Volunteers sought for Wiawaka archaeological dig

Megan Springate, a doctoral student at the University of Maryland, is seeking volunteers to help wit

Interested in learning about history and getting your hands dirty?

Megan Springate, a doctoral student at the University of Maryland, is seeking volunteers to help with an archaeological dig she is conducting this summer at Wiawaka Holiday House on Lake George.

Wiawaka is the oldest continuously operating women’s retreat center in the United States. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the site occupies 60 acres in the Adirondack Park, at the base of French Mountain.

For her dissertation, Springate is researching Wiawaka’s history. She has visited the Wiawaka archives at the Rensselaer County Historical Society and studied guest ledgers, photographs, cancelled checks and meeting minutes to develop a more nuanced picture of the women who stayed at Wiawaka, and whether women of different socio-economic backgrounds mingled.

This summer, Springate hopes to learn even more about life at Wiawaka by excavating areas where artifacts of its early years are likely to be found. She said volunteers can expect to dig in the ground using small tools such as trowels, sift dirt through screens, take notes and, if it’s raining, wash artifacts.

“This is an opportunity for people to learn how archaeology works,” Springate said. “It’s an opportunity for people to learn about Wiawaka.”

The excavation will run June 3-28 and July 15-26. Volunteers can expect to spend eight hours a day working, with one hour for lunch in the middle of the day. Springate said no previous archaeological experience is necessary.

Among the artifacts volunteers will probably uncover are glass, ceramics, tableware, building materials and personal items such as buttons.

Volunteering is open to those 18 and older. Volunteers are asked to volunteer for three or more days.

Wiawaka Holiday House was founded in 1903, with the goal of providing working-class women with affordable vacations. The majority of guests were female textile workers employed as shirt collar makers, laundresses and mill workers in Cohoes and Troy.

The concept of women’s retreat centers came into being during the Progressive Era, a period of social activism that began in the 1890s and lasted until the 1920s. Reformers supported women’s suffrage, prohibition, the building of public parks and other measures designed to expand rights and improve the lot of the poor.

Wiawaka still operates as a women’s retreat center today, though men are welcome during the month of July. Visitors stay in Victorian cottages or rooms in the main building, called the Fuller House, and gather for meals.

Volunteers can stay overnight at Wiawaka for $75 prior to June 19. After, the room rate is $110 on weekdays and $125 on weekends.

For more information, email Megan Springate at [email protected] or call 732-768-2985.

Categories: Schenectady County

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