Saturday, November 7, 2009

Other Fields

My wife Bonnie and I spent the day in Richmond, Virginia, visiting an old friend and colleague. Tara took us around her adopted home town. I was impressed by the extraordinary strides the city has made in the last 30 years, since last I spent any time there. It is clean, attractive, and historic.

Richmond has done a great deal in using its historic resources...canals, factory buildings, great effect. Historic resources development has turned into an economic engine, promoting the city as a heritage destination and community with the kinds of amenities that attract major corporations.

The model is readily seen in Richmond, and in other communities around the nation and the world. Charles County would do well to pay attention and consider diversifying its economic base in a similar manner. Port Tobacco, someday, may lie at the core of such an effort.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Putting Site to Bed

The GAC crew will be working on some other projects in Southern Maryland for the next month or two, curtailing our fieldwork at Port Tobacco. One of our tasks today was to put the site to bed, backfilling Unit 83, backfilling a portion of the exposed chimney at the Swann site, and putting away equipment.

We still managed to work for a few hours on Unit 83. There is no doubt that the foundation was razed and filled with a mixture of masonry rubble and 1960s domestic refuse, including a jar of Ban deodorant...the cream kind that users applied with their hand. We didn't open the is possible that we have some well-cured antiperspirant...a 1960s vintage. Below the masonry rubble, the domestic refuse seems to be diminishing and we hit a fair amount of ash and burned oyster shell.

I am confident that we have some historically interesting deposits in the bottom of the cellar, but we'll have to remove at least 2 ft of demolition debris and modern domestic trash before we can explore those early deposits. Based on the likely results of our analyses, we should be able to justify the use of a backhoe to clean out the recent material, thereby allowing more prudent investment of limited resources.

The crew will continue to report on results of our work at Swann House and at the other sites explored this past spring. The technical report on the ASM field session work should be ready by early December. As in the past, we will post the report on the Web.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Today Kelley and I stayed in the lab and worked on mapping and report writing. Tomorrow we will be back at Port Tobacco. This will likely be the last time we are there for a while. We will finish the 5x5 started in the Northeast corner on Tuesday (above) and check over the foundation in general to tie up any loose ends.

Below is a close up of the burned oyster shell mentioned in the blog on Monday. Click on the image for a closer view.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dinner is served!

As Jim mentioned yesterday our excavation into the cellar fill of the Swann House has produced numerous 20th century artifacts. This does not mean that all of these more recent artifacts are particularly dull, and one in particular roused our interest (perhaps because it was easy to identify!). This clunker of a can opener came out of Stratum 2 of Unit 83 in the northeast corner of the cellar hole. In light of this interesting find, I thought it would be suitable to discuss a brief history of the can opener.

The tin can was first patented in 1810 by Peter Durand. This was a major advancement in the world of food preservation. However, due to a lack of foresight, Mr. Durand did not think to invent a device that would open these thick-walled cans. As such, people resorted to using knives, chisels, hammers, and whatever else they could to release a can's contents. Finally, in 1858, Ezra Waterbury of Connecticut put forth a design for the first can opener. His invention was similar to the can opener found on a pocket knife except it was much larger. This cumbersome device was not a household item, but would have been found at the local grocery store where a clerk would open all of your cans after you purchased them. The can opener we are most familiar with, the type with a rolling wheel, was only introduced in 1870, followed by one with a serrated wheel in 1925. A little over 5 years later the electric can opener made its first debut.

So how old is our can opener? Well, first off keep in mind that this is not the typical hand-held device, but would sit on a counter top and be used to punch holes in either side of a can to pour out its contents (as opposed to removing the lid). It certainly is not very old, and likely dates to somewhere in the mid-20th even still has rubber feet on the bottom!

Now next time you go to prepare some soup for dinner you can thank the likes of Pete Durand and Ezra Waterbury! For tomorrow's blog we will be sure post some pictures of the burned oyster shell that Jim mentioned a couple days ago.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Digging into Swann Cellar pictures today.

Pete, Anne, and Kelley started excavating a 5 ft by 5 ft unit into the northeast corner of the Swann House cellar hole. The upper horizon, as expected, produced a large number of 20th-century artifacts, confirming our suspicion that the entire site is covered with recent sediments.

The team excavated into what appears to be underlying demolition rubble. We collected, among other things, a half-gallon plastic bleach bottle. Again, such finds confirm our suspicion that the building was razed in the 1960s and the pile of stone and 1950s automobile parts result from grading of the site.

Not to worry, though; we have encountered much earlier, undisturbed deposits around the building and fully expect to find intact deposits in the cellar, beneath the rubble.

We expect to return to Port Tobacco on Friday. That may be the last field day for awhile as the GAC crew focuses on projects in neighboring counties.


Monday, November 2, 2009

No skeletons, but burned oyster shells

We finished mapping the Swann House foundation today and will excavate one unit in the northeast corner tomorrow.

The north side of the chimney (pictured left) turned out to be a little odd. Not Anne...she's normal enough, but the foundation and the fill within. The west wall consists of two runs of brick, but the mortar in the outer run is distinctly different...yellow...from the mortar on the interior run...white. Repointing of the exterior joints? Perhaps...we'll see. We didn't see a similar pattern in the brick closet that flanks the south side of the hearth, but the upper courses have been toppled and we haven't removed them yet.

The fill within this brick closet consists of burned, crushed oyster shell. We know it is burned because oyster shell turns blue-gray and the texture becomes friable when burned. Contractors burned oyster shell to make lime for mortar and plaster. We can't tell yet whether this is a surviving construction feature or if the burned oyster was used to line the bottom of the closet. If you examine the photograph to the right you'll note some white speckling to the right of the trowel. That's the burned oyster. I'll try to remember to take a close-up shot tomorrow. It is quite distinct.

No skeletons in this closet...not yet anyway.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

More St. Nicholas

It is a rainy Sunday and All Saints Day, so I thought I would post a few more pictures from our final day of monument recovery at St. Nicholas Cemetery.

Near the existing early 20th-century church, the US Navy had mapped several markers in 1943. Years after the Navy toppled and buried those stones, it built a parking lot on the east side of the church and a sidewalk that wrapped around from the east to north sides. The topography on the north side of the church, however, was too steep at the time for parking lot and sidewalk construction. The Navy leveled the land by dumping two feet or more of fill. The fill further buried the monuments.

Scott and I managed to recover all but one of the mapped markers, but we thought the depth of the fill made finding...never mind recovering...the last stone impractical. Clever men that we are, we decided to add that stone to our list of monuments that might best be recovered with machinery.

Last Friday, that is what we did: we used the backhoe to remove a couple of feet of fill, allowing us to easily probe the sediments for the missing stone. It was remarkably easy, and we turned a three hour job with an uncertain chance of success into a one hour job with certain success.

In this sequence of photographs, you can see where we started, the point at which we were able to find and delineate the stone and its plinth or base, and the final lifting of the stone.

We haven't re-erected the stone is lying on the grass next to the backfilled hole. We are waiting for the soil to settle after a good rain and Scott has to replace the two under-sized metal pins that originally held the marker on its base. When re-erected, the monument will be in its correct horizontal position, but it will be about 1.5 ft higher than its original setting to adjust for the thick layer of fill the Navy deposited. If we set the marker on the original ground surface, only the top would protrude above the current grade.


PS. The PTAP team returns to the Swann House site at Port Tobacco Monday and Tuesday of this week. All are welcome. Our schedule for the remainder of the week is uncertain as we may have to schedule fieldwork for projects in adjoining counties.--JGG