Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Cellars of Port Tobacco

One interesting architectural feature found in Port Tobacco is the brick cellar that is accessible by a doorway in the chimney foundation. Both the Burch and Chimney Houses, two of the remaining 18th century buildings, have this type of cellar. At this point in our research it is not clear if this feature was common throughout the town.

It is likely that these cellars, accessible from exterior of the buildings, served as warehouse space for the port. Currently, the Burch House cellar is filled in with sediment while the Chimney House cellar is used as living space by the occupants.

We are interested in understanding the history of these cellars and hope to determine the reason for which the Burch House cellar became in-filled. It is likely that the decline of the port decreased the value of the cellar storage space. However, this does not explain why it became filled in with sediment.

Our limited excavations around the Burch House included careful study of the soils in the rear yard of the property. Here the soil is several feet deep but with little obvious stratigraphy. The current working hypothesis is that the Burch House cellar may have fell victim to a soil slide, possibly a mudslide, that brought sediment down from the hill to the southeast. Upon this hill sits another historic property, Chandler's Hope. Large scale clearing of the land at Chandler's Hope could have lead to the soil erosion that buried the Burch House cellar.

Once we have completed our shovel test pit survey of the town, we plan to conduct additional excavations at the Burch House to test this hypothesis. Future work may even include excavation within the cellar to find evidence of what may have been stored there.


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