The recent demolition of a building at the former Springfield Armory yielded significant discoveries by a team of UMass Amherst archaeologists.
The former Springfield Armory Building 104 held plenty of history. It was where 3.5 million M1 rifles were manufactured for use in World War II. But kept safe and dry beneath the floor of the building was the evidence of activities dating back centuries.
Archaeologist Tim Barker, who led the four-week excavation of the site where Building 104 had stood since 1939, said his team found artifacts and architectural features pointing to the locations of 19th century storehouses, World War I-era barracks, and a small blacksmith shop.
" We were very happy to have this opportunity to do this investigation."
Barker said after the floor of Building 104 was removed and about two feet of fill cleared away, the historic features “stood out like sore thumbs.”
"When you dig a hole in the ground and it gets back filled, it never looks the same as the undisturbed soil around it," he explained.
More than 100 features and artifacts were identified including chunks of charcoal made from defective rifle stocks, a brass button fused to the barracks’ fireplace, post holes for the storehouses, a glass whiskey jar, a key, a bone-handled comb and part of a clay smoking pipe.
"Every thing we found here will be thoroughly documented. We will write an exhaustive report describing everything we found and its interpretation," said Barker.
"We will tell the story of what went on here and enhance the history of the Springfield Armory."
Barker said it was all well- preserved because very little grading was done to the site before Building 104 was constructed.
Many of the features identified by the archaeologists correspond with what is depicted on old maps and noted in historic documents, according to Alex MacKenzie, park ranger at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site.
"Its fantastic what they have been finding." said MacKenzie.
All the artifacts are the property of UMass, but will likely be part of a future display at the Armory Museum.
Now that the archaeological dig has ended, the historic features will again be covered over, this time by a parking lot.
The center section of Building 104 was demolished with the north and south sections left standing. The north end is being renovated to become a charter school and the south end will be office space.
The site is now part of the Springfield Technology Park.