UPDATE: The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) has honored the Castle Museum with a 2013 Award of Merit from the AASLH Leadership in History Awards for the exhibit Project 1893: Unearthing Saginaw’s Great Fire.
On the afternoon of May 20, 1893 a fire started in an abandoned sawmill on the middle grounds - known today as Ojibway Island. A strong wind from the southwest quickly spread the fire to the east bank of the river into the residential district. By the time the fire was brought under control along the south side of Hoyt Avenue, more than 250 buildings had been destroyed.
Within the burned area, the only major building to survive was Saint Mary’s Hospital. In the fall of 2010, the Museum’s archaeology team discovered what appeared to be the remains of a home destroyed in this fire. After digging only a few small test holes, archaeologist Jeff Sommer and a team of volunteers found portions of a brick foundation, charred wood, melted glass and other artifacts.
“These artifacts, along with historical documents we already have, will help us continue to tell the story of one of Saginaw’s most tragic events," Sommer said.
In the summer and fall of 2011, the team, which included students from Central Michigan University, continued digging at the site. The public was invited to stop by and watch the team at work and Jeff was available to answer questions from curious bystanders. More artifacts were found and it became evident the Museum could create an exhibit centered on the artifacts found. These items uniquely document the structure and intensity of the fire while providing clues to the people whose lives were dramatically altered by this event.