2004 Field School & Industrial Archaeology Project-West Point Foundry
Michigan Technological University
Posting July 11, 2004 by Suika M. Rivett

Industrial Detectives

Week eight here at the West Point Foundry has been an exciting one. We continue to unearth artifacts and structures that answer important questions in two areas of the foundry complex. In the Blowing Engine area, machinery blasted air into the furnace to smelt iron from ore. In the Boring Mill area, foundry workers bored and rifled cannons and steam engine cylinders. Rachael Herzberg and Erin Timms have posed research questions that will lead to MTU Industrial Archaeology masters theses about the West Point Foundry.

Erin Timms’ research focuses on the operations at the blast furnace. She is interested primarily in the blowing engine and the water system that powered it. One of Timms’ primary questions pertains to the curious water system that, as seen in historic maps, appears to run beneath the furnace and into a battery pond nearby. Water was undesirable in the area of furnaces as it could turn to steam and cause damage. Since most furnaces are built as far from water as possible, Timms set out to determine whether this was actually the case. Some of the findings this week, such as thin layers of sand and other soils apparently deposited by water in a channel near the furnace, suggest that water may have been routed beneath the furnace.

Soil stratigraphy under the southern lintel in the Blowing Engine.

Students and volunteers have been unearthing structural foundations and artifacts in excavation units located north of the blast furnace for most of the summer. These excavations unearthed lintel stones in two units; the lintel stones (one to the north and one to the south) are supported by other stones beneath them, forming an opening beneath them. Suspecting that these might be the openings for a headrace or tailrace from the waterwheel of the blowing engine, Timms probed beneath the southern lintel to see how far the openings might go. This probing established that the opening beneath the southern lintel extends at least eleven feet beneath stone walls and likely connects with the opening identified to the north.

In this same week, revealing artifacts have been unearthed in excavations at the boring mill. During a recent visit to the site, Vance Packard, Jr., past president for SIA (Society for Industrial Archeology), identified similarities between a historic photograph possibly taken inside the boring mill and an area currently being excavated. The photograph depicted the operation of a wheel lathe—a device capable of moving two dimensionally to correspond to the height and width requirements of the wheel being machined. Three walls, a deep lathe bed, and a crane depicted in the historic photograph correspond to structures located in areas being excavated in the boring mill.

Rachael Herzberg, whose thesis research focuses on the boring mill, began further excavations in the area in order to determine if this truly was the area of the wheel lathe. Crew working in new excavation units uncovered two key artifacts that may prove that the photograph may depict the spot we are digging now. Those artifacts include a complete gear rail (a flat-toothed gear that a round toothed gear would have moved horizontally or vertically on) and a large clamp possibly used for securing the work being machined.

Erin taking measurements off of the northern lintel in the Blowing Engine.

Suika & Paul in the Boring Mill relate the pipe to the wall construction.

Additional excavation in both the Blowing Engine and the Boring Mill look promising for more pertinent finds in the weeks to come – updates to follow.

Department of Social Sciences, Michigan Technological University Houghton, MI 49931
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