The Kankakee River along southern Porter County has long been known for its prehistoric and historic human activity. The spot surrounding the Collier Lodge at Baum's Bridge was especially active and has had numerous archaeological investigations.
When the first white men began settling this area they noted the density of Native American artifacts found. When farming expanded so did the amount of artifacts found. I've been told by old timers that arrowheads were found by the "bucket loads." So common were artifacts that they were mostly ignored.
The Collier Lodge site was active because it was at a strategically important crossing place through the marsh. It's earliest name was Pottawatomi Ford, then Eaton's Ferry and then Baum's Bridge.
After Jim Collier returned from service during WWI, it was decided that the Collier Lodge needed to have the original wood pylons replaced with a cinder block foundation. During the course of digging for the concrete base, a Native American burial was found. It was described as a female, "probably 40 years old when she died" with over 300 freshwater pearls present. Collier called in amateur archaeologist Carl Black and gave him the find. Black had the skeleton and pearls displayed at Valparaiso University. Over time, the whereabouts of the skeleton has been lost along with Black's extensive 8,000 piece collection.
In the 1970s the Northwest Indiana Archaeological Association was working sites near Baum's Bridge. As time passed stringent archaeological laws pushed avocational archaeology to the wayside. Today a doctorate in anthropology or archaeology is almost mandatory.
From 2002 until 2011 the Kankakee Valley Historical Society worked with Dr. Mark R. Schurr of the University of Notre Dame on yearly three-week digs at the Collier Lodge site. The site had been noted and listed as 12-Pr-36 by J. Gilbert McAllister in 1932. In the National Register of Historic Places application submitted by Schurr summarized the site as "a relatively small archaeological site with an unusual time depth and high density of archaeological features."
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In 2009 the site, along with the Collier Lodge, was placed on the National Register.
During the ten years that digs were worked at the Collier Lodge site approximately 90,000 artifacts were uncovered ranging from 9,000 B.C. up to a 2002 quarter. The oldest item was an 11,000-year-old, previously unknown type of knife blade or spear point.
Another very interesting find was the 1836 Eaton ferry cabin. Numerous coins, chinaware and personal items from the 1840s were found there.
While KVHS has temporarily suspended its digs at the Collier Lodge site the material discovered has provided continuous research and published works. A vast amount of information can be accessed at the KVHS archaeological webpage.
On Monday, Terrance J. Martin will present a program titled "Animal Remains Associated with an Upper Mississippian Occupation at the Collier Lodge Site." The program will be presented at 7 p.m. at Valparaiso University, Kallay-Christopher Hall, in room 112. Please join us.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion.