Backyard History, Kiah House

Happy 108th Birthday, Virginia Kiah!

To celebrate Virginia Kiah’s 108th Birthday and kick-off renewed efforts to memorialize her legacy, we are hosting a series of events leading up to June 3rd, Mrs. Kiah’s birthday. The “we” of this are: Friends of the Kiah House Museum, Center for the Study of African and African Diaspora Museums and Communities (CFSAADMC), Historic Cuyler Brownsville Neighborhood Development, Inc., and Savannah Archaeological Alliance. Please feel free to attend all or some of the events. If you can’t attend, consider buying a t-shirt to support the cause. Money from the t-shirts will go towards a Kiah House historical marker.

Caring for Creation: “Art is in Everything”

A Birthday Celebration for Virginia Kiah, Kiah Museum Founder

Caring for Creation Then and Now:

Georgia Black Museum and Black Folk Remedies Exhibition

Friday May 31, 2019 Exhibit Reception, 4-7pm

Savannah State University, Social Sciences Building‘s Social Science Gallery

Exhibit runs June 1- June 30, 2019

About the Exhibition: Savannah State University students from the Introduction to Anthropology class and CFSAADMC members’ research of Georgia Black Museums in partnership with the St. Joseph’s Candler African American Health Center project on Black Folk Remedies present their results in an exhibition featuring the ethnographic fieldwork of students and others to collect the oral history home remedies among African American Families in the Georgia Low Country. Also learn about the proposed Museum Administration Certificate Program.

Exhibition Curator (s): Tina Hicks, Ella Williamson (AAH) Black Folk Remedies, Dr. Deborah Johnson-Simon- SSU Anthropology

Contact(s) Otilia Iancu -Director MPA at SSU, iancuo@savannahstate.edu 


Caring for Community Cultural Heritage:

Cuyler-Brownville Living History Walk

Saturday, June 1, 2019, 10:00 AM- 3:00 PM

Join us on a walking tour of Cuyler-Brownville’s historic sites, including Dr. & Mrs. Virginia Jackson Kiah’s home and museum, followed by picnic in Floyd “Pressboy” Adams Park (32nd and Cuyler Streets). The walking tour will begin at 10am at the park and end in the same location. The walk will help show community support for a historical marker.

Contact(s):

Jan Fox – Historic Cuyler Brownsville Neighborhood Development, Inc.

Laura Seifert- Savannah Archaeology Alliance (SAA)

Youth Organizers

Essence Irvin

Shanell Byfield


Caring for Church Religious Heritage:

Worship at Asbury United Methodist Church

Sunday, June 2, 2019 at 11AM

Contact(s): Pastor Debora Shinholster Richards, (912) 236-4792

Organizers: Juanita Tucker, Carolyn Fletcher, Vincent Hamilton

1201 Abercorn Street, Savannah, GA 31401

Come and worship at the home church of Dr. Calvin and Virginia Kiah. A program insert is being prepared with collected birthday wishes a special memories of Mrs. Kiah.  Also, a handout of her favorite song that can be taken by those attending the service who want to go with the Friends of the Kiah Museum to wreath-laying at the gravesite. Mr. Vincent Hamilton, former student of Mrs. Kiah and Asbury Lay Leader has been asked to officiate the gravesite ceremony.

The Gravesite Visit and Wreath Ceremony is at Hillcrest Abbey East, 1600 Wheaton St, Savannah, GA, immediately following morning worship.


Image from https://www.savannah.com/savannahs-history-beach-institute/

Caring for Family and Ancestor Knowledge:

Genealogy Research Support Center (GRSC) at the Beach Institute and Cultural Center 

Monday, June 3, 2019, 10:00 AM-3:00 PM

Genealogy Workshop

Contact(s): Ron Christopher, 502 Harris St, Savannah, GA 31402

Finding Family – How Hard Can It Be?

Historic Savannah Church Historians and Family Historians, You’re Invited! It’s a time for caring and sharing your family stories and learn about the newest place in town that wants to care for your family stories from Savannah and throughout the African Diaspora. Schedule for the workshop is forthcoming.

Workshop experts include:

Genealogy Specialist- Mrs. Dorothy Tuck, (Celebrated Researcher of Megan Markel Georgia Ancestry) Genealogical Society of Henry and Clayton Counties-The Brown House, McDonough, GA

Amir Jamal Touré, J.D., a professor at Savannah State University (SSU) in the Africana studies program.

Library Specialist – Sharen Lee, Bull Street Library Genealogy Room Savannah, GA

Dr. Alena Pirok– Public Historian GSU-Armstrong Development of Free and Enslaved People of Savannah Database

Backyard History, public archaeology

Graves in the Airport Runway

Have you ever seen two gray rectangles distinct from the surrounding gray of the Savannah airport runway? A friend’s Facebook post of the Dotson Runway Graves led me to several articles on this oddity. In short, as the Savannah Airport expanded into the surrounding farmland, it took over a family cemetery as well. Many of the graves were exhumed and the bodies reburied in another cemetery, but per the family’s wishes, Richard and Catherine Dotson were left in place. According to the Atlas Obscura article, “Citing the fact that their ancestors would have wanted to stay on the land they worked so hard to cultivate and purchase, the surviving Dotson relatives refused to allow Richard and Catherine to be moved.” So the runway was built around them and the graves given new markers.

The Dotson graves. The picture is from the Atlas Obscura article. I suspect it’s a Google maps or Google Earth capture, since we can’t walk out on the runway to take photographs.

While this may seem like a bizarre story, these are exactly the type of problems and solutions archaeologists face everyday. Most archaeologists (probably around 80%) work in Cultural Resources Management (CRM). This means they don’t work in academia or in museums but work for archaeology companies or in government. CRM essentially began in 1966 with the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act. This federal law mandates archaeology and historic preservation for projects with certain conditions:

  • projects on federal land or in federal waters (like National Parks or the White House front lawn)
  • projects involving federal permits or federal money (like the Savannah Harbor Deepening)

But the laws do not mandate how the archaeology is done. In fact, the law only requires that the project managers “consider impacts” to cultural resources eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Of course, I am radically simplifying a complex process. My point is that archaeologists do more than dig. Archaeologists and their cousins (such as historic preservationists) manage archaeology sites and cultural resources to find solutions that work for the most number of stakeholders: the project developer, descendants, businesses, neighbors, etc. To do so, they often mix many techniques like “consultation with stakeholders”. In the case of the Dotson graves, it was the descendant family members whose ancestors’ graves were disturbed. In other cases, such as the CSS Georgia ironclad, the Army Corps of Engineers represented the military’s constituency, since the Confederate Navy no longer exists.

Barge over the CSS Georgia. From this platform, archaeologists recovered artifacts and pieces of the ironclad for study and preservation.

Most importantly, cultural resource managers need and want your input on projects. Resources on public lands belong to all of us, and we are all stakeholders to varying extents. The CSS Georgia project was much more successful than others in sharing the project with the public. The CRM firm, Panamerican Consultants, Inc., hired an archaeologist specifically to do public outreach, resulting in the Raise the Wreck festival. A documentarian was hired, the CRM company head Steve James spoke to my students at Armstrong, and much more. We need to demand that more projects follow this model so this becomes the norm and not the exception.

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History Matters, to All

I was delighted to hear the Girl Scouts of America received an Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant to make Scouting and all Girl Scout programs more inclusive. From the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace blog: “Access for All: Advancing Girl Scouts’ Commitment to Disability Inclusion is a two-year initiative led by the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah, Georgia, that will consist of trainings, conversations and activities promoting inclusion, empowerment and equity for those living with disabilities. The trainings’ goal is to spark an ongoing conversation about disability history, culture, rights and advocacy within the Girl Scout Movement.”

As a former employee, I had a truly memorable experience while leading one Girl Scout troop tour of the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace. One young Girl Scout had several disabilities including some difficulty walking, and perhaps some difficulty hearing (I can’t remember precisely). She was blind. But she loved art and was thrilled to learn that Daisy (Juliette Gordon Low) was also an accomplished artist. Another employee produced a pair of white cotton museum gloves. With the gloves on, we allowed her to touch Daisy’s sculpture Girl with Tortoise. This artist plaster original was in the front parlor at the time. She was able to “see” the sculpture through her touch and truly connect to another artist and the Girl Scouts’ founder.  The wonder and amazement on this young woman’s face still brings tears to my eyes. 

Girl with Tortoise sculpture. Image from the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace website.

We were not serving her remotely adequately with a traditional tour. But with some quick thinking, we improvised and created a lasting, special memory we all treasure. But most importantly, we made history come alive to everyone in that room. We made Juliette Gordon Low a vital, creative, force of nature again in her childhood home. 

More from the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace blog: “‘Many people don’t know that Juliette Low had profound hearing loss throughout her life, making her birthplace the perfect location for Girl Scouts’ new initiative, Access for All, to offer inclusion training for the birthplace staff, Girl Scout troops and their leaders, and other local audiences,’ explained birthplace Executive Director Lisa Junkin Lopez. Perhaps because of this hearing impairment, which worsened in adulthood, Low uniquely understood the value of Girl Scouts for girls with disabilities. As a result, the organization has long been inclusive of girls with disabilities, and it aims to serve all girls equally.

Staircase at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace
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Holiday Gifts for Good

I was inspired by The Accidental Preservationist’s Holiday Guide to Gifts that Give Back – Supporting Historic Preservation in Charleston, SC. I absolutely love gifts that give back. The older I get, the less “stuff” I want, and I’m also trying to pass non-materialistic values onto my four-year-old. So here’s a mix of preservation and history gifts that support good causes while being pretty awesome gifts (because everyone wants a little something). 

My favorite gifts are books, both to give and receive. I’m the uncool mom who always gifts books.  My son is getting four books for his birthday today (Happy Birthday sweetie!). I bought two of these books through a Scholastic program at his school, where every order gets free books for the school. I also bought for his friend’s upcoming birthday and Christmas. 

For the adults, Savannah Square by Square is a beautiful coffee table book authored by Michael Jordan and Mick McCay with photography and art by Les Wilkes, Phil Hodgkins, and Constance McCay. Original art work from the book is currently on display and prints are available for purchase. See the image below for details. (Full disclosure, Michael is a friend. Also check out his Hidden History of Civil War Savannah and excellent and surprisingly funny read). 

I know, Amazon is easy, but I encourage you to look into local Museum Shops. Again, these shops are the best places to find a selection of local books. Davenport House and Wormsloe Historic Site immediately spring to mind for great books selections. Museum Shops often have great presents for all price levels and people, and you don’t have to pay admission to browse. Have a Girl Scout in your life? Look at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace. Military member of the family? How about the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force? Perhaps you have an Uncle Gary who is a twenty year veteran of the Mighty Eighth. No? Just me then. The Mighty Eighth even has an online shop

Dr. Pressly’s extensive history on Savannah’s economy and Caribbean connections. Below is Helen Rountree’s “Pocahontas, Powhatan, Opechancanough” that I bought at Jamestown during a 2007 trip.

“I like my history Black, hold the sugar”. Joseph McGill’s Slave Dwelling Project more than educates people, it transforms lives by allowing for real conversations about history and slavery. Support this amazing cause with this cheeky t-shirt

Membership to a museum or historic site also makes a great gift. My son’s grandparents are renewing his membership to Oatland Island Wildlife Center, because he loves walking the trails with his little friends. And picking up lots of sticks along the way. Here is a partial list of the museums in the greater Savannah area. Most offer membership at various levels, and you can always add an extra donation! Historic Savannah Foundation is a venerable preservation organization with cool membership benefits (admission to the Davenport House, an invite to the gala!). Another good option is the Forsyth Farmers’ Market. (See my post about how supporting farmers benefits preservation.) Being a Friend of the Market gets you a Vendor of the Week discount, the newsletter, and Invitations to Farm Tours. Joining at the family level also gets you a colorful market tote bag, which people want to buy but it’s only available to Friends, and the Market-to-Table Recipe book with contributions by market friends and famers. (Full disclosure, I am on the Board of the Forsyth Farmers’ Market). 

Please consider buying local and supporting preservation and archaeology. I hope you have a happy and healthy holiday season. 

PS If you want to get me something, write letters to your city and county  officials and tell them you support archaeology. Demand an archaeology ordinance and a city/county archaeologist! 

Backyard History

Hull Park: Backyard History

Recently on three separate occasions, people spontaneously shared their personal Hull Park history. Twice, it was grandfathers watching grandchildren at the playground and baseball diamond, and once it was a City of Savannah employee who manages the park. This week, a gentleman told me that while the city has replaced nearly every piece of playground equipment over the years, the merry-go-round is the original. He said, “I’m 66-years-old. I got hurt on that merry-go-round. My daughter got hurt on that merry-go-round…” He trailed off but smiled and shook his head as he watched his granddaughter hang off it and spin around crazily.

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The venerable Hull Park merry-go-round

The Ardsley Park/Chatham Crescent Neighborhood Association’s website gives a quick history:

“By the 1930’s, development of Ardsley Park and Chatham Crescent was nearly complete. The [Developers] Lattimore’s then set out for their next development, Ardmore. Running from 52nd Street to 55th Street to the South, and punctuated with a large, diamond shaped Hull Park, Ardmore would also become a popular Savannah neighborhood. On Sunday, November 8, 1925, a full page ad in the Savannah Morning News reported the public sale of lots in Ardmore.  The day after the sale, it was announced that every lot had been sold before noon the same day.”

I also found a great little video on the neighborhood’s history produced by the City of Savannah and featuring one of my favorite people. I love histories written with multiple layers: the practical details about time frames and architectural styles mixed with personal stories about the residents’ lives.

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View of Hull Park facing north with recent playground equipment (foreground) and the baseball diamond in the distance.
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Picnics in Cemeteries: Backyard History

Atlas Obscura recently re-posted an article, Remembering When Americans Picnicked in Cemeteries. Author Jonathan Kendall wrote, “Since many municipalities still lacked proper recreational areas, many people had full-blown picnics in their local cemeteries… One of the reasons why eating in cemeteries become a “fad,” as some reporters called it, was that epidemics were raging across the country: Yellow fever and cholera flourished, children passed away before turning 10, women died during childbirth. Death was a constant visitor for many families, and in cemeteries, people could “talk” and break bread with family and friends, both living and deceased.”

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Colonial Park cemetery mausoleum

Picnics in cemeteries are not news to archaeologists. Excavations in cemeteries often turn up soda bottles, alcohol bottles, toys, and bullets. Yes, bullets. In 1999, Chicora Foundation archaeologists mapped Colonial Park cemetery with a penetrometer survey (a penetrometer measures soil compaction). Their main goal was to map unmarked graves (an astonishing 8,678 unmarked graves were found in addition to the 560 marked graves). They also conducted a small excavation and found many late-1800s artifacts from citizens enjoying the park including lamp parts, soda and alcohol glass bottle fragments, toys, pipes, and shell casings and bullets. Few clothing artifacts or elaborate coffin hardware was found, so the burials were probably simple, shrouds and simple wood coffins.

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Sheftall Cemetery

Two eighteenth century Jewish Cemeteries sit behind Esther Garrison Elementary School on Jones Street. The Levi Sheftall Cemetery was the subject of archaeological investigation in 1990. No graves were excavated, but accumulated soil around the headstones was excavated, and the cemetery was mapped. Lots of children’s marbles were found as well as bullets, ranging in size from 18th century lead musket balls to a modern .45 caliber automatic.

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Gravestone in Colonial Park Cemetery

The cemetery picnicking trend ended around the 1920s, as more public parks were established and the death rate dropped, leading to less need for cemetery visitation. Kendall concludes, “Today, more than 100 years since Americans debated the trend, you’d be hard-pressed to find many cemeteries—especially those in big cities—with policies or available land that allow for picnics. Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, for example, has a no picnic rule.”

Backyard History

Backyard History: Tybee Lighthouse

My three-year-old insisted on going to Tybee today. He’s had worse suggestions, so we went and had a few relaxing hours on the beach. Me reading, him playing with his toy dump truck and loader. I haven’t taken my son up in the lighthouse yet, mostly because I think that will end in me carrying him. It’s a lot of stairs.

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Tybee Lighthouse from the beach.

James Oglethorpe had a navigational marker placed on the property now housing the lighthouse in 1733, the same year he founded Georgia. A lighthouse has stood in this area ever since. By 1736 Noble Jones, Georgia’s surveyor, supervised the construction of a 90-foot wooden tower, although it did not have a light. This daytime navigation marker was the largest on the British-controlled east coast. In 1741, a storm destroyed the tower.

A second, 90 to 94 foot lighthouse was built by 1742. It too did not have a light. An associated Keeper’s House was also built nearby. This lighthouse was gone by 1768, a victim of the harsh coastal elements. The third lighthouse was built in 1773 and destroyed by fire in 1791. The current lighthouse, a 100-foot, octagonal-base brick lighthouse, was built in 1791, probably on the foundation of the 1773 building. Note: the Tybee Light Station is a museum today; entry fees apply.

The Assistant Keeper’s House was restored in 2003. Since the restoration included some ground-disturbing activities, the Tybee Island Historical Society, which runs the Light Station and the Tybee Museum, called in archaeologists to make sure they weren’t destroying historic resources.

Archaeologists examined two corners the brick foundation beneath the existing, circa 1885 house. They excavated two test units (square areas that were dug out), finding nearly 5,000 artifacts in their small excavation. Artifacts recovered included architectural materials like brick, mortar, and window glass; kitchen ceramics, bottle glass, and tin cans were also discovered. Food remains showed the dietary variety: turtle, beef, pork, foul, fish, and eggs were eaten on site. Shellfish were also an important part of the diet including oysters, clams, crab, and whelk. Personal artifacts were found as well: a brass finger ring, pocketknife fragments, a glass marble, mirror glass, newspaper scraps, matches, and a piece of engraved slate. Bullets and other armament artifacts were found as well as uniform buckles and a brass insignia. Many of these are probably from the Civil War soldiers camped near the lighthouse.

The brick foundation under the current house is the footing for an earlier keeper’s house. A brown transfer printed sherd (ceramic fragment) was found in the foundation’s builder’s trench. Brown transfer printed ceramics were first made in 1809, so the building must date after 1809. The historical record states this circa 1809 house burned in 1885. Melted window and bottle glass were found with exploded bricks and highly tempered (heat-treated) nails. When iron is heated to extremely high temperatures, the nails are preserved and rust-free.

Artifacts from the 1700s were also found, so an even earlier building was also probably on this site. While no structural remains were found for an earlier building, an undated brick hearth and chimney pad were found, possibly from this 1700s era building.