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Historic Profile

Historic vehicle along tUS-41/M-26 Scenic Byways in Houghton County.
Department of Transportation

Historic Profile

In 1988, there were no visible traces of the 1830's Pitt Brown Tavern which was originally located near the west shore of the St. Joseph River in Berrien Springs, Michigan. MDOT engineers, meanwhile, were developing plans for replacement of the old US-31/33 bridge over the St. Joseph River which necessitated an archaeological survey of the affected bridge area. It was during this survey by MDOT's consultant, Great Lakes Research Associates, Inc. (GLRA), that remnants of the pioneer-related Pitt Brown Tavern were discovered where they lay buried for more than 140 years. Given the rarity of known pioneer taverns in the archaeological record of Michigan, there was a great deal of interest in the discovery of the Pitt Brown Tavern for the information it revealed about pioneer life in Michigan as well as early development of the Berrien Springs community.

GLRA's research revealed the following:
  • The first known Euro-American settler in the Berrien Springs area arrived in 1829.
  • Two years later, in July 1831, Pitt Brown and his nephew, Horace Godfrey, arrived.
  • Shortly thereafter, the first tavern in the township was established on the shores of the St. Joseph River, the Pitt Brown Tavern.
  • Meanwhile, the village of Berrien was also being officially platted in August, 1831.
  • Mr. Brown, a person obviously not content to simply await trade, also established a ferry-boat on the river at the same location as his tavern.
  • Later, in the mid-1830s, Pitt Brown also operated a steamboat named the Davy Crockett that briefly plied the river trade between the towns of St. Joseph and Niles.
  • Additionally, Mr. Brown served as the Postmaster for Berrien Springs from 1831 to 1842 with the post office located in the bar of his tavern.
  • In 1840, Brown retired from the tavern which then changed hands twice more when it finally burned down following the retirement of its last owner, David Wilson.
After developing the Land Use History, GLRA initiated an archaeological survey which revealed the location of the Pitt Brown Tavern by exposing the foundation of the original structure along with various associated artifacts. These artifacts and their original location of discovery, provided the critical information needed to formulate a decisive identification of the Pitt Brown Tavern.

The ceramic artifacts recovered at the site are representative of numerous different original vessels, dishes, bottles, and other ceramic and glass materials that were almost exclusively associated with the period ca. 1830-1840. A critical ceramic artifact recovered is a single larger sherd that is partially inscribed with cobalt blue letters that were reconstructed as follows: PITT BRO[WN]/ WHOLESA[LE]/ MERC[HANT]/ BERR[EIN]. Obviously, this vessel sherd provided compelling evidence for direct association with the Pitt Brown Tavern. Other artifacts found include white clay pipes, glass bottle fragments, hinges, buttons, and an 1833 U.S. silver dime.

Also unearthed were the faunal (or animal) remains associated with the tavern's food supply, including bone fragments of high quality cuts of beef and pork, which has provided the archaeological record with the only known sample of meat consumption patterns for people frequenting a mid-19th century tavern in Michigan.

Because of the findings of this project, there is a more informed view of the role played by the Pitt Brown Tavern in the development of the City of Berrien Springs. The information now recorded for the Pitt Brown Tavern is preserved in the archaeological record of Michigan. This record will provide future researchers a glimpse into a significant social and economic element of pioneer life in Michigan and possibly elsewhere, the pioneer Tavern.