A Stage Stop on the Butterfield Overland Mail Route
In the fall of 2004 work began at Fitzgerald’s Station in Springdale as a master’s thesis project for Terri Bruce, graduate student at the University of Arkansas and graduate assistant at the Arkansas Archaeological Survey.
Fitzgerald's Station was a stage stop for the Butterfield Stage line in the late 1850's to early 1860's. The reason that the site is important now is that the original barn that was built for the stage line is still standing and it is one of the very few original buildings that still exist along the stage route. The property also holds a house that was built in the 1870’s. Oral history of the area states the Fitzgerald’s also had a tavern long before the barn was built as a stage stop, which might have been the reason that Butterfield chose the property as a stage stop. The tavern at Fitzgerald’s is mentioned in the diary of a doctor that was on the Cherokee Trail of Tears in 1839.
In early November of 2004, under the direction of Dr. Ken Kvamme of the University of Arkansas Department of Anthropology, and with a great many volunteers, a remote sensing survey using magnetic gradiometry and electrical resistivity was conducted around the barn that was built for the stage line, and around the house that was built in the 1870’s. Before the house was built it is believed that there was a log house and tavern on the property. It is also believed that the house that was built in the 1870’s was built directly over the area where the log house and tavern were originally located. The purpose of the remote sensing survey was to attempt to locate the original location of the log house and tavern, and to try and determine where the stage coaches entered and left the property. The data from this survey show some areas of interest that require further investigation, but nothing that could conclusively be labeled as the log house/tavern location, or a road leading to the barn.
Excavations at Fitzgerald’s Station were conducted in February 2005 in order to test areas of interest that were identified in the results of the geophysical survey. It was discovered that when the basement was excavated for the 1870’s house, the soil that was removed was spread over the house yard. It was also discovered that the soil to the west of the barn had been depleted and the bedrock was very close to the surface. No indications of the original house and tavern, or an access road for the stage coaches were found.
The soil that was spread over the house yard provided a protective cap to the original soil surface and preserved a small midden layer. The artifacts that were recovered from this midden layer date to between 1820 and 1860. Most of the artifacts recovered from this midden layer were whiteware fragments. There was quite a variety of patterns on the fragments, which could indicate the presence of a tavern.
Three metal detector surveys were also conducted on the property. The majority of the finds were nails, wire and metal fragments.
This research has been made possible by the owners of the property, Jay and Sarah Berryman. Their wish to preserve this property led them to nominate it for the National Register of Historic Places, and to contact the Arkansas Archaeological Survey about conducting an archaeological investigation. Without the Berryman’s commitment to preserving this property, the buildings would be in danger of being destroyed and an important piece of American history would be lost.
Copyright ©2002, Arkansas Archeological Survey, Revised - May 10, 2005