Giammalvo unearths Hillsboro’s history and it’s on display at the library

Matthew Giammalvo moved to Hillsboro from Orlando, Florida four years ago. Since that time, he has unearthed many interesting relics of history in the area surrounding his community. These relics include everything from fossilized whale bones to Civil War relics. According to Giammalvo, he became interested in local history after hearing stories of Civil War troop movements not even a mile encampments that were located within a mile of his home over 150 years ago. He learned that a major encampment was once located at the four-way intersection in Hillsboro, and that his own home and barn were right on the edge of the encampment.

As he researched the history of the area, he discovered that the Union Army burned the town of Hillsboro to the ground in 1864 and only the town church was left standing. “What is so crazy is that when I first began digging in the area, I would get about a foot deep and find the clay coated in a layer of charcoal or ash residue from the fire. Due to the destruction caused by the fire, the town was never rebuilt,” he stated.

When he first began the digging process, he found very few relics. “It did not take long to realize that some people had ruined it for the ones of us who really have a desire to preserve history. Trespassers hoping to find something to sell at a pawn shop left holes behind that had to be filled by land owners. This abuse caused many land owners in the area to prohibit any further digging on their property.”

After three years, Giammalvo has accumulated many finds that tell different stories. “Everything I recover, I document. I keep a journal with me when I go excavating, and I record data as I go. So much of the labor is manual; however, I also use current methods of research available online to enhance the process. If I have access to an old map, I can use an app on my phone to superimpose a topographic map over a satellite map and determine the location of old houses. For example, historical records indicate that the Union Calvary camped along the river and had a skirmish with Confederate soldiers. Using historical records and the latest technology, I can date the firing of a bullet found at the site within a two-hour window…even though the battle happened 160 years ago.”

Giammalvo explained that the entire process compares to starting with four to five pieces of a 1000-piece puzzle. Once the pieces start fitting together, then the story begins to evolve. One such story started with the excavation of a wagon wheel axle.

“Using electrolysis, I could tell that the wagon dated before the 1880’s, and that it was made locally here in the South. The skein of the axle was hand-forged, and the metal was pounded to a very thin form, which is probably the reason it snapped. The ax heads found at the sight were also crafted by a local blacksmith,” Giammalvo said. “The people working on the wagon broke two axes in their attempt to repair the damage. I could tell that the people who owned the wagon were working-class or farmers, and the wagon was probably loaded down with goods to sell or barter. The loss of the skein was frustrating to the family who was probably depending on the trip for their source of income or means of support.”

In addition to his civil war discoveries Giammalvo has also unearthed animal fossils. Just recently, he discovered a whale vertebrae believed by some to be millions of years old. He has taken this amazing discovery to the Natural Science Museum in Jackson for additional processing.

“This is my biggest find to date. The whale fossil looked like a stump covered in mud and moss. After closer examination, I realized that it was much more than a stump in the woods,” Giammalvo said. “I hope to display the fossil at the library, once it is returned from the museum. The most important advice I can give anyone who might be walking in the woods or hiking across a field is to put down your phone and really notice your surroundings. You might be surprised what you find.”

Giammalvo’s Civil War relics, along with collected historical military books, manuscripts, maps and other items are currently on display at the Forest Public Library. To view the Civil War display, plan a visit to the Forest Public Library. All items on display have been identified by location and publication dates. For more information concerning the display or to share a display of interest with the library, call 601-469-1481.