Tag: Northeast Baltimore History Roundtable

Field Notes from Herring Run: Finding valuable information in a 150-year-old burned down house

Thank you to everyone who came to visit or volunteer at our archaeological dig in Herring Run Park last month. For our final Field Notes entry from the 2015 field season Lisa Kraus and Jason Shellenhamer shared a recap of what we were searching for and what we found. We’ll be looking for more volunteers to assist with processing the artifacts this summer so please sign up for project updates or get in touch with questions and suggestions.

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

Last month, we worked with and a team of volunteers completed the inaugural field season of the Herring Run Park Archaeology project. The focus of the investigation was Eutaw Manor. Eutaw Manor was the late 18th-century retreat of William Smith. Smith’s country estate spanned all of present-day Herring Run Park between Belair and Harford Roads as well as portions of Lake Montebello.

Portrait of William Smith and His Grandson, Charles Wilson Peale, 1788. Courtesy Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Portrait of William Smith and His Grandson, Charles Wilson Peale, 1788. Courtesy Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

In the 19th century, the estate and manor house became the home of Smith’s grandson, Benedict William Hall and his descendants. During their ownership, the property was improved to include a hotel, two mills, several tenant farms, and the Eutaw Methodist Church. In 1865, the Eutaw Manor house burnt to the ground as a result of an accident during a christening dinner.

Nearly 150 years after manor burned, archaeologists and volunteers from all over Maryland and greater Lauraville rediscovered this lost piece of local history. During the nine-day excavation, archaeologists and volunteers uncovered the remains of the home’s foundation and explored portions of the extensive cellar.

We recovered numerous artifacts during the excavation of the Eutaw Manor House including materials from the house itself. In addition to the foundation of the 60 by 60-foot house, numerous nails, window glass, and bricks were recovered from within the cellar hole and in the yards surrounding the home. Other artifacts included numerous fragments of tea and tablewares as well as tobacco pipe fragments, food remains, and glassware.

Burned plaster from Eutaw House, Herring Run Park Archaeology. Photograph by Lisa Kraus, 2015 May 11.
Burned plaster from Eutaw House. Photograph by Lisa Kraus, 2015 May 11.

While the fire that destroyed the house occurred over a century ago, the scars of that event were still evident. Much of the material recovered from the site bore evidence of the fire. The pottery was blackened, the glassware melted, and scorch marks on the foundation walls and the plaster showed evidence of smoke damage. Over the course of the excavation, it became apparent that many of the ceramic dish fragments recovered from the site were likely pieces of the very dishes the Hall family set out for their christening dinner on the last night the house stood. Although none of these fragmentary items has any monetary value, their worth in providing valuable information about the occupants of the house will be immeasurable.

Photograph by Eli Pousson, 2015 May 13.
Post hole for veranda on west side of the manor. Photograph by Eli Pousson, 2015 May 13.

Other discoveries from the site included the possible remains of the Eutaw kitchen, an oyster shell trash pit, and support posts for the large veranda that was once attached to the west side of the manor house. Another surprising find was a sizeable collection of pottery and other artifacts that suggest the site of the Eutaw Manor house was likely home to an earlier residence that predates the ownership of William Smith and his family; a home that might date to the 1750s or earlier.

Photography by Eli Pousson, 2015 May 13.
Photography by Eli Pousson, 2015 May 13.

The project was a remarkable success, and would not have been possible without the support of our amazing partners: the Northeast Baltimore History Roundtable, Baltimore Heritage, the Friends of Herring Run Parks and a generous grant from Preservation Maryland. Most importantly we want to thank you, the greater Lauraville community, for you ongoing interest in the project, generous support, and the hard work of our nearly 60 volunteer archaeologists who helped us learn a little more about our community’s past.

While the excavation is over for this year, there are more volunteer opportunities to come. Starting in late July, we will announce days and times when we will be washing and sorting the hundreds of artifacts collected from Eutaw Manor. If you didn’t have a chance to join in last month’s excavation, this will be an opportunity to get to see and touch all the interesting objects discovered in Herring Run Park!

Field Notes from Herring Run: We love figuring out how people lived back then!

Lisa and Jason are taking a well-deserved break from writing up their field notes so I’m stepping in to share a quick reflection on the first day of our weekend open house and the tremendous response we’ve encountered from visitors of all ages. With three tours around the site, we took nearly 100 people on a walk from the site of Eutaw Manor to visit the remains of the Eutaw farm mill race and an overgrown wagon road – features that are provided important clues to help us understand the historic landscape that survives in Herring Run Park.

Photograph by David Gadsby, 2015 May 16.
Photograph by David Gadsby, 2015 May 16.

Historic maps and images helped visitors to imagine what the site looked like 200 years ago and try to think about the lives of the people who lived and worked on the property. Eutaw wasn’t just home to William Smith. Around 1850, Venus and Jeremiah Tilghman were two of the fifteen people held in slavery on the property – and thanks to the Maryland Historical Society – we were able to share a daguerreotype of the couple with today’s visitors. Many who stopped shared their curiosity about what will happen to the artifacts after the dig is done. We encouraged everyone to sign up for project updates to find out about more opportunities to participate in the cleaning and processing of the artifacts from the dig later this year.

We also really appreciated Pamela Wood from the Baltimore Sun stopping by the dig to report on archaeology in Herring Run. It is wonderful to see the volunteers who made this project possible recognized for their important contributions:

Friends Jeanne Marsh and Ron Roski and 10-year-old neighborhood resident Sophia Manni bent over a mesh screen Saturday afternoon, shaking it in hopes that piles of dirt would reveal tiny fragments of artifacts. They found bits of ceramic, glass, charcoal and brick, as well as hand-made nails. Marsh, a member of the Archaeological Society of Maryland, was thrilled to participate in a project within the city. Many archaeological digs are out in the suburbs, she said, because much of the city has been paved over, making urban digs a rarity.

Sophia got a kick out of getting a firsthand look at history. She recently read about the Civil War and the evolution of women’s rights. “I love figuring out how people lived back then,” she said.

We do too, Sophia! Please come out to visit the site tomorrow – Sunday, May 17 – for a tour at 10:00 am, 11:30 am or 1:00 pm.

Photograph by Jason Shellenhamer, 2015 May 16.
Photograph by Jason Shellenhamer, 2015 May 16.

Field Notes from Herring Run: Excavating the immediate aftermath of an oyster picnic

Here it our latest in the series of field notes from archaeological dig at the Eutaw Manor and Mill complex in  Herring Run Park. Read on for Lisa Kraus and Jason Shellenhamer’s fifth journal entry – dated Thursday, May 14, 2015. Don’t forget to join us this weekend for the Herring Park Park Archaeology Open House – Saturday and Sunday!

As of today, we have discovered three of the walls of Eutaw House. Jason placed several exploratory test pits on the southern end of the site and this afternoon, exposed the top of the south wall. The south wall is located approximately 60 feet from the north wall, so already we know that this is a substantial structure. If we find the east wall, we’ll be able to figure out the building’s size, orientation, the arrangement of some rooms in the house, and the likeliest locations of other features like chimneys and outbuildings.

Oyster midden, 2015 May 13
Oyster midden, 2015 May 13

Lisa and her crack squad of volunteers excavated the oyster midden this morning. This little trash pit was exciting, although it contained relatively few artifacts compared to other spots across the site. It was a shallow pit, approximately 4 feet in diameter, filled with oyster shells and a handful of historic-period (ca. 1770-1820) artifacts. The oyster shells are likely the remains of a single meal, and we can tell that once they were discarded, they were completely undisturbed until we found them. So the oyster midden represents a moment in time, the immediate aftermath of an oyster picnic preserved for hundreds of years.

Only three days left! Today, we’re hunting for the east wall of the house and will begin to explore more of the yard space. Plus: is the mysterious depression on the western edge of the site the foundation of a small outbuilding, or something else entirely? We hope to find out over the next few days.