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Artifacts give group a puzzle to solve

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HENDERSON — The Henderson Historical Society, County Route 72, has become the latest repository for a collection of mysterious artifacts. A manager from the Stony Island lodge used as a corporate retreat for ConocoPhillips executives unexpectedly delivered a heavy trunk filled with grinding stones, arrowheads, pottery shards, bone sewing implements and other items to the society in April 2008.

Now, an agreement is in the works for the company to give the collection to the historical society on permanent loan, said Elaine J. Scott, recording secretary of the group.

The society has been working with a handful of expert volunteers to try to determine what, exactly, it has in the collection. Eventually, the items "will be inventoried and evaluated and put in secure light box cabinets for public display," Ms. Scott said Wednesday.

She said she believes "the majority of what we have is pre-Iroquoian."

The special, heavy trunk built to hold the collection has been stored beneath a table in the historical society's building, a former church, since last April. The items originally were collected by Harry Stevens, a Henderson Harbor native who scoured the county for them until his death in 1967.

Mr. Stevens was a fishing guide at the lodge on Stony Island used as a retreat by executives of Sealright Corp., now owned by ConocoPhillips, which bought Sealright in 1966. Pieces from Mr. Stevens's collection often were put on display in the lodge. (Ms. Scott said she remembers dusting their cabinets when she worked in housekeeping for the lodge in the 1970s.)

About four years ago, John A. Stevens, a relative of Harry Stevens, urged the historical society to request the collection from the lodge. The items had been put into storage during a renovation, and no one seemed sure where they were anymore.

"John wanted it to come back to Henderson so it could go on display for the community," Ms. Scott said. She wrote a letter requesting that if the items ever turned up, they be donated to the society.

Several years went by, and suddenly, in April 2008, Ms. Scott received a phone call saying the box was on its way. It took six men to bring in the trunk, and it has sat under the table in the group's big, cluttered building ever since. A retired archaeologist, Timothy D. Mumford, has started to evaluate the collection, she said — a difficult task, since the exact origins of the items aren't known and their collector no longer is living to provide guidance.

John Stevens, Rochester, grandnephew of Will Stevens, Harry's father, said he doesn't know much about the origins of the items.

"My father was Harry's cousin and they were kind of like brothers, but Harry was very close-mouthed about these materials," he said. "I think it was his nature."

Harry's widow, Mildred Berry Stevens, took him to see the items at the lodge after Harry's death, he said. Later, Mr. Stevens arranged for an archaeologist to look at the collection, but the scientist was frustrated by the lack of information about their origins.

The only information provided is the occasional small tag listing the general area in which some items were found. It's not clear who labeled them. A shard of pottery reads "Stony Creek"; another says "J.A. Montague Farms," and a box full of small bone items, perhaps used as fishing or sewing tools, is labeled "Rodman site."

As the historical society waits to put the pieces of the mystery together, only one thing is certain: Harry Stevens was a talented collector, if not a professional archaeologist.

"Harry's wife described this," John Stevens said. "They would be driving along, and he might see a newly plowed field with a dark area. He would go to investigate it as a possible campground or a place where Indians would have a fire. He was so good at it — he knew what to look at, and where."

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