At John Jay’s home in Rye, we try to make history, which is often perceived as old and dusty, something fresh and relevant.
By Suzanne Clary
At John Jay’s home in Rye, we try to make history, which is often perceived as old and dusty, something fresh and relevant. To do this, we rely heavily on our partnerships with area schools, other non-profits, and corporate grantors like Rye’s own Con Edison, all of which have the vision to think outside the box and outside the classroom. Together, we’ve created new hands-on opportunities to train the “founders” of tomorrow and promote civic engagement in a multitude of fields.
You can’t get much more hands-on than archaeology, which is a critical component of environmental review at any landmark site, including our own. So, last month, six Rye Country Day High School volunteers really lived their school’s motto, “Not for Self but for Service”, and put themselves through a rigorous dirt-under-your-fingernails field experience. Not only did they help uncover and identify cultural resources for Jay Heritage Center, but they also helped create a template for the mini-archaeology camps that we offered to younger children in Westchester this summer.
In their report to their advisor they wrote, “For our senior term project, we elected to help with an archaeological dig at the Jay Heritage Center, assisting Dr. Eugene Boesch in searching for artifacts that might reveal more about John Jay’s 1745 colonial farmhouse — the home where he grew up as a child in Rye.
“Following criteria set by the Department of the Interior, we dug, screened, measured, and catalogued 18th century square nails and iridescent glass, an assortment of glazed pottery and creamware, a clay tobacco pipe bowl marked TD, a pipe stem, and pieces of animal bones.
“But our most exciting find was a prehistoric tool, or scraper, revealing the presence of earlier Paleo-Indian encampments on the site. We learned that archaeology is a necessary part of environmental review since our cultural resources are fragile and not renewable.”
While most adults would stereotype children this age as being glued to the screens on their iPhones, these girls worked diligently and thoughtfully mastering large wooden screens to sift shovelfuls of earth for artifacts. The prize? Holding a prehistoric stone blade in their hands — one they dug up themselves after three patient, buggy days in the hot sun. As one girl admitted, it had that “wow, Indiana Jones” excitement to it, but it also made them appreciate that other people “breathed” here.
At the end of the week, the girls cleaned, labeled, and photographed their finds. Several asked if they could come back as counselors for the mini-archaeology camp in July, hoping to witness the same excitement on the faces of a dozen 10-year-old summer campers when they make their own awesome discoveries.
It is close partnerships with area schools and corporate grantors like Con Edison that make programs of civic engagement like this possible. Students leave our site with visual and tactile impressions more indelible than looking at any image in a textbook or on a Smart Board. As a result, they are the ones digging even deeper for greater, more visible returns on their hard work when they come back to volunteer again.