BUFFALO, N.Y. – Among several archaeological excavations
undertaken this summer by the Archaeological Survey in the
Department of Anthropology is the ongoing search for and excavation
of outbuildings at Lancaster’s Hull Family Home and
Farmstead, one of Western New York’s most significant
historic sites that is anchored by the oldest substantial stone
dwelling in Erie County.
As part of the effort by the Hull House Foundation to restore
the farmstead to its original composition, archaeologists led by
Ryan Austin, research analyst with the Archaeological Survey, are
working to locate the remains of the property’s outbuildings,
which are expected to include a threshing barn, well, animal pens,
privy and possibly an outside oven and smoke house. A room that may
have served as a root cellar recently was unearthed.
The public is welcome to visit Hull House during the Hull Family
Home and Farmstead History Camp July 22-26. A wide range of events
focused on 19th-century frontier life will take place from 9 a.m.
to 4 p.m. daily at the historic site at 5967 Genesee St.,
Lancaster. Archaeologists will be on hand July 25 to answer
questions and demonstrate their science.
The archaeologists are assisted by a professional landscape
architect and a historical research consultant who are studying
other homes and farms of the period to determine the type, size and
approximate location of the buildings.
UB became involved in this undertaking in 2005 when the
Archaeological Survey undertook a Phase I survey of the entire
property. The three-phase plan was designed to locate artifacts and
establish where outbuildings were originally sited.
“We’ve found fragments of brick, nails, early
pottery and ceramics, early glass, and recently a bone-handled fork
and a portion of a teapot handle,” says Douglas Perrelli,
director of the Archaeological Survey.
Other things most people wouldn’t glance at are evidence
of prehistoric life on the site. “Some of these items are
displayed at Hull House; others are housed in the survey’s
lab at UB.
“The first step in the actual excavation,” he
explains, “was to dig test pits every 50 feet to form a grid.
Then we determined which areas were worthy of further examination.
Next, the team dug slit trenches 1.6 feet wide and 150 feet long,
which radiate from the house and permit expansion upon earlier
work. The team is working in the slit trenches now and may use
ground-penetrating radar to identify possible building foundations
and other areas deserving of further attention.”
Gary Costello, president of the Hull House Foundation, says the
farmstead itself originally comprised 340 acres and grew wheat and
barley, and whatever vegetables, fruits and farm animals —
likely an ox, chickens, pigs, a horse, maybe a cow — were
required to make it self-sufficient.
“One significant feature was uncovered recently a few feet
behind the house; it is a 7-foot-by-11-foot room, 40 inches below
grade, that we suspect may have been a root cellar,” Costello
says. “There is also a family cemetery on the site. Over the
decades it was severely vandalized, but eventually that will be
restored as well.
“The original 340 acres were sold off piece by piece over
the years and in 1992, the house had less than an acre of land
attached to it,” he says. “The Hull House Foundation
was established in 2006 to handle the restoration and educational
use of the site and, of course, to restore as much of the original
property as possible. Since then, we have purchased 26 acres of the
original property and plan to acquire more.”
The Hull House restoration is being funded by many Western New
York foundations and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation
and Historic Preservation, as well as by private donations.
“With additional land and restoration of the farm
buildings, the Hull Farmstead will represent life on the early
Niagara Frontier in a manner that is accurate and can offer
visitors the opportunity to get a feel for the experience of the
Hull family,” Costello says.
“Even during restoration, the home serves as an
educational and interpretive center for early 19th-century pioneer
life on what was then the country’s western frontier,”
he says, adding that he and others involved in this work have taken
a great deal of satisfaction from the historical research,
development of restoration plans and fundraising required by this
Costello notes the restoration of the house is almost complete.
The woodwork has been refurbished and interior plaster work is
Hull House has further historical importance. In 1813, the
British burned Buffalo to the ground. It is considered likely that
the Hulls would have assisted victims who escaped the village via
Genesee Street, which extended from Buffalo to Clarence and