Dig begins at farm ‘steeped in history’

Nails and pieces of brick, mortar and pottery found
Wednesday, May 18, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:02 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 14, 2008

It’s nothing much, yet — broken chunks of bricks, scraps of mortar, square iron nails, fingernail-size bits of pottery, a pea-sized piece of lead buckshot. But every fragment could help build the story of Lexington, a one-time overnight stop for settlers headed west that was established not long after the War of 1812 broke out.

What’s left of the settlement is being excavated by about a dozen volunteers on Bill and Judy Heffernan’s 500-acre farm about five miles northeast of Rocheport.

“This is a pretty amazing area,” said David Sapp, a board member and former president of the Boone County Historical Society, who helped organize the two-week excavation. “This farm is steeped in history.”

Established along the Boonslick Trail by settlers from Kentucky, Lexington was the first settlement in what would later become Boone County. It served as a stopping point for travelers on the east-west route and had a post office and general store by 1819.

Investigators also know the area had a tavern, a blacksmith’s shop, at least three houses and maybe a livery stable. What they still need to determine is just how big the settlement was and where it stood in relation to the trail.

“We don’t know what we’re going to find,” said Earl Lubensky, an adjunct research associate at MU and the other leader of the dig.

Dozens of orange and yellow flags dotting the field indicate where a metal detector has found artifacts. More sophisticated technology that helps locate nonmetal items has also proved somewhat useful in identifying the location of building foundations and possibly a well that might contain a treasure trove of artifacts dumped into it over the years.

On Tuesday, volunteers were busy digging 10-foot-by-10-foot sections into what is hoped will be one of the more promising parts of the field.


Jack Brotemarkle digs carefully at the site, which is being excavated under the auspices of the Boone County Historical Society.

Molly Dolman, who just graduated with a major in anthropology from MU and helped excavate a site in Belize, has found plenty of artifacts, including small pieces of blown glass, a button made from a shell and blue pieces of pottery.

“I thought this would be good experience,” she said.

Items that are missed by the diggers could turn up when dirt from the excavation site is sifted. Olin Fugit, a 62-year-old retired pipe fitter whose family has lived in Boone County for generations, said he is responsible for most of the sifting work, which is done by shaking bucketfuls of soil through screens with quarter-inch holes.

“That there’s a nail,” he said, holding up an inch-long copper roofing nail that had been missed by the diggers.

About 40 volunteers have signed up to help with the dig. Fugit came because family on his mother’s side has lived in Boone County for generations and because of his interest in archaeology.

“I like hunting for artifacts,” he said.

Sapp is also drawn to the dig because of his interest in history, but also for the sheer fun of it.

“It’s sort of a grown man and woman’s way to play in the mud,” he said.

To volunteer, call the Boone County Historical Society at 443-8936.

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