Friday, October 27, 2006

Project is underway...

Well, excavations have been ongoing at the Cheney House for several weeks now and it’s definitely time to get this blog some regular content... We are a group of graduate and undergraduate students working with Professor Laurie Wilkie at the University of California Berkeley, brought together by the University’s Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program (URAP) and the impending removal of the Cheney House. The house is slated to be moved from University property to make way for the proposed expansion of the Law and Business schools within the next year, although the timetable is still uncertain. We are currently conducting archaeological, archival, and laboratory work to salvage what information we can about the Cheney family’s private and public home lives prior to the site’s destruction.

The house is the former residence of May and Warren Cheney, their four sons, various boarders, and domestic servants, who occupied the house between its construction in 1885 and its purchase by the University in 1939. May (Cal class of 1883) was the first Career Secretary for the University and, through her placement of teachers, was instrumental in the formation of the public school system in California. Warren (Cal class of 1878) was a local real estate developer and an aspiring novelist. The pair was known for entertaining a range of illuminati, including social progressives and literary giants, like Jack London, in their home. We know, for example, that the family car was used in the 1911 woman suffrage parade held locally, but so far we have only glimpses of the family’s sociopolitical involvements and daily life. This project will also help shed light on the nature of the former neighborhood of which the house was a part, which was only incorporated into the expanding University in the mid-20th century.

We’re currently excavating small test pits, spaced evenly across the property, in order to identify whatever archaeological deposits exist in the house’s yard. So far, we’ve found a variety of turn-of-the-century artifacts representing household garbage – broken ceramics, bottles, nails, animal bone, and our most surprising find so far – a denture tooth. We’ll be posting more updates as work progresses; for now, though, I’ll post a few musings from various project members…
- Kim


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