A team of investigators from Hiram College and The University of Akron will begin an archaeological study of the former home of U.S. President James A. Garfield (located on the Hiram campus) on Oct. 14 and 15. Garfield served as president of Hiram College, then called the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, before turning to a successful career in politics. Matthew Notarian, Ph.D., Hiram visiting assistant professor of classics, and Tim Matney, Ph.D., UA professor of anthropology, will lead the investigation of the home, formally known as the Garfield-Robbins-Zimmerman House.
The initial weekend of work will involve surveying the grounds of the house using sophisticated geophysical survey equipment. The goal of the survey is to assess how much, if anything, remains of outbuildings and minor structures from Garfield’s time. The team will use two archaeological survey technologies: magnetic gradiometry and electrical resistance survey.
“This project is an unprecedented opportunity to learn about the private life of one our nation’s most fascinating leaders in the years before he became president. As a Civil War hero, academic, Congressman, and tragically assassinated president, Garfield’s story is already captivating,” Notarian says. “Our archaeological project will deepen our understanding of this remarkable man immeasurably.”
Matney, along with present and former UA students and Hiram students, will use a magnetic gradiometer to map subtle changes in the earth’s magnetic field. These changes could have been caused by ferrous metal artifacts, burnt features, and other remains buried as deep as a meter below the surface. The researchers will also measure changes in the resistance of the earth to the flow of electrical current using an electrical resistance meter and probe system. With this equipment, the researchers can generate a subsurface electrical field to indicate features such as stone or brick walls and old pits. These can be mapped to give the archaeologists clues about what may be below ground and where to dig.
Garfield’s time in Hiram is emblematic of his status as the last “log cabin president,” according to Notarian. Born impoverished in Moreland Hills, Garfield worked as a janitor for the Eclectic Institute upon beginning his studies there in 1851. His talents allowed him to advance to a professorship position within a year. By 1857, Garfield was appointed principal (president) at age 27. Despite entering politics in 1859, Garfield continued to live in Hiram, purchasing the home on Hinsdale Road in 1863. The Garfield family left Hiram for Mentor in 1876 only due to a change in his Congressional district.
The public is invited to observe the archaeological team at work from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., October 14 and 15 at the Garfield-Robbins-Zimmerman House, 6825 Hinsdale Road, Hiram.