Category: Archeology

The Northampton Furnace Archaeology Project: An Update from One of Our Micro-Grant Recipients

At our annual preservation micro-grant event in October, Baltimore Heritage gave archaeologist Adam Fracchia $250 to help with his archaeological exploration of the lives of enslaved people and convict labor at the ruins of the former Northampton furnace iron foundry (near Hampton Mansion). The project has already yielded many fascinating results! Please enjoy our guest blog post by Dr. Fracchia (fracchia@umd.edu) below. 

Students began excavating in the early fall of 2019.

In December of 2019, the first season of the Northampton Furnace Archaeology Project came to a successful conclusion. The Project’s goals were to better understand and document the lives of the convicts, indentured servants, and the enslaved peoples forced to work at the iron furnace operated by the Ridgley family from 1762 to the late 1820s. The iron furnace, which produced pig iron and cast iron including cannons and shot used in the Revolutionary War, generated the Ridgley’s great wealth and supported their lavish lifestyle.

The archaeological field school operated through the University of Delaware, Newark, sought to find material evidence of their lives that would add these workers to the history and narrative of the Hampton plantation. Starting in August, the students and I began a field survey of the furnace landscape. They documented and mapped different features on this industrial landscape such as the earthen dam, quarries, the furnace, outbuildings, and structures.

The remains of the earthen dam used to channel water to the water driven furnace bellows.

Through the excavation of shovel test pits, the students surveyed a large area where workers were believed to have lived. Five test units were also excavated around the remains of a structure that may have dated to the period of the furnace. The students were able to document these structures below the surface and map and describe the different soil strata that detail the history of the site. Some artifacts were found dating to the furnace period. Evidence was also found of the farm that post-dated the furnace and was in operation until the flooding and creation of the Loch Raven Reservoir in the early twentieth century.

The students presented their preliminary findings to the public at Hampton NHS in December and the analysis of the archaeological data is currently ongoing. Much of the landscape of the furnace is buried or hidden under the later farm or is more ephemeral. The Project seeks an external contractor to conduct a higher resolution LIDAR scan of the core furnace area. This detailed scan of the elevation would allow us to better locate structures, such as the log houses, where the workers may have been living. This project is just the beginning of an effort to detail the lives of the workers at the furnace. We sincerely thank Baltimore Heritage for their support and encouragement with this project.

A mix of iron handwrought and cut nails.
A mix of fragments of 18th and 19th-century ceramics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information, check out the project’s blog

Volunteers explore a test unit at the Sellers Mansion

Archaeology at Sellers Mansion Keeps Stabilization Moving Forward

Over the weekend of July 28, Dr. Adam Fracchia and a group of trained archaeologists volunteered with Baltimore Heritage in an archaeology exploration on the grounds around the Sellers Mansion in West Baltimore’s Lafayette Square neighborhood. The work was done to help the mansion’s owner, Sellers Mansion Partners LLC, meet a city requirement to conduct an archaeology investigation before moving forward in stabilizing the building.

Vacant and derelict free standing Victorian mansion
Sellers Mansion in West Baltimore’s Lafayette Square neighborhood

The Sellers Mansion was built in 1868 as the first residence on Lafayette Square by Matthew Bacon Sellers, Sr., the head of the Northern Central Railroad. Sellers’ son, Mathew Bacon Sellers, Jr., grew up in the house and went on to become a leader in creating what is today the space agency NASA. In addition to the Sellers home, the mansion served as offices for a variety of community organizations before becoming vacant in the 1990s. It has been  a preservation priority for Baltimore Heritage since then.

curved brick walkway uncovered.
Archaeologists exploring a curved brick walkway

The two-day investigation documented several aspects of the Sellers’ estate, including a curved brick walkway on the north side of the building and the foundation of a small free-standing building at the northeast corner that was likely a nursery.

 

blue and white ceramic fragment the size of a dime
Ceramic fragment

The volunteers also unearthed a number of ceramic fragments dating to before the Civil War. These include pieces of dinnerware and the stem of a clay pipe, the types of things that you would expect to find around a house that dates to the mid-nineteenth century.

fragment of slate pencil
Slate pencil

Late on the second and final day, the team also uncovered a section of a slate pencil: akin to today’s graphite pencil but without the wood and used to write on slate.

The exploration is now complete and the next step is for Dr. Fracchia and Baltimore Heritage to prepare and submit a report to the City’s historic preservation commission (CHAP) documenting the work and what was found. With CHAP’s approval, Sellers Mansion Partners will then have the green light to continue with stabilizing and eventually rehabbing the building.