Western Connecticut State University professors announced last week a Revolutionary War archeological site off Limekiln Road is almost certainly from the same time period as Putnam Park, confirming a decades-long assumption the site was home to patriot soldiers during the winter of 1779.
“Of course one of the first things we looked for was to make sure this is the camp we think it is,” said Beth Morrison, a professor at WestConn who studied the site. “[We asked:] Were there similar behaviors here [as at Putnam Park]?”
What Morrison and her fellow professor Laurie Weinstein found during a study that ran from 2007 to 2016 on the “Middle Encampment” area was its soil structure matched that found at Putnam Park.
“The soil profile is exactly the same at the Middle Encampment. And though, at first, other kinds of artifact densities appeared to be less … we did a very small amount of metal detecting and our numbers went back up. It definitely matched the profile,” she said during a presentation at the Redding Historical Society barn.
Specifically, Putnam Park’s soil profile is dominated by a layer of brittle, fire-damaged animal bones that were thrown into fires after soldiers finished with them. Tiny bone fragments were later tracked around the camp.
“Anytime you put a shovel six inches into the ground, there’s is a layer of debris made up of bone,” at both Putnam and the Middle Encampment, Morrison said.
In terms of artifacts, the team was able to find a great deal of metal remains of the Revolutionary War camp, including military buttons, shoe buckles and musket balls.
“We’re happy to say that every single [site] we put a hole into came up with a period-specific artifact,” Morrison said.
During Weinstein and Morrison’s study of the Middle Encampment, they first looked at the most obvious structures on the site: 12 collapsed fireplaces that follow a ridge in the area’s steep topography.
These 12 fireplaces are “sort of an iconic image for the [Middle Encampment] property,” Morrison said. “They are large jumbles of stones that are in fact collapsed fireplaces from a soldier’s hut. There were about a dozen of these roughly in two lines in the center of the property.”
Most of the rest of the 50-acre property was largely unstudied, though a dozen huts could never have held more than 1,000 soldiers.
“There were 1,450 men there,” Morrison said. “A dozen huts does not account for 1,450 men. So we were asking: Is it really what we think it is? And, if it is, what happened to the rest of it?”
It turns out a large portion of the land that was assumed to be empty of structures, was in fact full of them.
There were “huge chunks of the property” largely assumed to be empty, Morrison said, but the archeological team conducted a “pedestrian survey” of the entire site, regardless.
“If you’re watching CSI and they’re looking for a body, they line up in straight line and comb every square inch. They’re looking for people but in our case we were looking for piles of square rock,” Morrison said.
And, piles of square rock they did find, including evidence of up to 60 soldiers’ cabins on the property and a number of other outbuildings with what appeared to be stone foundations.
But, “that’s still not enough to account for 1,450 men,” Morrison said. “We were expecting to find twice as many. But, they’re not all as obvious as the fireplaces at the center of the property. If you walk through any woods in Connecticut, you’re going to find rocks on the surface.”
Protecting the site
All of this specific research has allowed the town and its partner at the site, The Nature Conservancy, to apply and receive state protection for the Limekiln area as a State Archeological Preserve.
“This affords the site state and federal protections,” said Morrison. “Whereas the town could try to apply rules to this site … by making it a state archeological preserve it becomes a felony to go and dig in this place without the right permissions.”
Now, she and Weinstein said, the goal is to put some public outreach programs in place to share the special site with the town of Redding.
“The goal has always been to achieve some sort of public outreach, instead of just hiding the property,” Morrison said, before acknowledging the site’s neighbors had done an excellent job of keeping it an open-secret for decades before the archeological study.
“I always give credit to the residents of the Town of Redding, particularly the neighbors of the property, who have protected it vehemently for decades. The first year we were out at the site, we had multiple neighbors pouncing on us, asking who are you and why are you here?” Morrison remembered, laughing.