Field Notes from Herring Run: Meeting volunteers and finding Eutaw House

Over the next week, we’re excited to share updates the daily journal of archeologists Lisa Kraus and Jason Shellenhamer as they lead our archaeological dig in Herring Run Park. Read on for Lisa and Jason’s first journal entry and check out our gallery of photos from the first weekend of the dig.

When we first came to the Eutaw House site in the fall of 2014, we weren’t quite sure what we would find. We had studied historic maps, land records, newspaper archives, even paintings, and we knew that Eutaw, the home of wealthy merchant William Smith, must be nearby, but we couldn’t pinpoint its exact location.

During Smith’s lifetime, the view from the house would have included Herring Run, the Eutaw Mill and miller’s house, and several other tenant houses and outbuildings. While we were sure of the house’s general location, we were not confident that evidence of the house would still be present in the archaeological record.

Artifact, 2015 May 9.
Artifact, 2015 May 9.

On a brisk fall day, we came to a small bluff overlooking Herring Run and began digging a few holes known as shovel test pits. Almost at once, we identified traces of the house that once stood on the site and the people who occupied it: small broken pieces of dining and tea sets, bottle glass, tobacco pipe fragments, bricks, and several nails. Many of the artifacts were dateable from about 1760 to around 1860.

Eventually, we hit the jackpot! In one of our holes we encountered what looked like the top of a stone wall. Was the wall part of the foundation of William Smith’s 18th century manor house, called Eutaw, or some other outbuilding associated with the house? Or did we find the remains of something even earlier, perhaps the remains of a house that stood here before 1760? The only way to find out was to do more archaeology.

Luckily we have great neighbors who are also interested in the history of Eutaw and the greater Lauraville area. Members of the Northeast Baltimore History Roundtable, Baltimore Heritage and bunch of great volunteers are helping us uncover an astonishing archaeological site.

Young volunteer on top of the stone wall, 2015 May 10.
Young volunteer on top of the stone wall, 2015 May 10.

We started work this past Saturday, May 9th. The first place we explored was the mysterious stone building foundation we originally discovered in the Fall. Shortly after starting the excavation of our first test unit we rediscovered the wall. And as an added bonus, it appeared the building also had a cellar!

Finds from the first day, 2015 May 9.
Finds from the first day, 2015 May 9.

Was this wall part of the Eutaw House, or could it be a foundation to one of the outbuildings? The historical research we conducted on the property has provided some significant clues. A newspaper article from the 1850s tells us that Eutaw House was a substantial building (sixty feet on each side). A building that big would have been built on an equally substantial foundation. We also knew that in 1865, the Eutaw House burned down while guests were gathering there for the christening of one of the young family members.

While no one was hurt in the fire and much of the furniture was saved, the house itself burned down completely. Bad news for the Smith Family, but good for archaeologists: we knew if we found a burned foundation or blackened and melted artifacts, that would be persuasive evidence that we had found Eutaw House.

Cellar hole, 2015 May 10.
Cellar hole, 2015 May 10.

Starting Sunday morning, we began to explore the cellar and foundation wall further. As it turns out, it’s a pretty big wall, made of mortared, dressed fieldstone measuring approximately two feet wide. The foundation was certainly large enough to support the house described in the newspaper accounts.

As we began excavating the cellar hole, we found artifacts that had clearly been affected by fire: burned bricks and mortar, 19th-century teawares and serving dishes, melted bottle and window glass, and hundreds of burned nails. It appears we found the Eutaw House.

We’ve also found intriguing evidence of an even earlier structure nearby, possibly predating the 1760 Eutaw House. We’ll be investigating further this week as well. We’ve had some amazing volunteers this weekend, and it’s been a blast getting to know them as we continue solving the mystery of this incredible archaeological site. We’re excited to see what happens next – and we’ll keep you posted!

Archaeologists Jason Shellenhamer and Lisa Kraus, 2015 May 9.
Archaeologists Jason Shellenhamer and Lisa Kraus, 2015 May 9.

6 comments

  1. Jean Guice says:

    I have been working on my husband’s Woodyear genealogy in Baltimore. This morning I found the official death certificate for the wife of his 3rd great uncle. Her name was Elizabeth Woodyear. It shows that she died March 3, 1876 at Eutaw House! How is this possible if it burned in 1865?
    I can email you a copy if you are interested.

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