Group seeks funds for archaeological dig

PARKERSBURG – Friends of Mountwood Park asked Wood County commissioners for $2,000 to help fund an archaeological dig this summer at the Stiles estate.

Peggy Squires and Mike Naylor, representing the volunteer Friends of Mountwood group, told commissioners this will be the third field school at the former Stiles estate at the park. Annette Ericksen and the archaeology program at Hocking College, along with Christopher Nelson, a professional archaeologist from Charleston, will be assisting with the excavation June 3-20. The event is open to the public. Squires said most of the participants have been youth.

“We have a lot of Scouts trying to earn merit badges and Boy Scouts working on Eagle projects,” Naylor said. “There is not a lot going on in terms of archaeology right now. We are currently the only active dig site in the state.”

An introductory archaeology class was added in 2012 to kick off the dig with 35 attending. There were 46 participants in the actual dig last year, up from 20 in 2011. There were 109 visitors compared to 90 the year before and 13 merit badges earned compared to three the year before.

Naylor noted last fall the Stiles Mansion, in the abandoned town of Volcano in Wood County, was the subject of a program in the archaeology month observance by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History at the Archives and History Library at the Culture Center, State Capitol Complex.

Stiles is credited with introducing the endless cable pumping system to the oil production industry. He founded Volcano primarily to serve his oil business in the area and it existed from about 1863 until destroyed by fire in 1879 when many people moved away rather than rebuild. The estate was built in 1874 and was one of the finest in the region with well-manicured grounds, an expansive wine cellar and a tennis court. Stiles died at Thornhill in 1896 and the town slowly faded away. The house was razed in the 1940s, having been stripped of furniture and accouterments during the Great Depression. The estate and town site are in Mountwood Park, part of the Wood County park system. The West Virginia Oil and Gas Museum in Parkersburg is developing the site as part of the West Virginia Oil and Gas Heritage District.

“Volcano can claim three firsts: the first oil field in the country to employ the endless cable pumping system; the first regular gauge railroad to be built within the state and the first pipeline built within the state,” Naylor said. “It was also the first home in Wood County to have a bathtub.”

Naylor noted the workers have been at the former mansion site and found the caretaker and gardener’s residences.

“This year we found a privy and two other buildings we’ve yet to identify,” Naylor said. “We realize times are tough, but anything you could do would be appreciated.”

“So you are also teaching basic archaeology skills to the kids as well. I didn’t understand the education component you were providing as well,” commission President Wayne Dunn noted. “So it’s actually an outdoor classroom.”

At the conclusion of the dig, the artifacts are turned over to Hocking College for cleaning, to be analyzed and recording, then returned so they could be placed on display for the public in the museum.

Dunn said the commissioners would consider the funding request at budget time.