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Lehigh Valley Live: WATCH: Radar probes for Burnside Plantation link to Revolutionary War

May 23rd, 2016 |

May 21, 2016 | In The News

Written by Kurt Bresswein for Lehigh Valley Live

George Washington stored here: That’s the claim the stewards of Burnside Plantation in Bethlehem are hoping they can make.

Based on a book about the city’s roots as a Moravian settlement, the general is believed to have stored some personal papers and possessions in a brick kiln in the area of the bucolic preserve off Schoenersville Road.

With an eye toward confirmation, Historic Bethlehem Partnership on Friday brought in sensitive equipment operated by Laura Sherrod, a Kutztown University associate professor of geology, and three of her students to gauge what may lie beneath a grassy lawn on the property.

“They were stored there, guarded by 40 Continental soldiers until Christmas Eve of 1777, in which case they were moved,” said Bob Windolph, a retired chemistry professor and dean of student life at Moravian College and member of the partnership’s board of trustees. “We’ve been looking to see if we can establish where the brick kiln was.”

Some maps show the kiln may be across the Monocacy Creek from Burnside, putting it off plantation property. But recent studies by 90-year-old local historian Ralph Schwarz suggest Washington may have used a newer kiln, built in the 1760s on the Burnside property to be closer to a good source of clay.

“That would put it in the property time period to then be used by the Continental troops as a storage location for Washington’s materials,” Windolph said.
Sherrod brought in a magnetometer that can map underground signatures of high-temperature exposure, such as burning in a kiln. Her team also ran ground-penetrating radar affixed to a three-wheeled pushcart over the lawn where Schwarz’s research shows the kiln was likely to have been located.
Austin Huff, of Sellersville, Pennsylvania, ran the radar along grid lines set up by Michael Wiltraut, who graduated this month and lives outside Kutztown, and Margariete Malenda, who lives in the Berks County borough.
It wasn’t immediately clear what Friday’s effort may have found. Data from the magnetometer must be uploaded to a computer to generate a map.
“With the ground-penetrating radar, as he is walking along with that equipment, on the screen of the data logger it shows what is being recorded,” Sherrod said. “So if you’re operating the equipment you can watch what’s being recorded from the subsurface as you’re moving it along.
“But in order to really get a feel for what’s going on with the whole area and to find 3-dimensional structures in the subsurface you really need to have all those profiles laid out in front of you so you can make correlations between the lines.”
The plan was was to gather data Friday then sit down on Monday to see what it shows.
There’s no hope of finding anything left behind by the founding father, Windolph said.
“It’s more to see: Can Burnside claim that at one point we stored some of Washington’s documents or is it across the stream and closer down towards original Bethlehem,” he said.

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