CATAWBA ISLAND – A three-ton rock with quite a history is the newest addition to the Catawba Island Historical Society’s Union Chapel Museum on the Catawba Peninsula. Known as an extremely large “Grinding Rock” used by the Ottawa Indians until they moved from the Catawba Islands in the 1830’s, it was a very revealing remnant of their tribal civilization.
Long-time Island resident Miriam Ruth Kaptain made the unique gift to the Catawba Island Historical Society. The three-ton rock had spent the last 35 years in the yard of the home of Miriam and her husband, Albert, had built on East Terrace Circle in Catawba Cliffs.
The story of the grinding rock, however, began centuries earlier.
When the Ottawa Indians were permanently moved from Catawba in the 1830’s, they left behind remnants of their civilization. Local archeological examples included two ceremonial mounds, a village site and a traditional burial location.
One of the mounds had been built on Sugar Rock, a Dolomite cliff above and behind today’s Catawba Island Club. Although it did not survive the residential development boom of the early 20th century, the mound’s earlier existence confirmed that Sugar Rock had once been a center of Native American activity.
The Kaptains constructed their Catawba Cliffs house in 1955, and concurrently bought 8 acres on Sugar Rock to use as a family recreational retreat. The Sugar Rock property included a lakeside beach for picnics, swimming and fishing. The Kaptains’ beach was strewn with rocks and one exceptionally large boulder.
That huge rock served the Indians as a platform for grinding grain and medicinal plants. The Grinding Rock’s use was apparent from the bowl-like grove worn into it after years of milling seeds, stems and leaves at the same spot with stone tools.
In the 1980’s, the Kaptains sold their Sugar Rock property to Catawba Island Club. A condition of the sale was that the Grinding Rock’s Indian heritage be preserved. CIC officials agreed, and to assure that commitment they transplanted it to the Kaptain residence in the Cliffs where it paid tribute to Catawba’s Native Americans for well over three decades.
On Wednesday, July 28, the Grinding Rock changed addresses again.
Miriam Kaptain, widowed since the loss of her husband in 1992, asked the Catawba Island Historical Society to curate and continue making it available for community viewing. Thanks to generous logistical help from Catawba Island Club and Gill Construction, the Grinding Rock was moved to its third home and her wish has now been fulfilled.
The big boulder is now the focal point of the front landscaping bed of Union Chapel Museum on E. Porter Street at the north end of the Island.
David Wonnell, Vice President of the Historical Society’s Board of Trustees, coordinated the move and characterizes the project as indicative of the Historical Society’s policy to acquire artifacts with local provenance whenever possible.
Wonnell also noted that Union Chapel Museum is now open for the 2021 season. Visitors can see the Grinding Rock and many other displays linked specifically to Catawba Island. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, as well as on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month. There is no admission charge.
Further information is available about the Museum on the Historical Society’s web page which is www.catawbaislandhistoricalsociety.com.