Madison, Morris County, NJ
Madison High School history students unearth what could be stones from forge foundation
Students in Richard Bradshaw’s U.S. history class at Madison High School may have unearthed a clue to what kind of forge structure actually stood on the Luke Miller Homestead on Ridgedale Avenue during the Revolutionary War era. On June 3, a series of stones that looked like they were the foundation for a forge were discovered during a dig, Bradshaw said. The site had been the focus of the dig because of artifacts that were previously found in the area. Students had been working on the site the previous day, which was the high school’s “Day of Service” to community groups, and the excavation continued the following day, with classes digging in the morning and the afternoon.
Based On Evidence
“The site, which included two rectangular trenches, had not been chosen arbitrarily but were selected based on the yield from previous years, such as horse shoes, nails and iron tools,” said Mark De Biasse, also a U.S. history teacher at Madison High School and the school’s community service adviser. Further evidence of the existence of a forge at the site was the discovery of charcoal and burnt wood in a nearby trench, Bradshaw said. If a foundation for a forge is verified, it would answer the question as to whether a blacksmithing or a larger operation like a forge stood on the property. “Did they make the material there, or just shoe horses?” DeBiasse asked.
To guide and assist the students, who were all sophomores, staff members from Hunter Research in Trenton, led by Ian C. Burrow, were on hand both days. They showed the students how to compare soil samples, how to document different layers and separate artifacts from those different layers, De Biasse said. “The art of archeology is meticulous and careful – you can’t just go in there and whack away,” he explained. “We get a bang for the buck when we uncover the borough’s past while educating hundreds of kids through hands-on experience,” De Biasse added. “This is what writes textbooks and changes history,” Bradshaw said he tells his students when explaining the importance of archeology. “What the students learn here, they use – that’s the key, and it is what’s missing in so much of what we do,” he said. Further exploration of the area would attempt to uncover more of the foundation, De Biasse said.
Work Draws Grants
A video of students at the first dig in 2007 was used to help procure a $10,197 grant from the New Jersey Historic Commission to help pay for the services of Hunter in 2008, DeBiasse said. He credited Cathie Coultas, the Parks Advisory Committee representative on the Open Space, Recreation and Historic Preservation Advisory Committee, with getting the ball rolling at the homestead. “She did the lion’s share of the work,” De Biasse said. In addition to the grant received for 2008, the Madison Historical Society received a $5,768 grant for 2010, said Susan Simon, co-president of the society. “We’ve also raised additional funds at an open house and Christmas wreath auction” at the circa-1730 Luke Miller Homestead, she said. Possibly the oldest house in Madison, it was the home of Major Luke Miller, a Revolutionary War soldier.
Miller was born at the house, known as Millers Station, in 1759 and lived there until his death at 91, in 1851. He and his father Josiah Miller were farmers and blacksmiths. During the Revolutionary War era, while the Continental Army was encamped in Loantaka Valley and Jockey Hollow, the home was the site of hospitality to war-weary officers. Gen. George Washington is reported to have been a frequent guest there, and legend has it his horse was once re-shod at the Miller home. The suspected forge site has been subdivided from the main home’s lot at 105 Ridgedale Ave. and is now part of the borough’s adjacent Summerhill Park.
Used with permission of The MADISON EAGLE, .