Archeological digging begins at historical Newport Barracks site
Archeologists from the Kentucky Archaeological Survey are in Newport this week searching for what may remain of the Newport Barracks. They began digging Monday after ground-penetrating radar surveys conducted earlier this year by students and faculty at Northern Kentucky University found anomalies in the ground at General James Taylor Park.
"We found nine anomalies that they wanted to explore," explains Brian Hackett, director of NKU's public history program. "We're kind of excited because this is a project that's been a couple of years in the making. My students have found remarkable things, and we're hoping that the archaeology will confirm them."
Within the first hour of digging, archaeologists were already unearthing remnants of pottery, some appearing to have been made by Indigenous peoples 700 to 800 years ago during the Fort Ancient period. There were also bits of pottery and dishware.
"All these things that people had and used a long time ago tells us about people, and you learn a lot about people from the things that they had every day and the things that they threw away," says Jay Stottman, assistant director of the Kentucky Archaeological Survey. "If we can connect it up with with people — take for instance, people who lived in the barracks or people who lived nearby — it tells us a little bit about their consumer habits, like what kind of things they purchased, what they wanted people to see about themselves, their dishes, or what kind of products that they would use on a daily basis."
Hackett says some things are known about the site — it had barracks, it was a headquarters location, there was a powder magazine — but they're looking for evidence of what everyday life may have been like and what remains or artifacts may still be here. He's particularly interested to know if there are remains of the powder magazine.
"It was built about 1806 (or) 1807, and the interesting thing is that there's a possibility that it was actually designed by Benjamin Latrobe. Latrobe, of course, (completed) the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, DC, and we are thinking that because of his working with James Taylor — who founded the city of Newport, — that it's possible that the powder magazine here was designed by Benjamin Latrobe because (it's) very similar to a Benjamin Latrobe-designed powder magazine from 1806."
The Newport Barracks — at the confluence of the Licking and Ohio rivers — were an important military site for hundreds of years. The location served as a training fort, trading post, prisoner of war camp, supply depot and much more from the War of 1812 through the Civil War. It closed when the U.S. Army moved to higher ground at Fort Thomas because of flooding. The site was deeded to the city of Newport in 1894. Now, the city is interested in learning what remains beneath.
Patrick Coggins is a second year masters student and adjunct professor at NKU. He's completing his capstone project on the barracks. After a year and a half of studying the site, he was giddy with excitement as the archaeologists troweled through the dirt.
"This is amazing seeing this coming into fruition. We've been hoping for this for a long time. We've really studied the barracks history in-depth and to see it come alive like this, have it come out of the ground, it's just truly special," he says. "We're hopefully going to find objects that soldiers have left behind, everyday items — pottery shards, maybe some military objects such as a casing or a sword, something that a soldier would leave behind that he wouldn't think is valuable, but it's definitely valuable for us."
Once the digging is completed — a process which could take up to a week — the items will be cataloged and studied. Once that's finished, they'll ultimately end up at the Behringer-Crawford Museum.
"I want people to know what this place was. It was a gateway to the west. Before there was St. Louis, there was the Newport Barracks and Cincinnati. Anybody who'd come down here, down the river, would go right by this establishment. This was truly one of the crossroads of America. That is a special place, even though it's gone — the barracks structures are gone (and) there's developments around it — it still speaks to us. It still has a story to tell and we're eager to tell that story," Coggins concludes.