New Archeology at Fort Robinson
Visitors to Fort Robinson State Park (near Nebraska’s northwest corner) see many original structures as well as replicas of important buildings that were torn down in the past. Recent archeological work by the NSHS will make a new reconstruction project more accurate.
At Fort Robinson, Greg Veys and Carla Plantikow draw profiles of their excavation unit, while in the background, Madeline Rodenbaugh and Terry Steinacher confer over the basement feature. Photo by Holly Counts
Built around 1891, Building 14 was a two-story frame structure that served as officers’ quarters. It was torn down in the mid-1950s when the U.S. Department of Agriculture had possession of the fort. Recently the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission received a large donation for its reconstruction. This past May, the NSHS archeology and historic preservation staff led a team of students and volunteers that excavated the building’s remains.
Officers’ quarters, Fort Robinson. This building is similar to Building 14—there were several like it built at around the same time. NSHS RG1517-09-20
Detail of an aerial view of Fort Robinson, 1934. The quarters in question are in the upper right background along the edge of the parade ground. The water towers were just to the north of them. The white building in the lower left of the above right picture currently houses the Fort Robinson Museum. NSHS RG1517-15-21
The full aerial view photo at left, showing much of the fort's grounds. NSHS RG1517-15-21
“We had two main objectives,” said Amy Koch of the NSHS. “We wanted to explore the basic footprint of the building—to find the main corners of the foundation and mark them so that when B14 is reconstructed, the new foundation will sit on the same location. Secondly, building plans indicated a possible basement feature at the back of the building. We wanted to test that possible feature and perhaps recover architectural artifacts (building hardware) to aid with reconstruction.”
The archeological excavation crew at Fort Robinson, May 2012. Front row: Connor and Madeline Rodenbaugh. Second row: Grey Veys and Carla Plantikow. Third row: Rex Rodenbaugh, Marcia Counts, Karen Humphrey, Patrick Haynes. Back row: Floyd Counts, Terry Steinacher, Amy Koch, Kelli Bacon. Not pictured: John Murphy and Holly Counts. Photo by Holly Counts
Koch says the recovered artifacts were typical for a structure of that age: “lots of square and wire nails, window glass shards, foundation rubble, and burned coal.” Other items included a door latch, a few historic ceramic sherds, a partially complete bottle, a picket pin, and a pewter or lead decorative finial (a crowning ornament) that resembles a bulldog head.
A pewter or lead decorative finial that resembles a bulldog head. Photo by Rex Rodenbaugh
Though more than half the crew had no previous excavation experience, Koch said they were “very enthusiastic and motivated,” and guided by the NSHS staff, the team finished its work in just four days. Game and Parks plans to start reconstruction next summer.
Connor Rodenbaugh sketches a plan view of a foundation corner. Grids are used to map the dig precisely. Photo by Rex Rodenbaugh
Fort Robinson has had other archeological investigations over the years. Read about the excavation of the 1887 Adobe Barracks in this PDF booklet.
—David Bristow, Associate Director / Publications