COLUMBIA — Just add a video crew and the Saturday morning activity at Brookcliff and Riverland drives in Cayce could be a pilot for a new reality show — a combination of “Flip This House” and “The History Detectives.”
David and Modesta Brinkman bought a foreclosed house in the Riverland Park subdivision a couple of years ago primarily to do archaeological work in the yard. They have put some work into renovating the 1,050-square-foot home, but they won’t be selling it until their crew of history buffs finishes cutting 1-square-meter holes in the yard and sifting the dirt searching for artifacts.
They’re finding plenty of pottery and glassware, pieces of brick and nails, and at least one pipe stem, mostly from the Revolutionary War era to the middle 19th century. Most of the artifacts are only a couple of feet below the surface.
“One of the neighbors saw what we were doing and said, ‘Oh, I’ve been finding that in my garden. I’ve just been throwing it away,’ ” David Brinkman says.
History is that matter-of-fact in the area near where Congaree Creek runs into the Congaree River.
The bluffs on the west side of the river have been public gathering places for thousands of years. Riverland Park was built on the same bluff as Saxe Gotha (1730) and Granby (1760), the original European settlements in Lexington County. Professional digs also have found plenty of Native American artifacts on higher ground not far away from the Brinkmans’ house. One wing of Gen. William T. Sherman’s Union troops marched up nearby Old State Road on their way to Columbia near the end of the Civil War in 1865.
David Brinkman became obsessed with the area’s river history a few years ago when he found an old bridge abutment in his own Richland County, S.C., backyard overlooking the Broad River. He has researched historical bridges and ferry crossings on the Broad, Congaree and Saluda rivers.
The remains of what experts believe is the dock of Friday’s Ferry, a Colonial-era river crossing, has been found in the riverbank near where the Cayce Riverwalk enters Riverland Park subdivision. George Washington crossed the Congaree at Friday’s Ferry during his goodwill tour of the South in 1791. When a house across from the Riverwalk entrance showed up on the market as a repossession, Brinkman snatched it up for $46,000, thinking further proof of a ferry crossing might lurk under the topsoil.
After volunteering and learning at a professional dig in Greenwood County, the Brinkmans recruited friends to help them do similar work in their Cayce yard. Most Saturdays the past few weeks, they’ve been digging carefully in well-measured layers and then sifting the soil to search for artifacts. Braving the heat one Saturday with the Brinkmans were eighth-grade history teacher Dean Hunt, retired National Guard officer and history buff Fred Morrison, and Ken Banks, who like David Brinkman is a software engineer with a silly sense of humor and an appreciation for the region’s past.
“It’s the only place I know where you can do an archaeological dig and come inside and watch TV and get a drink of water,” Hunt said during a break from the heat.
About two feet down that morning, they hit paydirt. Each shovel full of soil seemed to produce a couple of pottery shards or a nail fragment. Though a couple of holes in the backyard yielded few items, almost every hole along the front-yard fence has yielded several plastic storage bags full of artifacts. None of the breakable items are intact. Even if all of the shards don’t fit together physically, they paint a vivid picture of the variety of uses of this land since the 1700s. (Few Native American artifacts have been found.)
“We are off to an amazing start,” said Brinkman, who has recorded the finds online at www.historysoft.com/granby. “We are getting hotter. We really do have artifacts from the Granby period.”
Archaeologist Natalie Adams Pope, who coordinated a professional dig for the nearby Cayce water plant 12 years ago, has looked over some of the team’s discoveries. She agrees some are from the Granby era. Some others are from as recently as the 1960s, when the Riverland Park subdivision was built.
Professional archaeologists generally discourage amateurs from doing their own digs, but Pope appreciates Brinkman’s love for history. “We want people to look at sites in a professional manner, but ... we don’t want to squelch the public’s enthusiasm.”