Fort Wayne Man's Long-Distance Hobby

By Mike Green

June 18, 2010 Updated Jul 26, 2007 at 8:18 PM EDT

(Fort Wayne) -- Most days, you'll find Mike Westfall in his office where he serves as property manager for Parkview Health System. But even here, Mike's mind sometimes drifts off to another place, another time. To Tidewater, Virginia, and the very beginnings of the United States.

"They are at least in part your and my ancestors," Westfall said. "Europeans, native Americans, African-Americans, Spanish. Everybody has a tie very early to Jamestown and to the Virginia colony."

In 1607, a boatload of English families landed near the mouth of what's now the James River and built the first permanent European settlement in the new world. Disease, mismanagement and hostile natives nearly wiped out the little colony a dozen times, but it held on to become a permanent toehold in North America. 350 years later, it was discovered by Mike Westfall.

"My parents took me to Jamestown on a summer trip in 1962," Westfall said. "From that point on, I was hooked."

20 years later, grown-up Mike Westfall began making regular trips to Jamestown, volunteering with archeologists to excavate the original Fort James. Tedious duty, since there was little left of its old wooden palisades.

"You could spend an entire day on a posthole," Westfall explained. "So what you want to try to do is remove the dirt from the posthole and leave the posthole intact."

Slowly, the story of the Jamestown colony was unearthed -- through discovery of the fort's original walls, household items like pins, smoking pipes and pottery, a cache of breastplates and swords. And for several decades now, Mike Westfall has been there to see it all. He spends a month or more each year in the trenches -- literally -- helping uncover a story buried for four centuries. The experience, Westfall says, has made him a better citizen -- a better man.

"The farther back you're able to understand the past, the easier it is not to get worked up necessarily about individual incidents with the future," said Westfall. "And I think that's what history helps us do, it helps us understand where we're going because we understand that there's a past."

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