Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Introducing the Bostwick House

The Center for Heritage Resource Studies of the University of Maryland began a small excavation at the Bostwick House this morning. It is scheduled to last for about one week. For this post we decided to write a little bit about this fantastic 18th century structure. Its history is closely related to that of the Market Master’s House, having a common owner and builder.
Christopher Lowndes, who we have mentioned in previous posts, was a major merchant, manufacturer, importer, slave trader and postmaster of Bladensburg. He was among the signers of a petition drawn up to commision the founding of the town. He also served as a court justice for Prince George’s County and town commissioner of Bladensburg.
The main body of the house was built sometime between 1742 and 1746, making it one of the first buildings constructed in Bladensburg. The main body of the house is a two-and-a-half story high early Georgian-style house. A long grassy terraced garden runs between the house and 48th street in Bladensburg. Currently, the architecture of the house reflects the tastes and fashions of the long succession of owners that owned and lived there throughout the last 250+ years. Porches, exterior kitchens, and buttresses were added to the exterior. Decorative elements such as plaster wall decoration, stained glass windows, Victorian wallpaper, larger staircases, extra doors and hunting trophies have also added their distinctive style to the building.
The Center for Heritage Resource Studies of the University of Maryland conducted a survey of the property surrounding the Bostwick House in the Spring of 2008 (http://www.gazette.net/stories/08282008/hyatnew173812_32470.shtml). The results of the survey only touched upon the huge amount of archaeological research potential present at the Bostwick House and the other 18th century buildings in Bladensburg.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Day 14: Soil Chemistry/ The Discoveries of the Week

Soil Chemistry Explains Crumbling Ceramic Sherds
Julie:"While excavating out at the Market Master’s House site, we have noticed the very poor preservation of the ceramic artifacts. Many of the 18th and early 19th century ceramic fragments flake apart in layers as they are removed from their context. We suspected the poor preservation may be a result of the alkaline soil. This morning I stopped at the local hardware store and picked up 4 pH soil test kits for $1.50. I tested three strata in Test Unit 6 and found that the soil pH was very alkaline; the only neutral stratum was the 19th century layer that was filled with ash, coal, and artifacts. Based on our soil test, we found that the poor preservation of our 18th century ceramics was the result of the high alkalinity of the soil. Although this pH level is not good for the preservation of ceramic, glazes, lead, glass and fabrics, the alkaline soil seems less destructive to bone, lithics, shell, plaster, iron, and copper-alloy artifacts. "

Here is an interesting resource that desribes the effects of different soils on the preservation of artifacts:

The Discoveries of the Week Mike:"It was our second to last day at the site today. We finished all but one of the four test units we set out to complete this week. Our last week of fieldwork left us with some interesting finds. Postholes popped up in the bases of several units around the house, up to three feet below the surface. This suggests several things. First of all, the historic living surface of the Market Master’s House is much lower than the present surface level. A careful examination of our artifacts and fieldnotes will indicate to us, in coming months, how well preserved these early historic strata are. It also suggests that the historic landscape around the house was crowded with architectural features such as fences, awnings, and smaller impermanent wooden buildings. I now see the lone solid frame of the Market Master’s House differently, imagining it surrounded not by grassy lawn and gardens, but by a very different landscape of dense domestic, industrial, commercial and agricultural activities and their respective constructions.

Another interesting discovery made this week resulted from the shovel test pits we excavated below the asphalt of Market Lane, to the north of the house. The recovery of deeply buried artifacts from the 18th and 19th centuries suggests that some intact resources from that part of Lot 37 survive below the blacktop. All this suggests that, despite the long hours of work spent out at the Market Master’s House and the Magruder House, much remains to be learned about these resources."

Stay tuned for more at this blogsite as we report on the washing and analyzing of artifacts and the results of the architectural and deed research that is being conducted of the sites. We’ll also announce public events of the Bladensburg Archaeology Project and other local organizations, and report on what else is happening in archaeology around the region. The University of Maryland team will begin a small excavation at the Bostwick House starting Friday.

Here are some photos of the day including some of the delicious celebratory banana cream pie we ate from Clement’s in Bladensburg:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Day 13: Closing up the Units/ More Work to Come

Dave Gadsby writes:
"Archaeological activities are beginning to wind down at the Market Master's house. We spent a fairly mild summer day recording unit profiles and finishing excavations of the last few units. Mike, Janet and I also finished up some STPs in the lower parking lot area. By tomorrow, Rick and Jenn will likely have finished the remaining two units and shortly afterward, the piles of backdirt scattered throughout the yard will tumble back into the holes from which they were excavated.
While the recording phase of archaeological research is an extremely important part of the process, it doesn't often result in exciting finds. The most notable object I saw today was a fragment of shell- tempered prehistoric pottery. The acidic soils at the site had leached all of the calcium from the oyster, and only the baked clay fabric - pocked with holes where the shells had been - remained. We also recovered a large fragment of a large canning jar, still attached to the zinc top and white glass lid liner.

While this particular chapter of the project is drawing to a close, archaeologists will remain a presence in Bladensburg for some time to come. Starting Friday, we'll be doing some test excavations at Bostwick, and excavations at the George Washington house will take place in the more distant future."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Day 12: Back in the Field Again, Multiplying Postholes!

Crew member Janet Donlin wrote about her exciting day:
"Hey everyone! Today we headed back out to Market Master’s House after a week of processing artifacts in the lab. We still have four open units that we have to finish and we hope to be done by Thursday so it looks like we have our work cut out for us. The good news is that Mike and I have almost finished our second unit, Test Unit 7. Today was pretty exciting because we found our first legitimate features! We found what originally looked to be two post holes, but two turned in to three as we dug them out. Feature B was a very square and rather shallow post hole near the southeastern corner of our unit, and just above it to the north was Feature C. As we dug out Feature C, we found that it was actually two post holes (and their post molds) that were right next to each other. We guess that one was dug originally and then another was dug right next to it as the first fell into disrepair. In them we found some nails, a couple pieces of glass, and a few early 19th-century ceramics, like ironstone and pearlware. What the post holes were doing there is still open to debate. Since the soil on the west side of our unit was a little different from what was on the east (where the post holes were), we thought that maybe they were put in as part of a structure that was located in our unit, the soil on the west being the interior and the east being the exterior. However, we haven’t found very many artifacts to prove this, and like all archaeology there is a lot of conjecture involved. Still, our three post holes were pretty cool finds!"
Here is a picure of the two features. The one being excavated is Feature B. The one to the left of it is the double posthole, Feature C.
The second photo shows a detail of Feature C showing the two dark round stains representing the remains of posts and the outline of the holes dug before placing them in the ground. The one on the left was placed after the one on the right. Artifacts recovered from the soil affirm this interpretation.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Guest Blogger: Paul Shackel, University of Maryland/ Star-Spangled Trail Project and Blog

Today we asked Dr. Paul Shackel, Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Maryland, and one of the many participants in the Bladensburg Archaeology Project, to post a comment. Here is his posting:

"This research project sponsored by the State Highways Administration (SHA) and the University of Maryland (UM) is a wonderful example of cooperation and professionalism among two very important organizations in the State of Maryland. I am struck by the dedication and enthusiasm the archaeologists have for sharing their knowledge of the recent and distant past with the local community. This project began with a joint presentation lead by community leader Dick Charlton and University of Maryland graduate student Michael Roller. The presentation occurred several weeks before the research project began.

Engagement in the community provides an avenue to discuss what the archaeologists are doing in their neighborhood. It also allows for the research team to hear about the community’s concerns and interests. SHA and UM team members have attended local town meetings, making contacts with residents who are more than willing to share their experiences, concerns, and dreams for their community.

While this summer’s weather has made us dig out our old umbrellas and rain gear, there is a lot more work to do, building bridges with the community and learning more about the towns that are near the university. Pooling resources and talent from two of the state’s premier institutions in the state has allowed for a more fruitful and beneficial experience for the community as well as the institutions involved. I applaud Julie Schablitsky, section chief for the cultural resource section, Maryland SHA, and the rest of the project members from UM and the SHA for their enthusiasm and making this project an overwhelming success."

Here is a picture of (from L to R) Paul Shackel, Julie Schablitsky and Cindy Chance taken on our Public Day.

We wanted to inform you about another project related to the Bicentennial celebration of the War of 1812. University of Maryland graduate student Kristin Sullivan is working on the Star-Spangled Trail project for the National Park Service. Her project is concerned with connecting the historic celebrations with living communities along the Trail, such as Bladensburg. She has set up some electronic resources such as a blog: http://www.starspangledbannerblogger.wordpress.com/,
and a Twitter page: www.twitter.com/ssbblogger. She is actively looking for feedback, opinions, advice and suggestions from the Bladensburg community. Please feel free to contact Kristin through these sites.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Guest Blogger: Architectural Historian Melissa Blair

We are taking a short break from fieldwork but will be resuming next week. The trenching at the Mango Cafe has been rescheduled for a later date. In the meantime, labwork and research are continuing and muscles are resting. We asked State Highway Administration architectural historian Melissa Blair to talk a little bit about her involvement in the project and share some early photos of the Magruder House. Here is her entry:
"Hi! I’ve been an architectural historian at SHA for 5 years. One of my favorite things about the job is partnering with archaeologists on projects and learning about a discipline that I have very little training in. In overly simple terms, architectural historians look at cultural resources above ground level and archaeologists look at cultural resources below ground. Of course there are plenty of resources that don’t fall neatly into one category or the other, such as ruins or cemeteries, and in truth, most historic resources have both an above ground and below ground component – so you would think that archaeologists and architectural historians worked closely together all the time. Sadly, this is not the case. We get trained in separate academic departments, go to different conferences, read different journals, and generally get stuck in the silos of our own disciplines. Because of the structure of our federal historic preservation compliance laws, transportation-related Cultural Resources Management (CRM) is an arena where archeologists and architectural historians do work closely together. It’s a good thing, because ultimately we are all passionate about the past and strive to make history a relevant part of today. We just go about doing so in very different ways.
The Bladensburg project is a great example of integrating archeology and architectural history. All of the digs are happening around buildings that are still standing. The buildings give clues to the archeologists about where to dig, and in turn, the artifacts and features they uncover expand our understanding of the buildings.

All of the buildings that are part of the Bladensburg project (Magruder House, Market Master’s House, George Washington House/Indian Queen Tavern, and Bostwick) are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, all have Maryland Historical Trust preservation easements protecting them, and all are in good to excellent states of preservation. Not bad, considering how little of the rest of Bladensburg’s colonial past remains.

Here are a few historic photos of the Magruder House. The earliest photo we found so far, taken some time around 1900, shows the rear of the house, the area where most of our recent archaeological excavations took place.

A picture from 1922 shows the façade with a gable front entry porch.

By 1936 (the date of the third picture), the porch had been altered and the wood shingles on the roof had been replaced. The last picture, taken around 1989, shows the house after an extensive restoration. Note how the porch and roofing materials have been restored to the earlier appearance.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Day 11: You'd Think We Have Had Enough of This Place...

Though it was the last scheduled day for the Market Master’s excavation, there is more to come! Firstly, we will make up for our rain days with three or four days of fieldwork during the last week in June. We will finish some unfinished units that turned up some exciting things, and open up some additional units. Additionally, the University of Maryland team will dig trenches in the parking lot of the Mango Café next week to determine if intact resources exist beneath the pavement. On August 12th the Anacostia Watershed Society will kindly host us for a Public History Workshop in which we will have a guest lecturer, historian Susan Pearl, give a talk about transportation and change in Bladensburg. Additionally we will give a short presentation of preliminary project results. Stay tuned for more updates on this exciting project.

Here is a posting from Tara Giuliano about her experiences at the site:
“I got the chance to work on Test Unit 1 and Test Unit 8, both on the south side of the house. The units were both unique and different- even though they were 6 feet from each other! We have been getting a lot of smoking items, such as pipe stems and pipe bowls. Most of them were made of white ball clay called kaolin, but we did fine one special pipe that was made of stoneware and is smaller and thicker then your average tavern pipe. All these pipe steams and pipe bowls suggest the Market Master house was definitely an area that was used by the public. I can't wait to get these artifacts into the lab and cleaned!
Today was my unofficial last day doing field work in the state of Maryland, and my last day on the Bladensburg project. This fall I will be attending the University of West Florida in Pensacola, and I am gearing up for a rather large move next month. Working with the Maryland State Highway Administration has giving me a great opportunity to do many things in the field of cultural resources, but I am really glad I got the chance to work on the Bladensburg project. Both the Magruder house and the Market Master house gave us so much information into the town of Bladensburg and what these houses were used for in the 18th and 19th centuries.”

We also asked Vincent Shirbach to write a bit about his experience at public day, which was a fantastic experience for all of us. His narrative is followed by a few great photos:
“Hi everyone! I would like to thank everybody who came out for public day last Saturday. The turnout was fantastic and way more than we expected. I absolutely enjoyed talking to folks about archaeology and what we’re doing. People from all over got a chance to talk one on one ad hoc with archaeologists with different backgrounds on the same project, and we embrace the curiosity. I'll tell you, archaeology is no big secret, so ask us anything!
Aside from the three rainy days in which we were forced indoors (or outside playing in the puddles with the neighborhood kids…), we are actually coming across so much evidence of the trade market and even prehistoric artifacts that we are constantly stopping and running over to see what people have found. It’s a good thing, trust me! In TU 4, we have found the iron frame to a double barreled pistol, which is surprisingly heavy and could not have been practical considering its weight alone without the rest of the firearm’s assemblage. A beautiful porcelain tea set was found early in the unit, along with gold-leafed porcelain creamer which the house’s residents (who I must also thank for their unbelievable hospitality and generosity) possessed the matching piece! Talk about a stroke of luck! I have to say that it’s the complex plethora of ceramic artifacts that intrigues me the most. Sensible enough considering this was a trading port and possibly one of America’s first post offices. Seriously: the porcelain, redware, yelloware, pearlware, stoneware, creamware… it’s gorgeous.”

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Day 10: "Featuring" Julie

When people think of archaeology they automatically envision artifacts but, we find so much more than broken bits of glass and ceramics. Today, the Market Master’s House is only one of four 18th century buildings still standing in Bladensburg; however, over 100 years ago barns, offices, and houses stood all around this humble stone building. Indeed, these structures likely left behind traces of themselves and activities related to their function. Sometimes, we find stone foundations, brick lined outhouse holes, and trash middens. These remains are called features. The difference between a feature and an artifact is that you can’t take a feature into the lab, you have to photograph, map, and take notes before you bisect, dig, and remove it from it’s original context.

Over the last two weeks, we have found an amazing artifact assemblage that dates from the mid 18th through the mid 20th century. But, we have also found features in every unit. Some of the features are only subtle changes in soil color and texture. For example, we found the archaeological signature of a roof drip line in two of our units that suggests the 18th century Market Master’s House either had a roof that extended a few feet beyond the current roof edge or that another structure was nearby, perhaps a covered work area or porch. We also found a beautiful mid 18th century posthole and post mold behind the house in Test Unit 1 that indicates a nearby building. We opened up new excavation units this week and I am sure we will find more features, and of course, artifacts.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Day 9: A Very Special Guest Field Tech and Blogger

This morning we had to do a bit of clean up as a result of last night's storms. We ended up having a great day, nonetheless! We had a guest volunteer help us in the field, Mayor Walter James, Jr. of Bladensburg! Following his fieldwork, in which he helped dig, screen and identify artifacts, we asked him to write a blog posting for us. Here is his narrative, followed by some photographs of the day:

"My name is Walter Lee James, Jr. I am the Mayor of the wonderful and historic Town of Bladensburg. Who would have thought that you could have so much fun digging in your own backyard? Well, that is exactly what I did today. Today I joined a team of archaeologists excavating around the Market Master’s House in Bladensburg. It was an experience of a lifetime. I learned a lot about “strats”, levels, ceramic pottery, pipes and historic nails. The experience today has given me a new found appreciation for the work that goes into gathering pieces of history to be placed in our museums. It was not only fun, but educational. Our students at all grade levels could benefit greatly from being apart of such a wonderful project. I am truly grateful for the time, energy and commitment shown by the Maryland State Highway Administration in promoting historic preservation in our community. Therefore, on the behalf of the residents, council and staff of Bladensburg, I say thank you all for all the great work you have done and are continuing to do, in order to ensure that we never forget the rich history of our world . This project is a great example of what can happen when we work together."

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Day 8: Morning Rain/ Artifacts, Artifacts, Artifacts

We were rained out again this morning! Though with the unpredictable weather, the sun came out. After bailing water from some of the test units with buckets, the crew went into the labs to wash and document the artifacts from the Magruder and the Market Master’s House excavations.
Here is a collection of four ceramic sherds from Test Unit 1 at the Market Master’s House. They range in date from about 1720 to 1830. The one on the far left is a piece of a white salt-glazed stoneware plate. This type of stoneware dates to between 1720 and about 1770. It frequently has a molded decorative pattern on it, particularly after 1740. This particular piece, a rim fragment, has “barley” and “basket” patterns on it. The second two sherds are Whieldon ware. Whieldon ware, or “Clouded ware” is an earthenware that dates from 1740-1770. It has a cream-colored body and is frequently decorated with green, brown, purple, yellow or grey spattered decoration. The piece on the left, another plate rim, has a “barley” pattern molded decoration and is green-glazed. This innovation was achieved in 1759. The plate rim sherd on the far right is shell-edged white earthenware. It has a scalloped-rim with impressed straight lines and a green hand-painted decoration. It dates to a bit later than the other pieces, between about 1800 and 1830.
These are just a few of the ceramic types we have been finding at Market Master's. They demonstrate the ways the occupants or propriators of the house engaged in a global trade of consumer goods and lifestyles. Later, when we have collected, assembled, counted and compared all of the artifacts from the site, we will be able to draw some interpretations from these bits of data.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Day 7: A Tour of the Market Master's/ Hard Work Pays Off In Unit 2

Another hot but exciting day in the field. Interesting features and artifacts were found (see below). We also received a tour of the Market Master's House from John and Ellen Pliska who are currently living in the house, and who also kindly treated us to a delicious lunch of Bratwurst! We asked them to guest blog for us today about the history of the Market Master's House, and what it is like to live in it circa 2009:

"Hi. We’re Jon and Ellen Pliska. We’ve lived in the Market Master’s House for almost 4 years. We’re thrilled to have the archeological project going on. It’s a great way to teach the public about all of the interesting things that have gone on here since 1760."
Jon: "The history Market Master’s House goes back to 1742 with the founding of the town of Bladensburg. In that year, the lot next door was set aside for the Market Square. Later that century, a large tobacco warehouse was erected there. We believe the “Market Master’s House” has a strong relationship with the Market Square. The building was constructed between 1760 and 1765 by Christopher Lowndes, a local merchant and one of the wealthiest men in the Maryland Colony. The house, most likely, served a commercial purpose for Lowndes, possibly a warehouse, store, a residence for the market master, or even a stop for the local mail, as Lowndes was one of the original 13 Postal Officers appointed by Benjamin Franklin. In all likelihood, the house served a variety of functions at the same time.
The house remained in the Lowndes family until 1883, at some point transitioning into a residence. Unfortunately, by the 1920s, the house was in a severely dilapidated condition. At this time, it was saved by Raymond Evans. Evans repaired the house and added a new bedroom on the top floor and a kitchen and a small dining room on the first floor. He turned an upstairs closet into the only indoor bathroom. Evans lived in the house with his wife and three children. That must have been very cozy. We can’t imagine living here with three other people!!!
Following the departure of the Evans family, the house was owned and rented out for over 50 years by Susana Christofane, the then mayor of Bladensburg (and ardent preservationist) and later her daughter Susana Christofane Yachtman. In 2004, the Market Master’s House was purchased by the Aman Memorial Trust, a local group dedicated to historic preservation in and about the town of Bladensburg."
Ellen: "Living in the house can be interesting at times. Our friends say it’s like being inside Alice in Wonderland, with all of the funny shaped doors, low ceilings, and curvy stairs. Taking a shower can be a bit of a challenge for people over 5’8”. Jon has to bend a bit to fit in the shower. I’m only 5’6” and while I can stand, I have to bend to get the top of my head wet. Despite these things, it’s like living in a story-book house."

Also on the site today persistence paid off, as we found an artifact to help us date the prehistoric component of the site.
Janet Donlin writes: "Hard work really does pay off! Mike and I have been working hard in the sun to finish up Test Unit 2. Just this morning we hit what we thought was sub-soil, and were ready to finish up the unit. As we went through it, however, we kept finding little pieces of cultural material here and there, from the 19th- and 20th-centuries. It started to turn up less and less as the afternoon wore on, and Mike and I were both ready to close up the unit. Around 3:00 Julie came over to see the unit and Mike was telling her how we were nearly done. No sooner had he said this than I discovered a stone projectile point. It’s about 2 inches long and we think it dates to the Archaic Period, (between 7500 B.C. – 1000 B.C.) This is just the kind of thing that our unit was looking for, and I’m so glad we didn’t call it quits before finding it. This is definite proof of Native American occupation in the area. We’re going to keep digging tomorrow, and hopefully we can find some more like this!"
For info on the archaic period please see:

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Day 6: A Very Successful Public Day

From Jenn Babiarz:
"Yesterday we opened the Market Master archaeology site to the public so they could get a look at how we conduct our research, and even try a hand at it themselves. We ended up having quite a few visitors (I would guess at least 75) of all ages, and many of them were from the area. I spent the day with Dave Gadsby showing the artifacts that we’ve found on the site in the last week, and explaining what we do with them after we dig them out of the ground. It was a lot of fun showing people how much a tiny piece of broken plate can tell us about the daily lives of people in the past. Most people didn’t know that the Market Masters house even existed, and all those from local communities were excited to see a bit of their local history being celebrated. Although I only got to see from a distance, I think that all the visitors had a lot of fun helping us screen the dirt that Ben spent all day shoveling out of a unit by the from the front door of the house. Their work will play an important part in how we understand the lives of those who lived in Bladensburg’s past. Many thanks to everyone who came by to see us; I had a lot of fun and learned a lot about the community that we’re working with!"

Mike Roller: "It was really exciting, and moving, to meet people who came out to the public day that had grown up in the neighborhood. We heard memories and anecdotes of Bladensburg life dating back to 80 years ago! We collected contact information for some of these people and hope to meet with them and record some of their memories of Bladesburg geography, history and community. These memories, like archaeology, can help us fill in the gaps of history, and connect it to the people who lived through it.

I was really surprised when I told a gentleman that we were finding .22 rifle shell casings dating back to the mid-twentieth century in our unit. He then told me he had learned to fire a .22 rifle in the yard of the Market Master's House when he was a young boy right around this time! He commented: 'They were probably mine!'."

Friday, June 5, 2009

Day 5: Rained Out Again!

The rain kept us in again today. There was so much rain that we had to bail the water from out of our test units with buckets! We'll be ready for public day tomorrow, though. Here is a bio and narrative from one of the crew members at the Center for Heritage Resource Studies:

"I’m Cindy Chance, a graduate of the MA program in Anthropology from the University of Maryland, College Park (May 2008) with a Certificate in Historic Preservation. I’ve been lucky enough to participate in several archaeological projects, beginning with Field School at Wye House on Maryland’s Eastern Shore; then two months last spring on Fleet and Cornhill Streets plus the Market Square for the city of Annapolis; and now this Market Master’s House in Bladensburg.

On much of the property surrounding the Market Master’s House, the archaeology seems to be intact and I am hopeful we’ll find ample undisturbed artifact collections. The crew is diligent and work proceeds rapidly. Tomorrow, we’ll host our Public Archaeology Day. Although the work is early in the process, this is a great time for the public to view our site for two reasons: first, we have impressive finds; and second, a visitor will get a great sense of the process of archaeology. Rather than visiting a finished site, visitors will experience a “work in progress”.

This is a gem of a project: a slice of colonial life in an urban environment, an intact and significant historic property, and an abundance of artifacts to shed light on a lifeway since buried."

Here is a link to a neat public archaeology project across the continent in San Jose, California by the Anthropological Studies Center of Sonoma State University. They have finished their excavations and are deeply involved in labwork. This week you can read a great post about processing artifacts: