Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Preparing for Field School 2014

Welcome back to the Dig Strawbery Banke Blog!  The Archaeology Department at Strawbery Banke recently announced its 18th Annual Archaeological Field School for the summer of 2014.  Visit the Strawbery Banke website for the official announcement and enrollment details.

Our plan for this summer is to excavate a mikveh, or Jewish ritual bath, from the early 20th century.  We have already generated a lot of interest and excitement among archaeology students, volunteers, congregants from the local Temple Israel, and new & returning museum interpreters.  Here on the blog, I thought I'd talk about how this project began and what research we've been doing to prepare during the winter months.

The inspiration for this project came from the oral history of Ronald "Ronnie" Pecunies, the son of John and Emma Pecunies, a family who lived at 90 Jefferson Street at Puddle Dock from 1939 until the 1960s.  The house was leveled during Urban Renewal.  
The Pecunies Family in their yard (from the Puddle Dock Reunion Album)
Looking south from Jefferson Street at the Pecunies House
Ronnie has been consulted for museum interpretation in the past, especially during the development of the Victory Garden, a recreation of Emma's c. 1944 garden.  He remembers seeing a mikveh in the basement of his family's house at Puddle Dock as a child.  (It was not used by the Pecunies family.)

Strawbery Banke's former archaeologist, Sheila Charles, had begun thinking about investigating the mikveh as she was wrapping up the Chase House excavations (2008-2011).  With this summer's museum exhibit, "Finding Home: Stories from a Neighborhood of Newcomers," which focuses on immigration to Puddle Dock, we thought it would be a good summer to learn a little more about the Jewish immigrants to Puddle Dock. 

Starting with deed research and examination of historic maps, as we often do in historical archaeology, I learned that the Pecunies House sits on the site of a former barn, which was likely built in the early 1880s by Augustus K. Brown, who formerly owned the larger plot the Pecunies House eventually stood on, behind 96 Jefferson Street.  Sometime after Brown's death in 1898, the barn was torn down, and a small house was built.  Melvin and Georgie Gould bought the plot in 1911 and then sold the smaller house to Kate Levi, Rose Cohen, and Max Gelman in 1912, creating path for access to the house from Jefferson Street, which is still visible next to the Marden-Abbott Store today (see image below).  The Goulds continued to live at 96 Jefferson Street until 1929, when Georgie, then a widow, sold their house to Bertha and Walter Abbott (of the Abbott Store next door -- Bertha and Georgie were half sisters).  

Aerial imagery of the Puddle Dock area where the Pecunies House once stood 
(foundation indicated by lower arrow, access path by upper arrow.)
Levi, Cohen, and Gelman were all members of the Jewish immigrant community, and they sold the house to Temple Israel in 1923.  It was subsequently owned by different Jewish community members, namely, Frank Moskwa, Harry & Sadie Bratter, and Arthur & Sam Tawbe, before the Pecunies family bought the house in 1939.

We're not sure how the house was used or who resided in it while it was owned by Levi, Cohen, and Gelman, or whether the mikveh was constructed when the house was built at the turn of the century, or after Levi, Cohen, and Gelman bought it in 1912.  Luckily, property usage and date of construction are the types of questions that this summer's dig should help us to answer!

Leave your questions in the comments section!

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