In this June 18, 2014, photo, volunteer workers, from left, Brant Brantman, Bridger Williams, Xaver Clarke and Jesse Brantman hold up some of the iron balls they found mixed in the rocks they were removing from the Hames Center roof in Sitka, Alaska. The balls likely came from the same place as the rocks --the Indian River area, the site of battles between Tlingit Natives and Russians in 1804. They may be Russian canister shot fired from ship's cannons. (AP Photo/Daily Sitka Sentinel, James Poulson)

In this June 18, 2014, photo, volunteer workers, from left, Brant Brantman, Bridger Williams, Xaver Clarke and Jesse Brantman hold up some of the iron balls they found mixed in the rocks they were removing from the Hames Center roof in Sitka, Alaska. The balls likely came from the same place as the rocks --the Indian River area, the site of battles between Tlingit Natives and Russians in 1804. They may be Russian canister shot fired from ship's cannons. (AP Photo/Daily Sitka Sentinel, James Poulson)

Sitka roof project raises echo of 1804 battle

  • By SHANNON HAUGLAND
  • Sunday, July 6, 2014 10:24pm
  • News

SITKA — Roofing volunteers or amateur archaeologists?

The workers on the Hames Center reroofing project thought of themselves as both last week after finding about 20 rusty iron balls, about one inch in diameter, mixed in with the river-run gravel weighting down the old roofing system.

The layer of smooth pebbles that was an integral part of the flat portion of the athletic center’s roof when it was built in the 1980s is being removed as part of the roof renovation now under way. After the workers noticed the metal balls mixed in with the gravel they began speculating on their origin.

The theory now being investigated is that the balls were grapeshot or canister shot fired by cannons in the 1804 Battle of Sitka, and had remained on the bottom of Indian River the next century and a half, until the gravel was dredged out for construction projects

Both grapeshot and canister shot are small metal balls fired as a cluster from a cannon, and having the effect of a shotgun, scattering projectiles over a large area.

Brant Brantman, part-time facilities manager at the Hames Center, is one of the volunteers shoveling gravel off the roof.

“It’s a tedious job,” he said. “For a moment we were just fancying ourselves as archaeologists, not rooftop workers.”

The volunteers were excited when the balls started showing up, and called Brinnen Carter, chief of resources at Sitka National Historical Park, for an opinion. Carter told Brantman and the others that on first glance the iron spheres have markings that appear to be Russian, but that he will have to do further research before he’s sure.

But he did say that the objects appear to be canister shot or grapeshot, based on their size, material and mold markings, called sprue. He said weapons that used this type of shot were commonly found on ships and land-based artillery of all nationalities at the time of the Sitka battle between the Russians and the Tlingits.

Carter, whose master’s thesis was about the arms and armaments of a British warship that sank in Lake Champlain, said he’s in the initial phase of the investigation, and will start by finding out who the contractor was on the last project. He said he’s particularly interested in whether the shot is from the Battle of 1804.

Brantman said he and his wife, Cindy Edwards, first heard about iron balls in the roof gravel from Cindy’s dad, Jere Edwards, in the 1990s, when Jere was a Volunteer in Mission on the Sheldon Jackson College and was working on maintenance projects at the Hames building.

“He told Cindy one of the VIMs found the balls, and the suspicion was that because it was rock that came from Indian River … that they may have been Russian,” Brantman said. “We heard legend of that.”

Cindy Edwards’ nephew Jesse Brantman, the third generation of the Edwards-Brantman family to volunteer at the Hames Center, was the first one to find the iron balls, while shoveling gravel on the roof last week.

Indian River has been off-limits for dredging since the 1940s, when vast quantities of gravel was dredged for military construction around Sitka.

Carter speculated that there may have been stockpiles of this gravel left behind in Sitka after the war. He’s eager to talk to the contractor about the rock source on the Hames Center roof project.

After the first balls started showing up last week, the gravel removal on the roof turned into a bit of a treasure hunt, with volunteers checking every shovelful of gravel. The roof project calls for removal of the old covering on the flat roof areas and replacing the insulation underneath, which had become saturated. Brantman said volunteers are contributing their labor to make the project affordable.

“It’s a bunch of high-functioning people doing days of grunt work – it was good to have some diversion.”

Brantman said he is mostly focused on finishing the roof project, but would certainly like to know more about their find.

“I’m mostly curious to hear what the experts say,” Brantman said.

More in News

Soldotna City Council members convene for a work session to discuss how the city should use federal COVID-19 recovery funds on Wednesday, April 27, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna council to review mini grant applications next week

Soldotna City Council members will convene earlier than usual Wednesday to mull… Continue reading

Voters cast ballots in Alaska’s special general and regular primary elections at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Division of Elections data: Primary turnout higher than previous elections

Turnout among central Kenai Peninsula voters in Tuesday’s primary election was higher… Continue reading

Elisif Harro, Mark Harro and Daniel Harro. (Photo courtesy John and Denise Harro)
‘We lost 2 first-class people’

Daniel, Mark Harro die in Idaho plane crash

Two trombone players and a saxophone perform during a KCHS Marching Band practice on Aug. 18, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
KCHS strikes up the band

Only a couple of days into the new school year, Kenai Central… Continue reading

tease
Man wanted in relation to Amber Alert arrested; missing teenager found

A Fairbanks man wanted in connection to an Amber Alert was arrested… Continue reading

tease
School district extends meal program deadline amid confusion

Credit for breakfast and lunch meals will be provided as needed to… Continue reading

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks at the Kenai Classic Roundtable at Kenai Peninsula College on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022 near Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Bycatch stirs debate at fisheries roundtable

Bycatch was the issue du jour at Wednesday’s annual Kenai Classic Roundtable… Continue reading

Kenai Peninsula College Director Cheryl Siemers in her office on Aug. 18, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
KPC to welcome back community with open house

One week before the start of the fall semester, Kenai Peninsula College… Continue reading

National Weather Service radar for the Kenai Peninsula and Southcentral Alaska on Aug. 17, 2022. (Screenshot)
Rain, rain and more rain

Low pressure systems drive wet conditions in Southcentral

Most Read