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Former Woods House land dug up in community archaeology dig

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Kyle Martin, Staff Writer

Armed with shovels, sifters and even a few metal detectors, Denton County residents looking for a bit of history unearthed parts of the former site of the historic Woods House on Saturday morning as part of an archaeology dig sponsored by Denton County's Historical Commission and Office of History and Culture.

The Woods House, originally owned by the late William Evelyn Woods, was once a part of Quakertown, the free black community established in the 1880s. By 1923, those residents were forced out and moved to what is now Southeast Denton by city officials who aimed to turn the area into Civic Center Park, which was renamed Quakertown Park in 2007.

While the Woods House now stands in the Denton County Historical Park on Mulberry Street, it was originally Woods’ homestead at 1015 Hill St.

Kelsey Jistel, curator of educational programs for the Office of History and Culture, said several of the diggers found small animal bones, but “the kids seemed to be into it,” so all was fine with those in attendance. The Office of History and Culture held a dig in February 2017, when the house was moved to its spot near the downtown Square, but she said this time around was “more exciting, finding-wise.”

Among the many finds were a shotgun shell, a pair of children’s shoes, mostly intact, some fully intact glass medicine bottles and a set of rusty wheels, presumed to have belonged to some sort of field-plowing device, Jistel said. The items found will become part of the permanent collection of the Office of History and Culture. 

“As things have settled, things have moved,” Jistel said, which is part of why they brought out the community again to see what they could find.

The dig wasn’t exactly a scientifically precise excavation, but that wasn’t quite the point, either.

You would have needed several archaeologists with several thousand dollars worth of equipment to properly and methodically plot and excavate the area for major findings, said Jillian Byrne-Sweeney, vice chairwoman of the Denton County Historical Commission and a research analyst at the University of North Texas. But nonetheless, she said she was "extremely surprised" by the positive turnout of community members at Saturday morning’s dig.

Jeremy Elkins was geared up with a Garrett-brand metal detector, gloves and a shovel as he dug around and found several pieces of interesting history, including some bottle caps, a shotgun shell and what he presumes was part of a belt buckle. 

He said he often used to take his metal detector out to competition hunts, where competitors search grounds with intricate metal detecting equipment for coins and contend for money. This time though, after hearing about the dig from a friend, he was just out for fun.

And so were Tara Linn Hunter and Matthew Long, a married couple from Denton. 

“We just wanted to help out and do a fun thing on Saturday. I grew up in the country, so it’s normal to dig through people’s stuff,” Long jokingly said.

Together, using Hunter’s gardening shovel, they found an assortment of metallic and stone items.

Hunter said because “the history of Quakertown is so sad,” calling the historic removal of the communities residents “a blatantly racist move,” it was important to her to “preserve the story” of Quakertown. She decided to help by showing up to the dig Saturday.

“I hope they do this again,” Hunter said. “It seems like there’s a lot more to be found.”

KYLE MARTIN can be reached at or via Twitter @Kyle_Martin35.

FEATURED PHOTO: Little Elm resident Frank Martinez uses his metal detector to find historical objects on Saturday at the former Woods House site at 1015 Hill St. in Denton. The Denton County Historical Commission and the Denton County Office of History and Culture hosted Archaeology Day as participants excavated the site where the former Quakertown house once stood. Any items collected during the event will become part of the Office of History & Culture's Permanent Collection. Jeff Woo/DRC