I almost chickened out on today’s activity, solely based on the fact that I’m so tired these days. Something (I can probably guess) has completely worn me out and all I want to do is stay home and sleep. But I refuse to sleep during the day unless I’m legitimately sick, so out the door I went.
My destination was Washington County, for the second-to-last Surrounding Counties 16 in ’16 task. I really only had a few things in mind that I wanted to see, and one of them would take a lot of time. That thing was a visit to Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village.
I first heard about Meadowcroft back in 2009 during a visit to the Heinz History Center. The idea of it fascinated me – Meadowcroft is an opportunity to visit a historic village through the ages (1500s, 1700s, 1800s) and a rockshelter that is one of the oldest known sites of human civilization in North America. I’ve been on a local history kick these days, so I figured Meadowcroft would fit in nicely with all that I’ve been learning.
Meadowcroft is separated into several different areas – a Monongahela Indian village, a frontier trading post from the 1770s, a village from the 1800s, and the rockshelter. I started my journey with the Monongahela Indian Village and moved on from there.
The Indian village was surrounded on all sides by tree trunks and branches, arranged as a fence.
When I got inside the fence, the first things I noticed were the huts – there are two of them; one is open to the public and the other is used for storage.
There wasn’t too much to see inside, but it smelled nice – someone must have lit a fire in there recently.
There was also a teepee nearby, which I learned that only the men would sleep in. Women and children primarily stayed in the huts, and the men usually only used the teepees as a temporary housing solution.
As you might expect, the Indians in the area (broadly called “Monongahela Indians” due to the region; the exact tribe(s) that lived in the Meadowcroft area are unknown) hunted for food and traded the furs of their kills.
There wasn’t much to the 1500s village, and I have to assume that’s because the people who lived in the village didn’t hang out much – it’s not like they had TVs and computers to occupy them.
The next area I visited was the 1770s trading post, where I was given the opportunity to throw a hatchet at a block of wood. I want a setup like this at my house; it was super-fun and a great way to get out some pent-up aggression… even if I missed the target every time I tried. 😉
The guide in the trading post was very knowledgeable and interested in history, so it was fun to listen to her. One of the first things she said was that the things in the room were regular things that were traded, and I piped up and said, “Oh, like babies!” and gestured at the wall:
To her credit, she laughed and didn’t think I was evil incarnate. 🙂
There were a lot of cool things in the trading post, including tools (like the bow and arrows below), hats, and furs.
Sorry to those of you not into animal carcasses, they appear to be rampant through this post.
Next up, I walked down a gorgeous path before I came to a covered bridge followed by the 1800s village.
Within the 1800s village, there was the Miller house, a one room schoolhouse, a church, and a blacksmith barn.
I visited the Miller house first, which was not unlike the houses I saw last month in Old Economy.
The parents slept downstairs near the door for safety, and the children slept upstairs. The upstairs was closed off, so I wasn’t able to snap any pictures there.
Across from the bed was the hearth, where a lot of tools still survive today.
The guide in the house explained how the house was made, including some details on the woodworking and the “filler” between the wooden slats. The people in the 1800s used whatever they could find in order to fill the slots between the wooden boards – mud, clay, and even horse hair. If you look super-closely, you can kind of see some horse hair sticking out from the wall.
The church wasn’t all that exciting… really just your standard church pews and whatnot.
My favorite part of the 1800s village was the one room schoolhouse.
I love when there are artifacts still intact – this school taught children from 6 to 16 years of age, and you can see the progression in the size of the desks.
One of the coolest features of the schoolhouse, though, are the blackboards. There was a reunion (I missed the date), and people who had attended school in this schoolhouse signed their names and the years they attended school here on the blackboards. Those names are preserved by a plastic covering.
Seeing stuff like that really makes history come alive, you know?
My last stop before the rockshelter was blacksmith barn.
The guide in the barn didn’t seem very interested in talking, but he did let me watch him and take pictures.
Finally, it was time to take the tour of the rockshelter. The tours are held every hour, so I knew if I missed one, there would be another.
I’ve always held a soft spot for archaeology and prehistoric times, so I was already familiar with the radiocarbon dating techniques that were described at the site. The guides started off by playing a video, which I initially thought was kind of lame, but it was actually really interesting. The guy who started lobbying for the preservation of this site in 1955, Albert Miller, spoke on the video, as did the lead archaeologist who was charged with unearthing the site in 1973-1978, James Adovasio. Mr. Miller has since passed away, but Mr. Adovasio is still around and just retired from teaching last year. He’s going to be giving an insider tour of the rockshelter on November 5, which sounds like it’ll be a really interesting experience.
The layers of sandstone that were revealed in the archaeological dig contain human artifacts dating back later than 16,000 years ago. Think about that for a second – 16,000 years. We’re less than 3,000 years removed from the Ancient Romans. Dating back to 14,000 BC puts us in the Stone Age. There are actual tools from the Stone Age in Western PA. How cool is that?!
We were able to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the site thanks to our incredibly knowledgeable guide, and if you look closely in the picture above, you can see the little white markers in the rocks that show the different layers and ages.
What’s also neat is that the original archaeologists left portions of the site untouched so that future generations would be able to advance our understanding of what was here with newer technologies. How often do you hear of people holding off on discoveries so that other people can get some credit? That’s pretty awesome, if you ask me.
I walked around Meadowcroft for close to 4 hours, which meant that some of the places I wanted to visit in Washington County, such as a couple farms and wineries, would have been closed by the time I arrived. Stupid Sundays. Instead, I drove around through the countryside and marveled at how gorgeous Washington is in the fall. Truly spectacular.
I made some friends along the way, too.
I’d never encountered cows that were so interested in me that they stopped what they were doing to watch me.
And then I found these guys and history repeated itself.
Along the way to my last stop of the day, I found some covered bridges. Apparently covered bridges are a big thing in Washington County. There’s even a tour of them the third weekend of September!
Finally, I made it to my final destination – dinner at a farm.
I stopped at The Spring House because I heard it was fantastic, but cafeteria-style food. Figuring I’ve been very, very strict on the lower-carb thing for a few weeks, I decided I’d take a break and have some mashed potatoes with the smoked pork dinner and cauliflower that I chose. The food was decent, but it wasn’t anything I’d go out of my way for. They have a very nice-looking bakery filled with pies, cookies, cakes, fudge, and ice cream, but I abstained from all of that (WHO AM I??). Instead, I got a chocolate milk for dessert. 🙂
While I wasn’t the biggest fan of the food, the pumpkin patch was pretty killer.
I mean, who doesn’t love pumpkins painted as minions?
Eventually I made it home, two hours into my on-call shift with no incidents. 🙂
I wish I’d had time to visit some more farms, a winery or two, and more covered bridges, but I feel like I experienced a good representation of Washington County today. I’d like to head back in the spring to watch a Washington Wild Things game (especially since my cousin works for them); maybe then I’ll get to see more sights.