On Wednesday, the 25th of February, Dr. Dennis Blanton of James Madison University and two of his students came to begin the process of preparing for the excavations that were scheduled to begin the following Saturday. We all were concerned about the weather and despite the cold and ice, Dr. Blanton and his crew made there way back to Stephens City on the 28th to begin the work of carefully excavating the subsurfaces in the carefully mapped squares behind the stone side of the structure. They stayed overnight at a local hotel and resumed work on the following morning of the 1st of March. During that first weekend they recovered many artifacts and exposed an architectural feature that appears to be a stone pier that formerly supported the shed addition that was once attached to the rear of the stone side of the structure. (See image below.) Dr. Blanton and his crew are planing at least two more weekend excavation trips in the month of March. We will keep you posted!
On Friday the 13th of February Mr. Peter Aaslestad used photogrammetry and point cloud scanning technologies to create reliable documentation of the surfaces we had exposed last year when we removed the rear additions. Mr. Aaslestad had generated the “before restoration” hybrid drawings of the exterior of the structure back in 2013. (See our page on this subject at http://newtownhistorycenter.org/stone-house-restoration-project/hybrid-drawings/.) The work Mr. Aaslestad accomplished on the 13th of February has been incorporated into the earlier hybrid drawings of the rear of the structure. The results speak for themselves. (See image below.) The new hybrid drawings of these formerly covered surfaces will be used by our team of consultants and architectural historians to generate more drawings that will explain the way the Stone House was altered over the course of its long history.
As we completed the work on the removal of the rear additions, the floorboard and floor joists were taken away to expose the ground surface beneath. This ground surface had formerly served as the floor of a crawl space which was only accessible to small animals and burrowing groundhogs. (See photo below.) The groundhogs may prove to be particularly problematic as the archaeological excavations of the subsurface begin next spring. Even though we see no evidence that they are still active in the area behind the house, it is obvious that in certain places their burrowing has muddled the strata. The jumble of broken ceramic pieces (dating from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries) around the openings of their holes tells us that they have definitely disturbed some of the evidence.
Among the broken ceramic shards and other debris found on the surface behind the log side of the structure was a badly deteriorated boy’s lace-up boot. (See photos below.) It was found not far from an opening formerly cut in the floor for the base of a cabinet that had supported a brick chimney stack that vented stoves. This old boot would be a relatively insignificant piece of junk if it were not for the fact that it seems to fit a pattern associated with a well-documented folk tradition. In Briton, western Europe, and (mostly) in the eastern United States and Canada, workers performing demolition jobs in old buildings have discovered purposefully concealed shoes and boots dating from the times of earlier construction campaigns or to later alterations in the structures. They have been found concealed inside chimneys, under floorboards, in walls, and in other spaces that were sealed off from use and view. One concealed shoe (a lady’s high heeled pump from circa 1790) was recently discovered in a sealed-off space under a stairway at historic Clermont Farm in Berryville, Virginia, just 17 miles away. Bob Stieg, CEO of Clermont Farm, shared an article with us on this subject that was published in 1996 by Costume magazine. It was authored by June Swann, of the Northampton Museum in England, an institution with the largest curated collection of historical footwear in the world. Ms. Swann recounted how at the time she was writing, they had documented as many as 1,550 shoes and boots discovered concealed in historic structures in Western Europe and North America. All of the evidence points to a relationship with ancient customs of sacrificing objects to ensure good fortune. Thus, our concealed boot may have served as a good luck charm to whoever deposited it under that floor during the late 1800s or early 1900s, the period when the Argenbright family owned that side of the house. Determining the date of the boot may tell us more. As always, we will keep you posted!
We have made dramatic progress on our project since our last post. Once the plaster was removed and the framing was totally exposed, we held a meeting with our historic structures consultant, Mr. Doug Reed, and our contractor, Mr. Bill Wine. During that meeting we had to make some decisions about how we were going to deal with the discoveries in the ground floor room at the rear of the ell addition behind the stone side of the structure. As we discussed in our last post, this part of the rear additions is special. The hand-hewn timbers of the frame and the wide pine, sash-sawn floor boards held down with nineteenth- century cut nails served to confirm our suspicions. This part of the structure is composed of recycled building materials that were likely once part of an earlier shed addition on the back of the stone side of the structure. The technology represented in these materials clearly predated the rest of the ell addition behind the stone side. It even looks like this particular part of the structure may have been moved intact to it present location. Because of these factors the team decided to leave that early frame part of the addition standing in place on its current foundation so that it can be studied in more detail. (See photo below.) One of the things we hope to accomplish with this course of action is to conclusively rule out the possibility that this early timber-framed part of the addition was not originally a detached free-standing building. If it was, then this part of the structure would have been joined to the rear of the stone side of the property by the construction of the rest of the ell addition as an “in-fill” sometime during the opening decades of the twentieth century. At present, the exposed foundation on which this section rests implies that it was never a free-standing structure on its present site. Even without the benefit of an archaeological excavation, it appears more likely that it was moved to its present location. Nevertheless, we need to be sure. Archaeology will fill in the final piece of the puzzle.
To protect the east walls of the stone and log sides of the house (walls that used to be sheltered from the elements by the rear additions), we are now constructing a partition that is situated three feet out from the rear of the structure. (See photo below.) The space we are creating behind this temporary barrier will make it possible for us to conduct more analysis of the evidence embedded in those rear walls. One of our first tasks will be to carefully remove plaster in key areas of the wall behind the stone side. We will be searching for evidence of how and where the earlier addition in this area was attached. Ideally, we will continue to find evidence that the rear addition in question is the same one we have already addressed in this post.
After the remaining fragments of the additions behind the log side of the structure have been removed, we will be ready to start the archaeological investigations in the ground that was formerly covered by them. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when buildings were demolished, it was the common practice of builders to salvage and reuse the foundation stones (or bricks) that were located above the surface. Those that were below were left in place, and dirt was thrown down to cover them. Archeologists who investigate historic structure sites remove the latter infill dirt to expose the historic surface grade. In turn, they also sometimes find the foundations of earlier structures. It is our hope and expectation that we will also discover earlier foundations when we excavate these areas.
We are taking the final steps to prepare for the removal of the rear additions of the property. Analysis of the structural elements of the old kitchen behind stone side ell addition has confirmed that it is something special. It is most likely an earlier shed addition that was originally constructed with recycled materials from an even older building. This hand-hewn timber-framed component of the structure will remain standing in place on its current foundation while we determine the best course of action to ensure it preservation for possible future use. We also wish to harvest all of the evidence that we possibly can from it before it is carefully dismantled and stored. It is looking increasingly as though our theories about this old shed addition are correct. The evidence appears to confirm that it was originally constructed up against the rear wall of the stone side of structure sometime during the 1800s. It was later moved eastward intact into its present location and reattached again on the rear wall of the ell addition when that component of the structure was built in the first decades of the 1900s.
Workers are also starting to build a temporary conservation wall that will protect the rear of the stone and log sides of the structure from the elements. This conservation wall will shelter the surfaces that were formerly covered by the rear additions. It will be out far enough from the rear of the structure to provide a workspace for us to do additional study and analysis of the evidence in those rear walls. Soon the ground surfaces under the floorboards of these rear additions will be exposed to view, and we will be prepared for the archeology phase of the project. We will keep you posted.