Crews discover decades-old relics in downtown Port Huron
PORT HURON, Mich. (AP) — While digging along East Quay Street downtown, construction crews recently discovered a slew of decades-old relics from another time in Port Huron.
“They were putting in the new light conduits for the new street lighting that’s going to come through here,” Bill Warren, city construction inspector, said recently, motioning to a 50-foot section along Quay near the end of Fort Street.
Several weeks into the reconstruction of Michigan and Quay streets, crews are wrapping up work on the far side of Quay before moving on to Michigan later this season. Along that section of turned-up soil, Warren said, they’d dug down several feet and discovered mostly glass bottles — some dating back over a century.
“You can see some of the tops. When they cut through with the machine, it broke some of them,” Warren told the Times Herald. “Then, on the side of the bank, they were hanging out. Some of the guys take them. Believe it or not, I was telling James, some of these bottles are worth a little bit of money. A lot of them have the dates on them.”
City Manager James Freed said he’d taken several bottles back to the Municipal Office Center and cleaned them off. One of them had an 1898 date stamped on the bottom, and he said he planned on “turning them over” to the Port Huron Museum for identification.
Others that Warren set aside had been picked up as keepsakes by crew members.
The bottles varied in size and shape. Some were small historic brand pieces, while others entailed measuring markers and narrow necks.
“What they do is they’ll clean them up, and they’ll set them on the windowsills of their garages and their man caves,” Warren said. “Sometimes they have the dates. Sometimes, you’ll see like, ‘Detroit Brewing Company,’ and some other ones. There’s just hundreds of them all along.”
TJ Gaffney, a local historian and preservationist, said that part of the city is “one of the oldest kind of areas of Port Huron in terms of habitation.”
His family once operated the Gaffney Sample Room near where the historic Roche Bar has long stood on Quay, and he added he wasn’t surprised that section of adjacent waterfront land may have been a “natural pitching area” for objects decades ago.
Gaffney said it was a “working-class area,” recalling what was found in the late 1990s when a new basin was dug near the historic Pere Marquette rail bridge and Port Huron Yacht Club farther east.
“They were finding very similar types of things,” he said. “They found bottles. I know there was mica. Mica was used in the first of the old cast-iron coal stoves — it’s heat resistant. The other thing they found a ton of, and I don’t’ know if they found any of this, was oyster shells. That was a big part of their diet back then.”
“The tendency to just throw stuff in if you have a pit, you didn’t’ think twice of it,” Gaffney added. “Now, everybody’s excited that they find bottles with names on it.”
Warren said crews found something else that may be a callback to a century-old Port Huron.
“I was telling James, too, like down there at the end — this used to be where the guys used to ride the lumber, the trees down the river,” he said. “So, we’d dig maybe eight feet deep, six feet deep, and there’s layers of sawdust. Like foot, foot-and-a-half sections of sawdust where they just buried it and probably stored it.”
Gaffney said that is a likely story.
Sawmills, he said, were once located “basically starting from where Wings Etc. is going all the way down, to be frank, past the yacht club.” Located at the northern corner of the Black and St. Clair rivers, particularly, he said, was the old Howard Sawmill.
“That mill was so active that the railroad bridge that was precedent to the one we’re trying to save, they actually had to build a section that allowed logs to float underneath it to get to that mill,” Gaffney said. He’s involved in the effort to keep the Pere Marqueete bascule bridge that still stands on the yacht club’s property.
Warren said it’s far from unusual for construction crews to find old artifacts on the job.
He recalled when the dorms were being built for Baker College, and someone with a metal detector found old soldiers’ belt buckles.
“They see it all the time,” Warren said. “But it’s still kind of cool when you find stuff.”
Information from: Times Herald, http://www.thetimesherald.com