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Forester News

On-campus dig uncovers signs of historic church

Associate Professor of Anthropology Rebecca Graff gave her students hands-on experience uncovering local history in her Archaeological Field Methods course last semester.

Graff led her fall SOAN 215 class in an archaeological dig at the previous site of the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Lake Forest. When it stood at the corner of Washington Avenue and South Campus Drive, the small building served as a place of worship for African Americans from 1870 through the 1920s.

The goal of the on-campus project was to unearth further information about and raise awareness of the past and present African American communities of the North Shore and Chicago. “I’ve been teaching students how to do archaeology by actually doing archaeology,” Graff said of her popular field study class. “They’re learning both about the practice and also how we use it to illuminate a certain history.”

An open house and media day in November drew several news outlets interested in the College’s first on-campus dig supported by the Mellon Grant and what was uncovered at the site. Visitors to the open house watched as students in the new archaeology lab cleaned and examined artifacts they unearthed from the excavation site. Located on the third floor of Hotchkiss Hall, the expanded archaeology lab opened in September 2019. The items uncovered included three vertical wick oil lamps, portions of two bottles from different Chicago breweries that closed during Prohibition, glass medicine bottles, shards of pottery, and different types of building materials possibly used in construction of the church.

“The research Dr. Graff and her students are doing is absolutely crucial to creating a fuller picture of our community’s history,” said Laurie Stein, curator of the History Center of Lake Forest-Lake Bluff. This was Graff’s third archaeological field class at Lake Forest College. The last took place at a home in Chicago’s Old Irving neighborhood that was rumored to be a stop on the Underground Railroad.

—Peter DiPietro ’20