Carl Maurer stopped digging in the earth to examine a bit of broken pottery and a fragment of glass, believed to be from a 19th century tavern on Historic National Road in Menallen Township.
“People close to 200 years ago were traveling through here. They were able to take a room and have a meal. Now we know the place they were,’’ said Maurer, of Washington, sitting beside two rectangular holes on property along Route 40 and across from the Fayette County Historical Society’s Abel Colley Tavern and Museum. “We’re uncovering history.’’
Maurer is a member of the Mon-Yough Chapter #3 of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, whose members and volunteers are excavating on the site of the former Green Tree Tavern.
Dr. John Nass Jr., of Menallen Township, chapter president and retired anthropology professor from California University, explained “Abel Colley, son of Peter Colley who had a tavern in Brier Hill, built this. His home is across the road. This tavern burned in the 1840s and the story I hear is that he turned his home into a rest stop. The Fayette County Historical Society had asked me if we had any interest in this and we received the consent of the property owner last year.’’
The chapter expects to work here most of the summer, encouraging people to come out to visit. Nass said they also accept volunteers.
Affiliated with the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, the chapter was named for local rivers and charted at California University in the 1970s. After some inactivity, the chapter was re-charted in 2009.
“We’re about promoting the archaeological history of Pennsylvania in terms of prehistory and historical archaeology,’’ said Nass. “We help identify sites and record those for the state, which helps with site preservation. We try to promote stewardship, which means we don’t excavate at a site unless there’s some kind of benefit –- primarily educational or research.’’
The chapter meets monthly during the academic year at California University. The website notes this year’s speakers have included Matthew Cumberledge, executive director of Greene County Historical Society, as well as Clay Kilgore, Washington County Historical Society, and Bryan Cunning, Michael Baker Engineering, Inc.
This past April, the chapter hosted the state society’s 90th annual meeting in Uniontown. Members also participate in field trips and workshops.
During the summer, members record historic and Native American sites for state records and participate in excavations, such as Green Tree Tavern project. Nass said Cal U and the chapter were previously involved in excavations at two other National Road taverns: Peter Colley and Searights.
Brandon Toth, a Cal U student from West Brownsville, worked on clearing the top soil at Green Tree, not minding the repetitive work, saying “Archaeology is relaxing.’’
Excavated earth was sifted at a table by Dwayne Santella of Uniontown and Gregory Bedel of Allison Park. Several artifacts were discovered, including fragments of a clay pipe and two buttons – one bone and one shell.
“It’s a great learning experience,’’ said Santella, who graduated in December from California University with a degree in archaeology.
Nass explained archaeology is learning about people and what they did in the past.
While members don’t know what they’ll discover here, Maurer said, “What we find will be recorded and become a piece of history.’’