Kenyon College was founded by Bishop Philander Chase in Worthington, Ohio, in 1824. He moved the campus to Gambier in 1828, where he constructed the first buildings of the campus. At first, he lived with his son in a cabin close to where Old Kenyon stands today (Smythe 1924). A short time later, he moved closer to where the well was dug—just north of where the Gates of Hell stands today. According to George Smythe’s history of Kenyon (Smythe 1924), several structures were built close to the well, in front of where the Church of the Holy Spirit is today.

No intensive archaeological research has occurred at Kenyon College since its construction in the 19th century. However, professors in the Anthropology department have noticed scattered artifacts, including ceramic sherds, brick, and bone, in front of the Church of the Holy Spirit; some of these were collected in an Introduction to Archaeology course. During the summer of 2021, we initiated our first inquiries about archaeology at Kenyon with Summer Science student Molly Keen. Her research focused on using archival sources on the history of the college to identify any possible architecture that could be explored archaeologically. Directed by Professors Gallareta and Novotny, Keen identified several structures in Smythe’s book, located directly north of the Church of the Holy Spirit. Historical data suggests that these structures are among the first buildings to be built at the college. Smythe calls them: Philander Chase’s cabin, Dr. Sparrow’s home, a kitchen, and a dining hall.

On July 10, 2021, as part of Keen’s summer science project, Dr. Jarrod Burks, from Ohio Valley Archaeology, Inc., conducted a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey on a 40-m x 40-m area on the lawn north of the Church of the Holy Spirit. The GPR data showed a few anomalies: a rectangular foundation, a possible shallow pit/distinct surface, a possible cellar, and two possible shaft features. These results indicate the presence of a rectangular foundation in the southwest quadrant of the survey. We hypothesize that this could be the dining hall based on its rectangular shape. We suggest that the kitchen and other two houses may be located further south of this feature, outside our initial survey area.

Keen photographed the ceramics that were collected from the surface, and they were reexamined in 2022 by Professor Khadene Harris, as well as several students from Professor Novotny’s Engaged Archaeology class. Their research indicates that the sherds include pearlware dating to the early 19th century. While this type of ceramic is ubiquitous, there was another type of sherd whose painted and decorated edge dates to an earlier time period—suggesting that Bishop Chase (or a student?) brought an older set of decorated dishes to campus, possibly for hosting events.

The historical and archaeological evidence suggests that the foundations and associated artifacts from a college dwelling dating to the early 19th century is well-preserved beneath the lawn in front of the Church of the Holy Spirit. We propose an archaeological methods course that will investigate these deposits while providing an experiential learning opportunity for students.