300 year old fort site of archaeological dig in Niles

By: Katherine Rufener Email
By: Katherine Rufener Email

You may have heard of archaeological digs in Egypt or Rome, but Michiana residents don't have to travel that far to see history unearthed.

Yearly digs are conducted at the former site of Fort St. Joseph in Niles, in efforts to learn more about the centuries old structure.

Piece by piece, dig by dig, a place lost in history is coming back to life. Fort St. Joseph is hundreds of years old. You can't see it now, but it's there, buried deep beneath the ground.

Principal investigator with the Fort, Michael Nassaney, said, "This is a really interesting archaeological site for a number of reasons. One is its relatively undisturbed, another is it's a fairly rare site in Michigan. There aren't many 18th century sites.

It's believed the fort was used for fur trading, and out at the site where it used to stand, people from all around Michiana are working to make sure it's never forgotten.

Archaeological digs are conducted every year. Archaeologists work with college students, adults, and even children to unearth every detail they can about the structure.

Nassaney said it takes a lot of patience and passion to do the work they do, but the digs are always exciting. For a group of middle school students who've been working at the site all summer, it's a rare glimpse into times they've only heard about.
Student Genevieve Nicolow said, "We're pretty sure that we're working in the actual fort, Fort St. Joseph, because we found a lot of iron making and buildings that would mostly be inside the fort."

The fort existed long before the time of photography, and no drawings or representations of it have ever been found. So no one knows what Fort St. Joseph actually looked like. So with every plunge of a trowel and sweep of a brush, new secrets emerge.

Occasionally the site will hold open houses to show the work the archaeologists do. Students who've participated in digs say it's tedious work, but they love the fact that they never know what will turn up.

Some of the items found at the site include pipes, rings, animal bones and even the walls of the fort.

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