Stimulus cash helps uncover past

David Jones, archaeologist for the South Carolina State Parks Service, shows foundation stones found at the Hampton Plantation State Historic Site near McClellanville. The stones were uncovered during a recent dig financed by federal stimulus money.

McCLELLANVILLE -- Federal stimulus money helped unearth some of South Carolina's past during an archaeological dig in a shady glen on a former coastal plantation.

The dig at Hampton Plantation State Historic Site on the Santee River Delta offers glimpses into property once owned by the state's most prominent families. It's a place where state parks officials had long wanted to dig, but until the stimulus, had no money for it.

"We had known there were structures out here somewhere, but we didn't have the resources," said David Jones, the archaeologist for the state parks service.

The work this spring uncovered what may be a chimney foundation and the remains of fence posts and a root cellar. It also seems to verify locations in an 1809 land plat showing nine structures in the area.

The work was financed by a modest $136,000 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant for forest restoration at five state parks. That money is only a sliver of the $4.2 billion stimulus coming to the state.

Those projects range from archaeological surveys of the fire lines in the nearby Francis Marion National Forest to research into the historical importance of inland areas to the people of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska.

In South Carolina, the money was spent at Hampton Plantation which is best known to visitors for its white plantation house dating to the mid 1700s.

The plantation was once visited by George Washington and before the Civil War had 340 slaves. Over the years, its owners included such famous South Carolina names as the Horry, Pinckney and Rutledge families. In 1971, it was sold by Archibald Rutledge, the late South Carolina poet laureate, to the state for use as a state park.

Restoring the longleaf pines for better wildlife habitat required first surveying historical sites on the grounds.

The survey of 165 acres at the plantation determines whether the work can be done with equipment or will have to be done by hand to avoid disturbing artifacts, said Alan Hester, historic sites coordinator for the parks service.

With initial archaeological work done and no money to continue, the excavated areas will be buried again. Eventually, though, the foundations, once completely excavated, will likely be left that way and interpreted for plantation visitors.