Plum Island

Back in Time...the dig on Plum Island

Activity on Plum Island Continues...
A familiar group returned to Plum Island last month to continue the exploration of the original lighthouse site.

USFWS Regional Historic Preservation Officer James Myster and Hamline University Anthropology Dept. Chair Brian Hoffman (here with their pilot Lew) found many of their first year crew wanted to make the trip as well. Two new members were added to the team for the two week field experience project. 

The thought was:  move the dig to July (from June) to provide opportunity for better weather. Anyone with experience in these parts knows this idea is a great hypothesis ... the result this year proved to be a good idea in theory however,  days on site were cancelled due to uncooperative weather... this experience was to give these archeology aficionados a taste of what can be truly expected if this work is pursued as a career.  Mother Nature did not disappoint!

In year 2, the kitchen was enlarged... with the initial work last year, the time was ripe for discovery. (Brian Hoffman Photo)
Everyone took turns digging, lifting, sifting meticulously. The unit was profiled to establish where artifacts were discovered. 
As artifacts were discovered each was carefully labeled and bagged to ensure it's location. (Brian Hoffman Photo)
Artifacts were cleaned and further cataloged at the team's temporary home base on Washington Island. Those  pieces shown above proved to be plaster fragments which indicated the kitchen was finished off perhaps more than expected given the time and location...interesting. 

The kitchen proved to be a source of finds. The discovery of nails speaks to a question as to how the bullding was constructed. As the dig progressed, more questions were raised. I bet we could all come up with a few questions.
Another query: What would family life be like? Given this isolated location and the known specific time period, this microcosm of life, culture and interests are intriguing to pursue. (Brian Hoffman Photo)
Various pieces of china turned up. Makes one wonder what hands held this "dish" ... What food was served on it ... what conversations went on as meals were prepared and consumed. (Brian Hoffman Photo)
Not all discoveries were still. This critter was found on a tree stump in the midst of digging! After fact checking with nature minded folks.* ANC Naturalist Steve Waldron identified it as a red newt ... it's interesting to think that a similar creature might have been discovered by a lighthouse keeper's child much like today's youngsters who bring their finds - snakes, toads, etc every summer to the Art & Nature Center...such fun to hypothesize! (Becky Strike Photo)
On a recent Work Day, FOPPI Volunteers Tansy & Brian post a new sign noting the work being done here. The site has been "put to bed" and artifacts have been transferred to the archeology lab at Hamline University where the next phase of research and documentation is taking place. Student Steve will be writing up the results in a final paper. This information will be used to provide background information as the Island opens to the public, hopefully next Summer. (Tim Sweet Photo) 
til next time...
*Here's a good source on newts from Melodie Walsh...Writing this Blog leads me to new things every day...never knew we had newts up here!

Plum Amazing!

In honor of the FOPPI Volunteers Annual Meeting this coming Saturday on Plum Island, I thought I would share a bit on the archeological dig conducted there last month.


As the US Fish and Wildlife Service continues the process to open Plum to the public, it becomes necessary to review/research sites which could provide information about what life was like there in previous times. James Myster, regional archaeologist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service Midwest Region put together this adventure. James' region covers eight states so it was pretty nifty to think he could allocate this time to such a project.


One of the first issues was just getting to Plum on a regular basis for two weeks. Here's Archeologist James and Student Katie on the way to work one morning. James indicated this was the first time in his career he had to commute by boat to the site.


Yes, this was tough work for Lew and Mockingbird...33 trips in all were least two in the morning and two in the evening.


The site of the original lighthouse - opened in 1849 and abandoned in 1858 - was a perfect opportunity to let some students get hands-on experience. That timeline is significant, according to  James, because it delineates a definite period of time - and a short period a that - when the site was occupied... another help in seeing this project come together as a college course. 

 Longtime friend, Brian Hoffman, Hamline University Associate Anthropology Professor, wanted to give a group of students this chance. So for the first time they worked together in this win/win situation. Here's Brian in the background...hard to get a photo of him as he was usually the one taking the pictures!Careful excavation revealed more of the old stone walls and indicated where the doorways might have been. While there is no known definitive illustration of exactly how the building appeared, the work helped dispel notions of how it was not constructed. (Steve Waldron Photo)

A team of four girls and two boys, mostly incoming Seniors, worked eight to ten hour days in this field experience, carefully digging around the foundation and sifting the results.
 Tedious to mention buggy? Yes, it was.

However, everyone reported it was worth it... Learning the process of unearthing a ruin in real time...keeping records & cataloging an inventory.Results of this work will be used in signage and informational displays...interesting to see that note taking by hand continues in fieldwork. (Steve Waldron Photo)Laptops would then be used to gather further information from state, federal, and other historical sites.Artifacts such as fragments of pottery were found...buttons too.(Tim Sweet Photo) At the end of this phase, any artifacts discovered were then transported back to the Hamline U. campus in St. Paul, MN where the students were to continue this Summer course in the lab there with Brian.Here's the current lighthouse...not as poetic perhaps but a better location. (Steve Waldron Photo) 

Plum amazing? Yes! This is just one piece in the puzzle to be completed so that Plum can be accessible. To see the variety of public and private agencies and organizations working together to ready Plum Island for public access some day is amazing. A review of this activity will be shared at the FOPPI Meeting this coming Saturday.

Quoting Carol Thompson's article in the July 5th Door County Peninsula Pulse: "It may be next summer or the one after that but someday Plum Island will be open to the public."

Watch for future events to be scheduled  which will benefit the Friends of Plum and Pilot Island in this effort.

Coming Up:

Wednesday -

Pioneer Day Family Activity: Candle Making; Hay Wagon Rides, too! - Farm Museum -1:00pm

Thursday -

German Exchange Student Celine Kammin Piano Concert - Historic Island Dairy - 7:30pm - admission is free

Friday -    

Washington Island Art Association presents: "Small Frame - Big Art Show" Opening Reception -

Red Cup Coffee Shop - 4:30pm

 11th Annual Folk Festival - Out at the Red Barn - 7:30pm

Saturday - 

Rec Run! - Starting at the Rec Center - 10:00am

Caravan Gypsy Swing Ensemble - TPAC - 7:30pm

Sunday - 

"Free Spirits, We Cousins Four" Opening Reception -  Art and Nature Center - 2:00pm


It's a busy time! Have a great week!


Three Things

An update, an announcement, and a great Labor Day tradition!


BBQ - A Great Event!
The First Annual Death's Door BBQ was great ... the people were wonderful (25 teams!), the weather cooperated and the food I sampled - brisket and pork - delicious! Lots of activity here on the Island at a time that is often a very quiet weekend. Amazing to watch the empty space around the Airport mushroom into a little community in just a few hours. Congratulations and a Big Thanks go to the BBQ Committee and the Washington Island Chamber of Commerce for all their hard work!!! Let's hope the results will allow a Second Annual BBQ. (It doesn't have to be an annual event but it sure would be nice to see the Island host another event like this in the future.)

In other news,

               Friday August 24th:  Draft Compehensive Conservation Plan Released 


                                  Photo by Ginni Glass

The photo above is of the former Life Saving/Coast Guard Station on Plum Island and that Island (as well as Pilot Island) is included in the draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan. While I am still scrambling with the tech side of this blog, I believe this Link to Plan will get interested persons to the CCP itself.

From the News Release - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released for public review and comment a draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for islands in the Great Lakes that are managed as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. This announcement covers two island refuges in Lake Michigan that are managed by the staff at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). The island refuges are Gravel Island and Green Bay NWRs. The Refuges consist of 5 islands in Lake Michigan off the tip of the Door County Peninsula (Gravel, Hog, Pilot, Plum and Spider Islands).


The draft CCP sets wildlife, habitat, and public use priorities and guides management decisions on these Refuges for the next 15 years. All aspects of the island Refuges are addressed by the CCP, including important fish and wildlife habitats, public use, and current management activities.


An open house event will be held on Monday, September 10, 2012 from 5-8 p.m at the Washington Island Community Center Rutledge Room, 910 Main Road. Washington Island, WI. Interested citizens may stop by any time during the open house, and stay as long as they wish, to speak with refuge staff or submit comments. Comment forms will be made available so that written comments can be submitted in person or mailed in later.

Comments are due by September 23, 2012 and can be mailed to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Conservation Planning, 5600 American Blvd. West, Suite 990, Bloomington, MN 55437-1458; or e-mailed to: (please put Great Lakes Islands CCP Comment in the subject line). Paper copies and/or compact disks are available in limited supply by making a request through the website or calling (612) 713-5477.

For more information on the Midwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service visit Connect with our Facebook page at 


Labor Day Weekend is Fast Approaching ...

That means: Friday, August 31st - Eric Lewis & Friends  -  Return to the Red Barn - 


Show starts at 7:30 pm!


It's hard to see Labor Day come and yet in some ways, it's a good thing too. I do look forward to the cooler, crisp times of Autumn. Weather continues to be warm here and there are still flowers in bloom - just different ones!

Have a good week!