McDonald house combed before it’s time to come down

by Briana Sutherland
Contributing writer
An historical home in Otsego was flattened to the ground earlier this week, but not before a group of archaeologists and volunteers spent the weekend dissecting the house and yard uncovering the life of the occupants.

The McDonald house in Otsego.

William McDonald was the first European settler in Wright County and built his house in Otsego between the 1860s and 1900. He owned a local sawmill and did survey work.
After many years of sitting vacant, the house became a safety hazard. Vandalism was a large problem, with windows being kicked out, holes put into the walls and a mold problem made the house unsafe.

Vandalism is one reason the McDonald house was deemed unsafe.

Residents had the opportunity to participate in the archeological study of the house and yard over the weekend. Richard Rothaus, president and principal investigator with Trefoil, led the study with volunteers and fellow archaeologists.
“Our overall goal is to get as much information as possible,” Rothaus  said, regarding the study over the weekend.
Other goals set for the weekend were to get as close as possible to the original construction date, identify original doors and windows, document the different types of lumber and how they were cut, identify older sides of the house, find the trash pit or out buildings and get a good representative sample of artifacts from the house and the yard (such as door knobs, metal, animal bones).
“This is a way to bring the people back into the house. Their trash is a good way to tell us what their life was like,” said Rothaus.
The most significant find that occurred over the weekend was the discovery that the house was likely built around the 1890s, slightly later than originally believed. This discovery means this house was not the first house of McDonald’s in the area.
The crew was also able to determine that there have been several additions made to the home over time. The original front door and location of several windows on the original section of the house that were later made into doorways or covered by walls were also determined.
Rothaus believes that it’s critical for cities to have some sense of their heritage and the McDonald house is a great resource of information for the community.
“Kudos to the city and Preservation Commission to do this project in tough economic times. We have three of the best archaeologists in the state and we’ll get a good picture in three days,” Rothaus said.