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Archaeological dig fails to unearth traces of Bushy Run Station

| Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Located wood beams associated with historic residence. Artifacts that included a partial porcelain doll face, broken plates, and bottle fragments date the occupation from approximately 1805-1840. The site was disturbed as the surrounding soil was fill material and was not intact. Nothing from the 18th Century was present or recorded.
Located wood beams associated with historic residence. Artifacts that included a partial porcelain doll face, broken plates, and bottle fragments date the occupation from approximately 1805-1840. The site was disturbed as the surrounding soil was fill material and was not intact. Nothing from the 18th Century was present or recorded.

The search for Bushy Run Station goes on.

The bad news — for history buffs — is that an archaeological dig near the intersection of Harrison City-Export Road and Route 130 didn't unearth any artifacts from the mid-1700s, when the way station was a midpoint between forts Pitt and Ligonier.

But the good news — for drivers — is that the dig didn't uncover anything from the era of the French and Indian War that would delay the long-awaited intersection-improvement project from starting in late July or early August.

Compared to most digs connected to state road-construction projects, this last-ditch venture in Penn Township from June 10 to 12 was unusual because of its timing.

Seven years ago, the state Bureau for Historic Preservation and state Department of Transportation decided there was no need for a dig because of the soil disturbance related to various developments over the past two centuries, said Kira Heinrich, a bureau historic-preservation specialist. Archaeological digs usually happen years — or, at the very least, a few months — before construction starts, she said.

But interest in a dig revived after Sean Wagner, who lives near the intersection, contacted Heinrich's office in May to suggest one.

In driving along Route 993, Wagner saw signs pop up advertising the 250th anniversary of the two-day Battle of Bushy Run in August. That inspired some Internet surfing, which led Wagner to an Irwin native's page on the battlefield. The battle narrative on Don Langley's “Explore Off the Beaten Path” webpage mentions the lack of historical accounts or drawings pinpointing Bushy Run Station's exact location but perpetuates the local lore that it was around the intersection and paved over long ago.

Despite its sketchy nature, that legend was enough to spur the digging of some trenches about 5 feet deep in and near the parking lot for Janet's Restaurant, which will shrink because the state bought some of that property for the road project.

The digging uncovered wooden beams from a residence that dates to about 1805, broken plates, bottle fragments and a piece of a porcelain doll face but no 18th-century relics, a PennDOT archaeologist said in a report.

Though Wagner said he thought it was worthwhile to dig, he conceded he was a little afraid that something would be found to push back the road project.

“No. 1, that road is horrible over there. It's been so bad for so long. We've said so many times that it needs to be paved,” Wagner said.

“I was hoping they would find something, but I didn't want to be the guy to hold up the project.”

While the timing of the dig was uncommon, others happen routinely through the Project for Pennsylvania Transportation and Heritage, or ProjectPATH, which is a program by PennDOT and the nonprofit Preservation Pennsylvania. Because the road project includes federal money, the National Historic Preservation Act required PennDOT to take any effects on historic properties into account. A state contractor conducted the dig.

Given the track record of efforts to unearth battlefield history, the likelihood of a discovery probably was low. Surprisingly little has been found during digs at the battlefield itself, Heinrich said.

Among the development at the intersection is a gas station — across from Janet's Restaurant — that required the construction of underground gas-storage tanks.

“There is so much disturbance in that area that the possibility of archaeological deposits surviving is pretty slim,” Heinrich said.

Langley, who spent a lot of time at the battlefield as a Boy Scout, said Bushy Run tour guides were known years ago to describe the area around the intersection as the station's location.

“It's still an open case, as far as I'm concerned,” said Langley, a retiree who now lives in St. Paul, Minn.

The Bushy Run Battlefield Heritage Society, which helped to link Wagner with Heinrich, leaves any speculation about the site of Bushy Run Station to the specialists at the Bureau for Historic Preservation, treasurer Kelly Ruoff said.

Now that the dig is over, a final report soon will be posted on the ProjectPATH website — construction to widen and straighten the road may begin within a few weeks.

Crews will build a new bridge over a tributary of the Bushy Run Creek next to the existing one.

A new traffic signal at the intersection with Route 130 will be installed next year.

The state is paying for 80 percent of the $2.2 million project, while the county, which owns the road, is covering the remaining 20 percent.

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or

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