Friday, July 31, 2009

Special Assistance at the State Highway's Lab

Nichole: "Today Tara and I had some special helpers at the Maryland State Highway Administration archaeology lab. Marcell Thompson (left) and Javon Epps (right), Towson High School seniors, are participating in the Summer Youth Employment Program. They are interning with the Project Planning Division and get to experience different careers within SHA. They helped us wash artifacts from the Magruder House. Tara also gave them a lesson in prehistoric tool making and hunting practices. Marcell said he’s surprised how much archaeology can be found in our own backyard. He so insightfully said that if you learn about the past, you can better understand the future. Before today, Javon also didn’t know that there was so much archaeology in Maryland. He said today he learned about the important roll archaeologists play within State Highways. Both Javon and Marcell said that history is their favorite subject in school so we might have some future archaeologists!"

Friday, July 24, 2009

Anacostia River Flood Control Part 2/ AWS Lecture Series

A few older residents we spoke to at our Public Day and other outreach events had strong recollections of the flooding of Bladensburg. These floods continued until 1955, when the Army Corp of Engineers, in collaboration with several state and county agencies, commenced work on the Anacostia River Flood Control and Navigation Project. The collaborating agencies included the Prince George’s County Commissioners, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, the Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission and the State Roads Commission. This project was described by the WSSC: “The former twisting, winding stream has been freed from kinks, straightened and dredged to a depth of six feet at mean low tide; levees ranging from three feet to 18 feet in height and up to 118 feet in width guard both sides of the river; drainage channels and pumping stations have been built, and new bridges and highways constructed”.

The following images are excerpted from a publication by the WSSC created to explain the project to the public. The document is entitled "Taming A River: Anacostia Flood Control and Navigation Project". The first image shows the engineering plan (dotted line) superimposed over a photograph of the Anacostia River stretching from the northern end of Bladensburg up to Riverdale. (#3 on the map is Baltimore Avenue, #2 is Decatur, #1 is Riverdale Road).

The next image shows a flooded scene from the Peace Cross. This picture is from the Washington Evening Star and was taken after a storm in the summer of 1955.
The last image, also from 1955, shows the flooded landscape around the Decatur Street bridge.

Hopefully we have seen the last of the flooding of the Anacostia River. Though it has not asserted itself in quite so dramatic a way as it last did in 1955, the river is still central to life in Bladensburg. To understand the history, the geography, archaeology and the cultural life of Bladensburg, we can't forget the effects this mighty river has had on its history. By the same token, we must also examine the many ways that human contact has deeply affected the river throughout history.

On Thursday, July 30, the Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) will host a lecture series event featuring Dr. Harriette Phelps, Professor Emeritus at the University of the District of Columbia's Department of Biological and Environmental Science. Dr. Phelps's research focuses on active biomonitoring of the Anacostia River using the Asiatic clam (Corbicula fluminea) to identify areas where river sediments have been heavily polluted by toxins, including pesticides and heavy metals.

The lecture, which will include a slide show and question-and-answer period, will take place on Thursday, July 30, 2009 between 7:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. Light refreshments will be served. RSVPs are appreciated (see below for more information).

When: Thursday, July 30, 2009; 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Where: The George Washington House; 4302 Baltimore Ave.; Bladensburg, MD 20710
RSVPs: Please call 301-699-6204 or write to Please let us know how many people will be joining you at this event.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Bladensburg Community Partnership Networking Meeting

Yesterday (July 21st, 2009) representatives from the Bladensburg Archaeology Project attended the Community Partnership Networking Meeting at Bladensburg Town Hall. It was attended by more than 40 people representing the diverse interests of the town. Business leaders from the town of Bladensburg were joined by representatives from governmental, educational, spiritual, and charitable organizations. The goal of the meeting was to brainstorm the future and present needs of the town, and to make local connections between service providers and those in need of them.

Local community-based organizations included the Port Towns Community Development Corporation, the Anacostia Watershed Society, and the Bladensburg Rotary Club. Local business’ including Ken’s Auto Repair, C&M Exterminators, Suntrust Bank, Long Fence, Stephen’s Pipe and Steel, and PEPCO sent representatives. Federal, State and County organizations and agencies including the National Park Service, the State Highway Administration, the Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission, the Health Department of the Town of Bladensburg, Bladensburg High School, Bladensburg Elementary School and the Bladensburg Branch Library also sent representatives. Pastors from several local churches also attended including the Seventh Day Adventist Church and the Decatur Heights Baptist Church.

State Highway representatives Richard Ervin and Mike Roller spoke about the archaeology project and the goals of the community outreach component. Invitation was made to the community to help with the planning for best use of the recently acquired National Park Service Battlefield Protection Grant (see post: Community Members were also invited to attend the Public History Workshop, on August 12th. (see post: Connections were made with Bladensburg High School for the planning of a school presentation or a curriculum based upon the archaeological work conducted at the Magruder and Market Master’s Houses. Additionally, further planning was conducted for a presentation to be given at the Bladensburg Branch Library later this fall.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Taming the Anacostia: Flood Control in Bladensburg Part 1

A recurring theme in Bladensburg history is the flooding of the Anacostia River. Local accounts from as early as 1738, before the founding of the town of Bladensburg, talk about the damaging affects of the floodwaters. An account from Beall Town, an early settlement located just north of Bladensburg, describes the floods: “The freshes [floods] have brought down trees and trash which is lodged in and choak’d up the channel in said branch so that boats and other craft cannot be brought up to lod or relod goods at the usual landing place”

William Wirt, born in Bladensburg in 1762, and who later became Attorney General of the United States, wrote the following in his memoirs:
“At the lower end of the town, towards Baltimore, the house nearest the Eastern Branch, was occupied by old Mr. Martin, whom we used to call Uncle Martin- I know not why. The Eastern Branch is subject to heavy freshets [floods], which have flowed up to Mr. Martin’s house and sometimes overflowed the whole village. One of the surprising and interesting spectacles to me in those days was this old man wading up to his waist, during a freshet, and harpooning the sturgeon”

This long history of flooding was in evidence in our archaeological investigation in several ways. First of all, flood borne soils were ubiquitous. River cobbles and silt were observed throughout the soil profiles. Excavations at the Magruder House, located lower and closer to the river than the Market Master’s, exhibited a long history of efforts to drain and dry the lower half of the house. Drainage pipes and trenches, mixed with artifacts from throughout its occupation, were observed in the test units excavated below the house.

The floods continued in Bladensburg until efforts to control it were accomplished in the 1950s.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Time Team America Premieres/ Gazette Article

The PBS show "Time Team America", featuring our own Julie Schablitsky, premiered on PBS last week. It was great! It manages to depict archaeology in a very entertaining way, while also showing the work, the patience and the rigorous method that must go into a successful excavation. You can watch it on PBS, Wednesdays at 8/7 central or online here:

Also, the Gazette posted an interesting article about the SHA and community effort to research and preserve the War of 1812 battlefield. Dick Charlton and Rick Ervin were interviewed for this article. Read it here:

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

National Park Service Battlefield Grant

For today's post we asked SHA archaeologist Richard Ervin to talk a bit about the recently awarded National Park Service Battlefield Grant:

"The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) is pleased to have received a National Park Service American Battlefield Protection Program grant for the Battle of Bladensburg.

SHA has been working with local elected officials, historic preservation groups, the Maryland Historical Trust, the University of Maryland, and other partners on ongoing historical and archeological investigations around the town of Bladensburg. The project will involve public outreach and will produce interpretive information about Bladensburg to assist with Maryland’s bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812. Archeological work has started at two of the surviving eighteenth century structures in Bladensburg, both located adjacent to state roadways. SHA had also planned archeological work along our right-of-way adjacent to US 1, which crosses the battlefield. The NPS grant will allow SHA to conduct additional research and investigations in other areas of the Bladensburg battlefield. This important battle led to the burning of the nation’s capital, but also involved a brave stand on the part of sailors and marines under Commodore Joshua Barney. Barney and many of his men were native Marylanders, and earned the respect of hardened British troops for their determined defense.

SHA will be working with local preservation groups to provide interpretive information about this battle, which galvanized the successful defense of Fort McHenry in Baltimore. We look forward to working with the National Park Service on this exciting project."

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Second Public History Workshop

The Bladensburg Archaeology Project will hold its second Public History Workshop on August 12th, 2009 at the George Washington House. The Anacostia Watershed Society will kindly lend its space for this event. The purpose of the workshop will be to present a lecture about local history, share updates and information about the archaeological investigation, and hold an open discussion about local history with the public.

The lecture will be given by Susan Pearl, who recently retired from her position at the Maryland National Park and Planning Commission to devote full time pursuing research topics of diverse interest as Prince George’s County Historian. Recently she has presented lectures on the Stier art collection from Riversdale mansion and the postal and road system of historic Prince George’s County. For the workshop she will present a lecture on transportation and change in Bladensburg.

The workshop will run from 7 to 9 PM. Please RSVP:
The address of the George Washington House is 4302 Baltimore Avenue, Bladensburg.

In other news: The Anacostia Watershed Society is holding a lecture series. The next talk will take place on the 30th of July at 7:30PM. It will be given by Harriet Phelps, a retired professor from UDC. It will describe her method for monitoring water quality in the river using mussels. Please RSVP the society to attend: