousands of pages of letters and documents.  Soon, she says, they'll compare what they've found at the site with what's written in these archives to see how the two match up.

“Because it’s one thing to say that slave catchers were coming to the schoolhouse to try and take students back across the river to the South.  But it’s something very different when you can actually dig into the past of individuals who were living here every day and eating, and going to school, and drinking hooch, and smoking locally made pipes.  And hanging out and playing with marbles and engaging in real life.”

Jones is surprised no one had conducted an archeological survey of the Parker Academy before, given the school was fully integrated in the 19th century:

“They were all here learning together in the same room and engaging in a community of resistance.  That’s amazing.  There aren’t a lot of places like this in North America that we know about.”

This class' field work is almost over.  On Friday morning the students will fill in the holes they dug.  Community partners, neighbors, and university officials are invited for a ribbon cutting at the site Thursday celebrating the first dig. The students will leave some of the site buried for future classes and archeologists to uncover.

“We’re being very meticulous and we’re taking notes and photographs, and we’re sketching in all the little rocks, and we’re counting and weighing the fragments of bricks," says Jones.  "And we’re taking the artifacts back to the lab for cataloging.  But when we do that, we have essentially destroyed part of the past in the record.  So we would never want to dig a site in its entirety.”

Once the artifacts are cataloged and compared with the archives, they will be put on display in New Richmond.