Today marked the midway point for this first field season of the Herring Run Archaeology Project, and we enjoyed the beautiful cool weather as we continued to make new discoveries.
One of our ongoing goals is to define the dimensions of Eutaw House. We need evidence of all four walls to get a sense of how big the house was, so Jason set out this morning to identify more of Eutaw’s foundation.
As it turns out, the west wall, much like the north wall, was still intact and fairly close to the surface. A section of the west wall was uncovered and documented by lunchtime. While digging, one of today’s volunteers (NPS archeologist and Baltimore Heritage board member Dave Gadsby) noticed a dark stain near the west wall. After some careful cleaning of the area we determined the stain was likely the remains of a decayed post that may have supported a porch or stair. Tomorrow we will excavate the post and begin searching for the other two walls.
To the west of Eutaw House, Lisa and her team of volunteers continued their excavation of the mixed historic and Native American component of the site. In addition to finding nearly seventy-five Native American stone artifacts over the last two days, they have also discovered some of the earliest European artifacts at the site. These artifacts point to an occupation that predates that of William Smith by several decades.
Another interesting discovery was the identification of an oyster shell midden (trash pit). So far, the excavation of the oyster midden is in its preliminary stages, and we’re looking forward to exploring it more fully on Thursday.
We had two goals when we arrived at the site this morning: the first was to get to the bottom of the Eutaw House cellar hole, which we accomplished! It took all day, but dedicated digging by volunteers Kasey Johnson and Ernie Dimler helped us expose the cellar floor, which turned out to be native bedrock.
Now we have a much better understanding of the sequence of events that followed the burning of the house in 1865. We continued to find pieces of serving dishes and teawares amid the rubble today, which is of particular interest given what we know of the history of the Hall family, who lived in the house when it burned. They were preparing to host several guests in honor of a young family member’s christening when the house caught fire. Many of the plates and teacups we found in the rubble were likely set out in anticipation of that happy event.
Our second goal was to figure out what was going on in a test unit placed near what would have been the center of Eutaw House. Instead of uncovering a continuation of the cellar hole, which would not have extended across the entire footprint of Eutaw House, we discovered what appear to be remains of an earlier structure. We’ve been finding artifacts of slightly earlier date in this location, but not very many of them. We haven’t yet answered our questions about this complex area of the site – in fact, we have even more questions than when we started – but we’ll be tackling all of these as the work continues this week.
We’re also expanding the dig to include areas that would have been located outside Eutaw House, and will be trying to identify other spots that could contain intact remains of the house foundation. So there’s lots of interesting work to come!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
Over the next two weeks, visitors to Herring Run Park can meet archaeologists Lisa Kraus and Jason Shellenhamer along with dozens of volunteers working together to uncover 200 years of hidden history. With support from Preservation Maryland, the Herring Run Park Archaeology project is bringing neighbors together to answer exciting questions about the history of northeast Baltimore and protect archaeological resources. Read on for a quick introduction to the project and details on the Herring Run Park Archaeology Open House Weekend, May 16-17.
On the park side of quiet Eastwood Drive, our team is searching for Eutaw – an 18th century country estate owned by William Smith. In addition to a long career as a merchant, Smith (not to be confused with General Samuel Smith) served as a representative from Maryland to the House of Representatives, the Maryland State Senate. Beyond this fascinating site, additional survey work (see the project update by archaeologist Lisa Kraus from last December) opened up new questions about a complicated landscape of archaeological remains that we hope to continue to explore through a nine-day excavation that begins this Saturday.
But this project is about more than history. Public archaeology bring neighbors together to share stories and preserve historic landscapes. For our third public archaeology project since 2011, we are excited to partner with the Northeast Baltimore History Roundtable and the Friends of Herring Run Parks. We are also glad to continue our partnerships with the Archeological Society of Maryland, Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, and Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks. Best of all are the amazing group of residents in Lauraville, Hamilton, and Arcadia who have championed this project over the past year. These residents who are donating their time and expertise to this effort and passionate about their community’s history. Local resident (and CHAP’s executive director) Eric Holcomb and his neighbor Rich Dowd even built the screens our volunteers will be using in the field!
You can still get involved as a volunteer or by sharing your own questions about the history of the park. Are you wondering who worked at the mills, the hotels, taverns, and farms that existed here in the 1800s? Did Native Americans establish settlements or camps here? How has the neighborhood changed over time, and what has stayed the same? Let us know your questions or ideas in the comments.
Northeast Baltimore residents, archaeology enthusiasts, students and families are all encouraged to stop by to learn more about historical archaeology and the history of Herring Run Park. We’ll be offering guided tours of the site at 10:00 am, 11:30 am, and 1:00 pm; family-friendly self-guided tours withthe new TaleBlazer smartphone app; and opportunities to talk with the team and see the finds from the week of work in the park.
Updated 2015 May 7: The original version of this post incorrectly named Eutaw as the home of Samuel Smith. Eutaw was the property of William Smith and his cousin Samuel Smith lived nearby at Montebello. Our apologies for the error!
My husband Jason and I moved to Northeast Baltimore in 2012, and were immediately intrigued by the tantalizing little glimpses of history we saw all over our neighborhood. We spotted a few 19th-century farmhouses sitting a little askew on the predominantly 20th-century landscape. We heard stories about an old pickle factory that once sold pickles for a nickel, right down the street from our house. We spotted a one-room schoolhouse that had been expanded into a social club, and an old stone mill building built into a hillside. We walked through the 19th-century German Lutheran cemetery nestled in the center of Montebello Park. While walking our dogs, we found Hall’s Spring and the shell of the old Eutaw Methodist Church in Herring Run Park, and wondered about the vanished communities those facilities once served.
Since we’re both archeologists and share a persistent curiosity about the past, we started looking at historical maps of Baltimore and trying to reconcile them with the modern landscape. We spent weekends at the archives doing research. It became clear that our neighborhood had a deep history, with European- and African-American settlements dating back to the 1600s and 1700s, and the possibility of prehistoric occupation stretching back thousands of years. To our surprise, we found that very little archaeology has been done in our neighborhood and we started thinking about how we could change that.
Through some sort of cosmic serendipity, right about the time Jason and I started talking about starting an archaeology program in our neighborhood, the Northeast Baltimore History Roundtable approached Baltimore Heritage about starting a public archaeology project in Herring Run Park. After meeting with both groups and coordinating with the Friends of Herring Run Parks and the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks, we set out for the park to see what we could find.
We were searching for sites that could tell us something new, something we couldn’t learn from books, maps or other records. After all, written history often reflects the interests and concerns of a limited group of people. Many wealthy and influential people called Baltimore home over the years, but most of the city’s former residents left few written records behind. Archeology is one of the best ways to learn more about the lives of the poor, the working classes, immigrants, women, children, free and enslaved African Americans, and Native Americans.
Very little is known about early residents of Northeast Baltimore. Who worked at the mills, the hotels and taverns, the farms that existed here in the 1800s? Who were the earliest immigrant settlers in the area, and where did they live? Were there Native American settlements and camps here? What were the lives of all these early residents like, and how did they influence the area that eventually became Greater Lauraville? How has the neighborhood changed over time, and what has stayed the same?
Over the last few months, we’ve discovered sites in Herring Run Park that could answer many of these questions, and raise many more. We’re looking forward to working with our partners, neighbors, students and volunteers as we make more discoveries, and we hope you’ll join us!