STANLY THE MAGAZINE: Hardaway Site continues to be archaeological gem

Published 2:25 pm Wednesday, June 5, 2024

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For many in and around Stanly County, the Hardaway Site is known only by way of a historical marker along N.C. Highway 740 in Badin, designating the site as “approximately one mile northeast.”

But, earlier this year, around 35 hikers braved sub-freezing temperatures to tour the actual site (now part of Morrow Mountain State Park) as part of an outreach program sponsored by the Three Rivers Land Trust, and guided by Dr. Randolph Daniel Jr. of East Carolina University.

Daniel, author of the book, “Hardaway Revisited: Early Archaic Settlement in the Southeast,” participated in excavations at the site in the 1990s while working toward his doctorate. He is recognized as a leading authority on Hardaway and other early archaic archeological sites in the Southeastern United States.

“All archaeology is dependent upon public support, so I really appreciate this opportunity. I’m always happy to talk about what we do, and about the Hardaway site in particular,” said Daniel, who gave a presentation on the site’s history and significance prior to the actual excursion.

First brought to the attention of the North Carolina Archaeological Society in the late 1930s, the Hardaway Site came into notoriety when Herbert Doerschuk, an engineer at the Carolina Aluminum Company’s Badin operation and an artifact collector himself, contacted Joffre Coe of the University of North Carolina, eventually showing the site to him in 1937.

Coe, who is known as “The Father of North Carolina Archaeology,” became particularly interested in engraved slate pieces unique to Hardaway, and in 1948 began a series of excavations there that continued through the late 1950s.

The artifacts found at Hardaway indicate it was occupied by Native Americans as far back as the period from 9,500 to 7,500 BC. However, its exact age is unclear since there are no organic remains from the site, and thus no radiocarbon-dated materials.

Even so, the yield of artifacts from Hardaway, along with two other nearby sites (the Lowder’s Ferry and Doerschuk sites) have established the area along the Yadkin River Gorge as an archaeological hotbed.

“It (the area) has been called ‘The Holy Trinity of North Carolina Archaeology,’ ” said Daniel.

A North Carolina Historical Marker is near the Hardaway Site in Badin. (Photo by TOBY THORPE)

Participants were shuttled from the Badin Inn to the actual site following Daniel’s presentation. At the site, Daniel, along with David Moore of the Warren Wilson College archaeology faculty (who also worked on excavations at the site in the 1970s), led the group in exploring the now-forested area.

“When we came to the site in 1975, it was surrounded by new forest with thick undergrowth which was almost impenetrable,” said Moore. “Dr. Coe led a group of four of us, and once we had cleared an area, we left one poplar tree on the site as a mark of sorts. He (Coe) also made a chisel mark in a nearby boulder so the site could be found later.”

A rock was marked by Dr. Joffre Coe in 1975 to locate the excavation site. (Photo by TOBY THORPE)

Moore was able to locate what he believed to be the boulder, the chisel mark and the tree, but some 50 years later, and with the once-excavated area having returned to a forested state, ascertaining the exact excavation site was impossible.

Nevertheless, Moore and Daniel posed for a photo at the apparent poplar tree.

Dr. Randolph Daniel, left, and Dr. David Moore at the “Poplar Tree” left by Dr. Joffre Coe in a 1975 excavation. (Photo by TOBY THORPE)

Hardaway Today

With the recent expansion of Morrow Mountain State Park, the site now sits on park land, thus assuring its preservation for future generations.

Although the site is part of the park, it is off limits to the public, Park Superintendent Jeff Davidson said.

“We have installed cameras around the site which we monitor,” he said. “Persons trespassing will face both state and federal charges.”

Hardaway Site access is restricted. (Photo by TOBY THORPE)

There is, however, a way for those interested in visiting the site to do so.

“Our park staff has done guided tours of the site, and we will do more in the future,” Davidson said, noting that those interested should refer to the Morrow Mountain State Park webpage for information on such tours.

“We are currently formulating a general management plan for the site,” he added, noting that future plans for the site will come from that plan.

Complimentary to the state park system’s efforts to preserve the site, a Badin-based group is working to increase public awareness of Hardaway and to eventually establish a museum.

The Hardaway American Indian Museum Working Group was formed to explore ways and means to accomplish this goal, according to John Young, a group member.

“We kicked off our efforts in May 2022,” said Young, who added that the group has subsequently procured grants that will help fund the project.

“We have received grants from Alcoa and from the North Carolina General Assembly,” he said, adding that the group will continue to seek funding sources. It is partnering with organizations that support their efforts.

“These include the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, N.C. State Parks, and the N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs,” added Young.

Three Rivers Land Trust, which sponsored the event, works to preserve agricultural lands, natural areas, open spaces and timberland in Central North Carolina, and is committed to the same for historic lands as well, according to Executive Director Travis Morehead.

Hikers who braved the cold gather for a group photo. (Photo by TOBY THORPE)

“Historic preservation is part of what we do,” he said. “We’re excited to see what is being done to protect Hardaway.”

Toby Thorpe is a freelance writer for The Stanly News & Press.