News / Releases

Celebrating Texas History Bookmark

Celebrating Texas History

An inch or two of soil separates the bustle of modern day life from hundreds of years of undocumented history.

An inch or two of soil separates the bustle of modern day life from hundreds of years of undocumented history. Beneath its peaceful, rolling hills and wooded forests, Spring Creek Park conceals a trove of historical artifacts that tell the stories of times gone by. Precinct 4’s oldest park played a vibrant role in early Texas history.

Just 150 to 200 years ago, early American settlers, African Americans, and immigrants from France and Germany worked the land in and around the park, labored at the grist, saw, and flour mills, and even operated a nearby powder mill during the Civil War. The Spring Creek Park Heritage Festival celebrates this rich Texas history. The event, held Saturday, May 20 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., features:

• Engaging storytellers
• A children’s educational archaeology dig
• Cultural demonstrations on how settlers learned fire development from local Native Americans
• A demonstration of ground- penetrating radar and discussion on the importance of finding burial sites
• Recreated Civil War-era Confederate and Union camps
• Guided tours of the historic Spring Creek Park Cemetery
• Musical entertainment
• Crafts
• Food trucks

HISTORIC CEMETERY

The Spring Creek Park Cemetery remains an important historical find in the park. Archaeologists not only unearthed gravestones from the early 1900s, but also handmade tombstones of sandstone and mussel shells, created for African- American residents dating from the mid- to late-1800s. “We know that early resident Henry Scherer sold 6.6 acres of property (now located in Spring Creek Park) to the local African- American congregation of West Chappel [sic] Methodist Episcopal Church in 1884 for use as a cemetery,” says Janet Wagner, RLA, Historical Landscape Architecture & Cultural Resources.

The cemetery appears to have been actively used through the early 1930s. In 1969, the West Chappel Methodist Church sold the cemetery to Harris County. State-permitted archaeologists conducted work on the land prior to construction of a trail that takes visitors on a guided walk through the heart of the cemetery. Archaeologists first used ground- penetrating radar (GPR) to search for graves along the proposed trail route. Although no graves were found during the GPR survey, an archaeological investigation began using metal detectors and excavation methods to search for other objects.

“We found many unexpected items during that process that were unusual by date and style,” Wagner says. Archaeologists uncovered a canister shot ball below the surface of a previously scrapped trail area and discovered a gun in another area overlooking Spring Creek, both items dating from the late 1600s. They also uncovered an 1859 Seated Lady Dime in pristine condition. “Its excellent condition tells us that it was a new dime lost during the Civil War. If someone had carried the coin over six years (post 1865), the coin would be in rough condition, with the drawings and dates barely visible,” Wagner says.

The coin likely arrived from Washington, D.C. and was brought to Spring Creek, where the local Germans were working for the Confederates between 1861 and 1864. “At the time of the explosion at the nearby Confederate powder mill, a local worker could have dropped the coin from his pouch while running,” Wagner speculates. Coffin thumb screws, found in the same general area, date from before 1868, providing evidence of burials before the cemetery’s official dedication in 1884.

Along the upper portion of the cemetery trail, archaeologists uncovered a series of coins, as well as a broken piece of a small coin purse dating from 1889 to 1900. “The coins were found in very bad condition. The writing was barely legible, indicating that they were dropped between 1910 and 1925. During a local burial, one of the attendees on horseback may have hung his coin purse on the saddle. The horse could have reared up, causing the purse to drop to the ground,” Wagner says. In an adjacent excavation site near the interior trail, archaeologists uncovered Native American items from the Late Archaic period (3,000 years old) to the Prehistoric period (700 to 1,500 years old). “The pottery sherds were found more than 60 centimeters underground in brown sandy loam, suggesting that the high ground overlooking the creek was once home to a Native American campsite,” she says.

VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES

Only qualified, registered archaeologists may work on public land like Spring Creek Park per state law, but there are opportunities for students and volunteers to participate in excavation projects on privatelyowned land. Learn more about these professionally supervised excavations by contacting the Texas Archeological Society, the Southern Texas Archaeological Association, or the Southern Texas Archeological Stewardship Network. And for children wanting to participate in a dig, make sure to attend the Heritage Festival. “There is so much to see and do at this free, fun event. We hope residents will join us to learn more about the Spring Creek area’s role in early Texas history,” says Commissioner R. Jack Cagle.



Comments are closed.