The Herring Run Park Archaeology Project saw some exciting finds in the field this spring. But archaeologists Lisa Kraus and Jason Shellenhamer will tell you that archaeology isn’t just about what you find, it’s what you find out! Please join the project’s new volunteer lab manager Karen Hutchins-Keim and student intern Lily Roze Annenberg this summer as we clean and process the artifacts recovered during our archaeological dig this past spring. Go ahead and sign up today!
You do not need any previous experience to participate. High school-aged volunteers are welcome. Working in the lab is a great way to learn how archaeologists identify and analyze artifacts whether they are broken pieces of brick or delicate shards of pottery.
You can also support the project by making a donation online to help cover the costs of the materials we use to conserve the artifacts. Finally, you can learn more about the dig with series of “Field Notes from Herring Run” that Lisa and Jason shared this past spring.
We happy to publish this special guest post from Lisa Kraus and Jason Shellenhamer who are leading an archaeological dig in Herring Run Park for the second year this spring. Hope to see you at the dig!
After last year’s successful dig, we are excited to start our second season of archaeological fieldwork in Herring Run Park on April 23. If you are interested in learning more about the dig, please join us for our Archaeology Open House in the park on April 30th to share our discoveries—we hope you can join us!
What are we looking for in Herring Run Park?
Last year, we located the site of Eutaw—the manor house of Baltimore merchant William Smith. This year, we are looking to learn more about a series of buildings found on mid-19th century maps just down slope from the Eutaw Manor house (we’ve been referring to these as “The Mystery Buildings”). With the help of project intern Aiden Ryan and volunteer Knuppel-Gray, we decided to dust off our screens and shovels, strap on our boots, and start a fun afternoon of exploration.
Thanks to the forty people who signed up to volunteer during the week long dig this spring we are expecting a full week of fieldwork starting on April 23. If you are interested in learning more, please come out and join us at our open house on Saturday, April 30, anytime from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
We’ll be offering guided tours of the site starting at 10 a.m., and there will be opportunities to talk with the team and see the finds from the week of work in the park.
The Herring Run Archaeology Project is organized in partnership with the Northeast Baltimore History Roundtable, Friends of Herring Run Parks, Archaeological Society of Maryland, Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks, and Baltimore City Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.
The Herring Run Park archaeology project is back for a second year of field work at site of Eutaw Manor from Saturday, April 23 to Sunday, April 30. If you want to join the dig as a volunteer, you do not need any previous experience with archaeology. Please go sign up online today to pick the dates that work best for you. You can expect to hear back from the project team within the next two weeks with more details on the spring schedule.
Local archaeologists (and northeast Baltimore residents) Jason Shellenhamer and Lisa Kraus started the search for remains of the former country estate in Herring Run Park back in 2014. Last spring, Jason and Lisa worked in partnership with Baltimore Heritage and the Northeast Baltimore History Roundtable on a week-long dig that brought dozens of volunteers and over a hundred visitors to Herring Run Park to learn about the history of the site and join in the hands-on search for Baltimore history. You can read their Field Notes from Herring Run chronicling the exciting finds on our blog.
If you are interested in bringing a school group to the site for an hour-long field educational field trip, please contact Jason and Lisa by email firstname.lastname@example.org. We are also planning a community open house on April 30 where anyone interested in the project is welcome to come out and learn more about the dig.
Nestled in a tiny patch of woods at the heart of Northeast Baltimore’s Westfield neighborhood, the Christopher Family Graveyard has been all but forgotten over the last fifty years. An unknown number of Christopher family members were buried in the plot sold out of the family in 1962. Over the years, the lot has become overgrown, and only a few neighbors and family members remember that the cemetery is even there. The tombstones that once marked the graves have been displaced, damaged by vandalism, and stolen. Now there is a new proposal by the property-owner to develop the land and place a road where the cemetery still stands.
Family cemeteries like this one pose a unique set of problems not only for the descendants of the people buried there, but for city planners, developers, and neighbors. The state agency that oversees graveyards, the Maryland Office of Cemetery Oversight, does not regulate abandoned cemeteries, family cemeteries, or non-operational cemeteries. Cemeteries are sometimes listed in the National Register of Historic Places if they meet special criteria but small family cemeteries do not generally qualify. Even if they did, listing in the Register does not afford any protection if the land is privately owned. And while these resting places may contain valuable archaeological data, their cultural significance as inviolate places where the dead are memorialized typically takes precedence over any research questions their excavation might help to address.
The preservation threat to the Christopher Family Graveyard highlights questions that often arise when a family burying-place is found unexpectedly on land slated for development. How do cemeteries vanish from official documentation such as land records? How old is the cemetery, who is buried there, and how long was it in use? How many burials might there be, and what can be done to find out? And perhaps most important of all: who decides the fate of this modest family burial plot?
Intensive historical background research can address some of these questions. The Christopher Family Graveyard appears in maps and surveys as late as 1941, but current maps do not depict a cemetery at this location. This appears to be due, at least in part, to the manner in which the land was transferred away from the Christopher family in the early 1960s. The property was foreclosed upon by the City, and subsequently sold to a non-family owner. While our research is continuing, one consequence of the foreclosure and sale by the City was that the subsequent deeds for the property did not mention the cemetery.
Although the foreclosure, makes it difficult to trace the land back using deed research, but with diligence, this obstacle can be overcome. The land records reveal that the Christopher family lived on the land that included the quarter-acre plot set aside for the cemetery from 1773 until the land was foreclosed in 1962. The land parcel was known, in the 18th century, as “Royston’s Study,” and was originally surveyed for John Royston in 1724. John Christopher purchased Royston’s Study, which originally included fifty acres, on July 29, 1773.
The cemetery first appears in a deed dated October 2, 1851, in which all the land, except the quarter-acre containing the graveyard, was sold to John Gambrill, with the following provision:
“reserving, however, the right to access to and egress from the said graveyard, over the land hereby conveyed, to the heirs and relatives of said John Christopher, deceased, at and for the sum of two thousand dollars.”
Although the land was sold, the family of John Christopher (most likely the son of the John Christopher who originally purchased of the land) paid the Gambrills for the right to access the family plot, which remained in their possession.
The following year, Elijah Christopher bought back a little more than two acres of the family property. According to the 1860, 1870, and 1880 federal census, Elijah worked as a wheelwright and carriage maker, an occupation that undoubtedly benefited from the property’s location fronting on Harford Road (known then as the Baltimore and Harford Turnpike). Elijah and his family remained on the property, and likely handed it down through the generations until 1962. Elijah appeared as the owner of the parcel on G.M. Hopkins’ 1877 Map of Baltimore.
That the cemetery exists is not only demonstrable through an examination of land records; one headstone remains on the plot, that of James and Sarah Christopher. James’ date of death is listed as 1899.
Without conducting a careful excavation of the cemetery and the area immediately surrounding it, it is impossible to know the number of burials that may be present. Although the fact that the quarter-acre plot was reserved in the 1851 deed of sale suggests that the burials could be confined to that one parcel, the family had occupied the land for almost eighty years by that time. It is possible, even likely, that burials exist outside the known cemetery boundaries.
As for what will become of the little cemetery, that has yet to be seen. Human remains, gravestones, monuments and markers may be removed from an abandoned, private cemetery, if the removal is authorized by the local State’s Attorney. State law then requires remains and any markers to be placed in an accessible place in another cemetery.
In addition, cemeteries can be sold for other uses if a court decision is made in favor of redeveloping the land. The court generally requires the proceeds from the sale of the land to be used to remove all human remains and monuments from the property. When a judgment for the sale of a cemetery for use for another purpose has been entered, the buyer of the cemetery receives the title to the land free of the claims of the owners of the cemetery and of the holders of burial lots in the cemetery.
Was this issue the subject of the 1965 court case? Have the burials already been removed? If so, these facts remain to be documented, and it seems unlikely, since several current neighbors remember more monuments being present as recently as ten years ago. The descendants of the Christopher family who still live in the area have a variety of preferences concerning the development of the land, but all agree that at a minimum, they wish to ensure that their ancestors’ graves are either avoided by the proposed development, or else moved before a cul-de-sac is constructed over the cemetery parcel.
When most people think about archaeology, they think a project is over when the digging is done. In reality, every hour spent on archaeological fieldwork requires as many as twenty hours back in the lab cleaning and processing artifacts. Herring Run Park project archaeologists Lisa Kraus and Jason Shellenhamer are headed to the lab in August and September to clean and process the artifacts recovered during our archaeological dig this past spring. Please come out to join us as a volunteer!
No prior experience is required to participate. Working in the lab is a great way to learn more about how archaeologists identify and analyze artifacts whether they are broken pieces of brick or delicate shards of pottery. The lab work will take place on Saturday afternoons, 12:00pm to 3:00pm, between August 22 and September 26 at the Natural History Society of Maryland at 6908 Belair Road, Baltimore, MD 21206.
Space for volunteers is currently limited to five people on each date so sign up soon with your interest. If we are not able to match you with a volunteer opportunity this fall, please stay in touch—we hope to offer additional dates later in the year. You can also learn more about the project from our series of “Field Notes from Herring Run” shared by Lisa and Jason during the dig.