Erosion Threatens Cultural Resources at the 17th-century Calverton Site: Maryland’s Flood Awareness Month and Archeology Month Align

by Zachary Singer, MHT Research Archaeologist, and the Staff of Applied Archaeology and History Associates, Inc.

In addition to celebrating Maryland Archeology Month in April, Governor Larry Hogan proclaimed April 2021 as the first Maryland Flood Awareness Month. Although, April 2021 is the first official concurrent observance, 2017’s Archeology MonthAt The Water’s Edge: Our Past on the Brink addressed the effects of flood hazards on archaeological sites. In the 2017 Archeology Month Booklet, Jason Tyler of Applied Archaeology and History Associates, Inc. (AAHA) contributed an essay entitled “A Return to Calverton, or What’s Left of It”. In the essay, Jason described the results of a 2015 survey to document archaeological resources along the banks of Battle Creek in Calvert County and highlighted the impacts of shoreline erosion on the late 17th-century Calverton site (18CV22). Calverton was laid out in 1668 and served as the seat of government within Calvert County from 1668-1725. Jason concluded the chapter by advocating to protect the site from erosion and flood hazards and also to document the site through archaeology to learn about the threatened cultural resources at Calverton.

The Calverton Shoreline, 1682 vs. Today

Following Jason’s recommendation, the 2017 and 2018 Tyler Bastian Field Sessions with the Archeological Society of Maryland were held at the Calverton site to investigate the site before storm-surge flooding and the wind-driven waters of Battle Creek further eroded what evidence remained of the town. The field sessions focused on ground-truthing anomalies identified during a magnetic susceptibility survey by the MHT Office of Archaeology. The Field Session investigations identified a part of the Colonial town that had not entirely washed into Battle Creek, including intact sub-plowzone cultural horizons and features. In the summer of 2020, AAHA conducted supplemental archaeological investigations at Calverton to continue documenting those portions of the site at heightened risk from shoreline erosion and flooding caused by sea level rise. The 2020 work was supported by the Calvert County Government and a grant from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority.

Magnetic Susceptibility Data Collected by the MHT Office of Archaeology

Prior to AAHA’s 2020 field investigations, the MHT Office of Archaeology conducted a ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey within 10 meters of the eroding bank overhanging Battle Creek to identify anomalies in the area of the site most at risk to further loss from wind and water action. The GPR essentially uses a 350MHz (megahertz) antenna to send radio pulses into the ground which bounce off of subsurface anomalies and return to the antenna. Through the use of special software, the data collected by the GPR operator can be used to create a detailed 3 dimensional model (called a 3D time slice) that reveals both the horizontal and vertical relationships amongst radar anomalies including potential cultural features (trash pits, cellars, privies), potential modern disturbances, and natural tree root systems.

MHT archaeologists identified seven likely anthropogenic features via examination of the radar time slices. There were two large rectilinear anomalies in the eastern portion of the survey area. A deep, roughly circular anomaly near the center of the survey area was interpreted as a possible well. To the west of the possible well was an irregular anomaly that corresponded with a magnetic aberration identified during a 2019 gradiometer survey. To the east of the possible well was another amorphous anomaly. One trench-like linear anomaly was identified running roughly north-south in the western portion of the survey area. Additionally, one irregularly-shaped anomaly appeared in the southwest corner of the survey area and roughly corresponded to the location of a feature identified in 2017: a cluster of artifacts partly eroding from the bank of Battle Creek. In addition, the rectangular footprint of a test unit from previous excavations was identified, confirming the projection of these anomalies in real space. All seven potential cultural features were recommended for ground-truthing during AAHA’s 2020 archaeological fieldwork.

In total, AAHA excavated eight Test Units during the 2020 fieldwork to assess the form and function of the GPR anomalies. The excavations resulted in the identification of ten cultural features and the recovery of 3,369 artifacts mostly dating from the late 17th and early 18th century including tobacco pipes, a Charles I sixpence coin (1639-1645), and sherds of tin glazed earthenware. Of the ten features identified and excavated by AAHA in 2020, seven are related to the occupation of Calverton most likely from the late seventeenth century and the first quarter of the eighteenth century. The largest and most artifact-dense features related to the colonial occupation of Calverton were identified in the central portion of the study area and represent a posthole/mold (Feature 15/22), a small cellar (Feature 14 – the anomaly originally thought to be a possible well), and a possible trash pit (Features 16 and 17). Also identified was a small trench or ditch feature for what was probably once a paling fence in the western portion of the study area (Feature 19).

The 2020 archaeological investigation at Calverton provided additional data crucial to understanding the colonial occupation of the town in the portions of the site most vulnerable to flooding and erosion. Most significantly, it identified a previously unknown cellar (Feature 14) and an associated post hole/mold (Feature 15/22) both of which likely reflect the location of a colonial structure. While the small window into this structure excavated to-date has allowed some preliminary conclusions to be drawn, additional excavations could further reveal the size, layout, and function of the former building. Additional excavation and GPR survey in the vicinity of the paling trench identified during the 2020 investigation (Feature 19) could also provide valuable data on lot divisions in Calverton and colonial towns as a whole.

Another important aspect of the 2020 project was to monitor the shoreline at Calverton to continue assessing the risk of the site to the destructive power of wind and water action along Battle Creek, which remains an imminent threat to the archaeological resources at the site. MHT map projections show that the town’s important public buildings, including the courthouse and chapel, have already been lost to Battle Creek. AAHA’s comparison of the 2020 location of the Battle Creek bank to the location recorded by a 2017 Calvert County LiDAR survey shows shoreline loss ranging from 0.0313 meters to 3.204 meters, with an average of 1.333 meters of loss over two years, or 60- 70 centimeters per year. Most alarmingly, seven of the 28 points taken for the analysis (25% of the total) show shoreline loss in excess of 2 meters and these points occurred over the entire length of the surveyed shoreline. At this rate, the late 17th/early 18th-century cellar feature (Feature 14) will be lost to erosion by 2028 without intervention. With climate change comes increasing numbers of catastrophic storms. Tidal surges during such storm events can wreak havoc on the shoreline, severely undercutting the bank at Calverton.

Map Depicting the Rate of Shoreline Loss at Calverton between 2017 and 2020

This reinforces the urgent need for additional archaeology at Calverton before the resource is entirely lost. Maryland Flood Awareness Month aligning with Maryland Archeology Month provides the perfect opportunity to discuss the impacts of flooding on archaeological resources. To learn more about planning efforts to protect archaeological sites from the impacts of flood hazards, please see the MHT’s guide for Planning for Maryland’s Flood-Prone Archeological Resources.

Gertrude Sawyer: Pioneer and Architect

By Annie Allen, Architectural Survey Data Specialist

This time last year, as a new employee of the Maryland Historical Trust, I attended my first annual all-staff meeting at the beautiful Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum (JPPM). The day included a fun “Mystery Heist” icebreaker, for which we all assumed the personalities of various characters who frequented the Patterson residence in the 1950s. When I was assigned my character – Gertrude Sawyer, the architect of the park’s Point Farm –  I was instantly intrigued. Gertrude Sawyer happens to be my mother’s name! To get into my role, I read a small synopsis about Gertrude and learned that she was from Tuscola, Illinois, two hours away from where my Sawyer ancestors hail. These coincidences spurred me to dig a little deeper to find out more about this woman. I was hoping to find a fun family connection to my assigned character. What I discovered is definitely worth sharing. 

Gertrude Sawyer ca.1957. Source: University of Illinois Archives

Gertrude graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1918 with a B.S. in landscape architecture. Wishing to be an architect from a young age, she attended Smith College’s Cambridge School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, where she earned a Master’s in Architecture in 1922. She then moved to Washington, D.C., to work as an associate for Horace W. Peaslee – however, not before building and selling her first residential home in Kansas City, Missouri. She received an early commission while working for Mr. Peaslee to design the Junior League of Washington’s Art Deco headquarters on Dupont Circle. In 1934, Gertrude opened her own firm and became an AIA member in 1939.  During World War II, Gertrude helped to design four thousand temporary homes for military families in D.C.  She earned the rank of Lieutenant Commander for the Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps (the Seabees). By the time of her retirement in 1969, Gertrude was registered to practice architecture in the District of Columbia, Ohio, Florida, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

Junior League Building (now Kossuth House, Hungarian Reformed Federation). Source: Kossuth Foundation

Gertrude’s projects were predominantly residential, with a focus on country estates. In 1932, Jefferson Patterson, a foreign service diplomat, hired Gertrude to design Point Farm, his country residence in St. Leonard, Maryland, most of which is now JPPM. This project resulted in 26 building designs, ranging from an elegant Colonial Revival family home and guest houses to a show barn for cattle. The Patterson family considered Gertrude the family’s architect. Gertrude’s scrupulous eye for detail is not only evident in the exquisite classical architectural features of the Patterson home but also in her rigorous note-taking, sections, and plans. Her drawings can be found online at the Maryland State Archives, and many of her building designs can still be seen around Maryland and the Washington, D.C., area.

Point Farm, Jefferson Patterson Residence. Source: JPPM

As one of this area’s early woman architects, Gertrude Sawyer was definitely a groundbreaker in her field. However, rather than being recognized as a female architect, she preferred to be known as a good architect. In an interview with Gertrude, Matilda McQuaid revealed “that several women’s organizations had contacted her, knowing her to be one of the pioneer women architects. But when she told them, ‘I was always treated fairly, and throughout my career had a very good time building and designing,’ they never called back.” She once told the Sunday Star that “[p]eople who don’t want a woman architect just don’t come to you. But others see the advantage of your being able to interpret their individual needs because you are a woman.” Gertrude’s dedication to her profession and her pursuit of excellence forged a successful career with many long-standing clients like the Pattersons. 

Detail of the main stair in Jefferson Patterson Residence. Source: Maryland State Archives

Although I haven’t found that family connection yet, it was a pleasure ‘getting to know’ this accomplished architect and trailblazer. I’m still researching! 

Jefferson Patterson Farm. Source: Jillian Storms, Baltimore Architecture Foundation
Jefferson Patterson Farm. Source: Jillian Storms, Baltimore Architecture Foundation

For more information about Gertrude Sawyer’s buildings at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, visit https://jefpat.maryland.gov/Pages/default.aspx 

Sources:

Allaback, Sarah. The First American Women Architects. University of Illinois Press, 2008.

American Institute of Architects. Application For Membership. June 1939. Gertrude Sawyer’s AIA Application. 1735 New York Ave. NW, Washington, DC.

Berkeley, Ellen Perry., and Matilda McQuaid. Architecture: A Place for Women. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1989. 

Dean, Ruth. “For The Seabees: Woman Architect Came to Their Aid.” The Sunday Star [Washington. DC] 25 Mar. 1956, D-10 sec.: n.

“Early Women of Architecture in Maryland.” http://www.aiawam.com/.

A Curated Coin from Calvert County (Guest Blog)

By Kirsti Uunila, RPA, Calvert County Historic Preservation Planner

For the past two summers, MHT archeologists have partnered with the Archeological Society of Maryland (ASM) and Calvert County to investigate the Calverton Site on the shore of Battle Creek to search for what remains of the seventeenth century town. Calverton, also known as Battle Town, was the first seat of Calvert County government. Established around 1668, it was abandoned sometime after the court was relocated to Prince Frederick in 1724. The town site has been in agriculture ever since. Battle Creek has eroded the Calverton Site with an estimated loss of more than 50 meters of shoreline. Using a plat of the town drawn in 1682 (see map), archeologists concluded that some of the town is still on land, including the first home of Michael Taney and other buildings.

A 17th-century plat of Calverton geo-rectified to modern satellite imagery.

An area near the Taney house is believed to have been a dependency or outbuilding related to the dwelling. It contained numerous artifacts from the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. One was a large wine-bottle fragment bearing a broken seal with the initial ‘M’. Michael Taney’s, perhaps? Several small features were excavated in the dependency, including an apparent line of postholes. Two of these postholes were situated approximately three feet apart, suggesting the presence of a door. The most notable artifact found was on the edge of one of these postholes. It is a James I silver shilling with a mint mark indicating it was made in 1604. Since the town was not established until sixty years after that, the coin had had a long journey and was likely to have been a treasured object. In “archeologist speak” it had been “curated” by its owner well beyond the date it was minted. Its placement in a posthole that may have held a doorpost suggests a deliberate act, possibly to bring good fortune to the building and its inhabitants.

Colonial bottle glass seal with an “M” mark, possibly for Michael Taney.

The artifacts and records of the second season are being analyzed now and we hope to learn more about the people who lived, worked, and traded in the Colonial port town. Calvert County proposes continuing work at the site and will use ground-penetrating radar (GPR) this spring to locate cellars, hearths, and other features that may be in imminent danger of erosion, and to investigate more of the site.

Curated 1604 James I silver shilling recovered from the base of a burned post at Calverton.

What’s “Magical” About Maryland Archeology?

By Sara Rivers Cofield, Curator of Federal Collections, Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum

When a committee of archeologists selected “The Magic and Mystery of Maryland Archeology” as the theme for the 2019 Maryland Archeology Month, they were not thinking about Harry Potter or pulling a rabbit out of a top hat. “Magic” in anthropological terms, is anything people do to try to influence the supernatural. That includes personified supernatural forces like gods, ghosts, and ancestral spirits, and impersonal supernatural forces like luck. Usually when people try to influence the supernatural there is a clear end in mind and a ritualized procedure to follow. When you pick a penny up and say, “find a penny, pick it up, and all day long you’ll have good luck,” an anthropologist would classify that as a “magic” ritual.

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Archeologists Annette Cook and Alex Glass carefully excavate one quadrant of the kitchen cellar at Smith’s St. Leonard.

Archeology is a sub-discipline of anthropology in the U.S., so we use the anthropological definition of magic for select artifacts that were once considered objects of power. There is a joke of sorts in archeology that any artifact of unknown purpose must be “ritual,” which is really code for “I have no other explanation.” That joke was born out of legitimate criticism, but it has scared some people away from considering ritual and magic in archeology. The burden of proof that something is “magic” is very high. However, it is a disservice to our understanding of past belief systems if we fail to consider possible ritual and magic uses of artifacts, especially if the context calls for it.

18CV91 - 4245C F.4 horseshoe

The Smith’s St. Leonard horseshoe was found in the fill of a kitchen cellar that contained debris from a remodeling episode associated with the brick hearth.

A perfect example is a well-worn horseshoe from Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum’s public archeology site, the Smith’s St. Leonard plantation, which was occupied ca. 1711-1754. The obvious default interpretation of a horseshoe is that it was for shoeing a horse, especially if the horseshoe is worn enough to show it was used. However, historical records indicate that it was rare to shoe horses in Maryland prior to the 1750s because the soft clay soils did not require it. Over 200 units have been excavated at the site, resulting in over 450 boxes of artifacts from the main house, a kitchen, a laundry, at least three slave quarter buildings, a store house, and a stable. Only one horseshoe was found, and it was not near the stable, but in a kitchen cellar that was filled with debris from a hearth remodeling episode.

Horseshoes have a long history as objects placed on thresholds, near hearths, or in ritual concealments to ward off evil or bring good luck. Furthermore, some of these beliefs hold that found horseshoes, such as those thrown from a hoof along a roadway, were the ones with power. For example, witches could not pass through a threshold guarded by an old horseshoe until they had traveled all the roads the horse had traveled, and by then it would be daylight. Thus, history and context suggest that the Smith’s St. Leonard horseshoe was a magical object that once protected the hearth.

2012.001.3AT Horseshoe

The Smith’s St. Leonard horseshoe after conservation treatment.

It is not always possible to determine whether an everyday object was put to a magical purpose, and that is where the “mystery” of the “Magic and Mystery” theme comes in. There are many finds that might be evidence of magic, but there is no way to know with certainty. It is still worthwhile to consider the possibility though because it calls for an understanding of how the people who used these artifacts viewed the world. Ultimately, having that knowledge of how people in the past thought and behaved is what archeology is all about.

Interested in participating in excavations at Smith’s St. Leonard? The 2019 Public Archaeology program runs from May 7 to June 29. For more information visit http://www.jefpat.org/publicarchaeology.html.

Summer in the Conservation Lab

By Rebekah Engelland, Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory Intern

During my summer internship with the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory (MAC Lab), I learned much about the conservation of archeological materials. As a pre-program conservation intern looking at graduate schools, I knew very little about conservation practices. I first focused on the treatment of iron, spending time in the air abrasive unit (essentially a microscopic sand blaster), practicing on non-archeological iron that had corroded. Once I felt comfortable with the air abrasive unit, I moved on to iron from archeological sites that required conservation. The next step in treating iron is to remove the chlorides, one of the critical components to rust. Every week I had to check the amount of chlorides in six different containers as the salts were extracted from the artifacts and drawn into a caustic solution.

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Working on the Fifth Regiment Armory’s World War I Memorial in Baltimore

Following iron, I learned how to clean copper alloy artifacts, which involved using a scalpel under a microscope to remove soil and corrosion until I came down on a stable patina layer. I also cleaned white metal artifacts (tin, aluminum and lead) and applied a protective coating once no more soil or corrosion remained. For silver-plated items, I learned to use electrolytic reduction, an electrochemical technique, to help take off the outer layer of tarnish and limit the amount of polishing before I applied a protective coating of wax. Lead required a different approach, and I used electrolytic consolidation to reduce the corrosion on the surface of the lead artifacts.

Throughout the summer, I also had the opportunity to go out into the field and help on projects. MAC Lab Conservator Heather Rardin and I had the chance to see a laser cleaning demonstration at the Fifth Regiment Armory’s World War I Memorial in Baltimore, where the Conservation of Sculpture and Objects Studio, Inc. removed previous paint layers and dirt from both bronze and stone with a laser custom-built for conservation. One of the assistants let me try out the laser to clean a few feathers on one of the bronze eagles.

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Removing ship’s timbers at Alexandria’s historic waterfront

At the Alexandria, Virginia waterfront, MAC Lab Head Conservator Nichole Doub and I helped Alexandria Archaeology’s team with on-site conservation as they deconstructed a ship’s hull before an underground parking garage was built. The ship, along with two others, was deliberately sunk to be part of a late 18th century wharf. By the time I joined the project, the team was removing the ship’s timbers using a crane. Nichole guided the deconstruction process, making sure the team did as little damage as possible to the remains of the ship. We returned a couple days later and helped the team remove the ship’s keel, which I helped strap to the crane. It was incredible playing a small role in saving a part of Alexandria’s history.

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Cleaning statues in Prince Frederick

On another excursion, Heather and I went to the Prince Frederick courthouse and helped Howard Wellman Conservation LLC treat three statues. The marble and limestone bases were treated with a biocide and then scrubbed down. To coat the bronze statue, we used a blow torch to heat up the metal. Then we applied a protective layer of wax with the brush, heating it up more with the blow torch to remove the brush strokes. These treatments would protect the statues against both corrosion and biological growths, though they would need to be repeated every few years.

Over the summer I received an extensive education on archeological and object conservation from the amazing staff at the MAC Lab. This experience makes me feel much more prepared to apply to graduate conservation programs. I want to thank everyone at the MAC Lab for taking the time to teach me and making this a truly incredible internship.

New Pieces of History at the MAC Lab

By Patricia Samford, Director, Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory

It somehow seems appropriate that the acquisition by the State of Maryland of many of Baltimore’s most important artifact collections would occur during April — Maryland’s Archaeology Month.  These collections, which were generated through the work of the Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology, will be curated by the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory (MAC Lab) at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum.

18bc38 pearlware scratch blue

A privy filled in the early 19th century at the Clagett’s Brewery site (18BC38) yielded 432 ceramic and glass vessels, including this unusual scratch blue pearlware chamberpot bearing the initials of England’s King George.

The formation of the Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology in April of 1983 was arguably the single most influential action affecting archaeology in the city.  Baltimore mayor William Donald Schaefer, impressed by the Archaeology in Annapolis project, decided that a similar program was needed to promote heritage tourism in Baltimore. Mayor Schaefer envisioned excavations as a way, through the media and public visitation, of promoting Fallswalk, a new historic walking trail along Jones Falls.  In establishing the Center, Schaefer instituted the first public archaeology program ever funded by a major U. S. city.

Over the next fifteen years, the Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology conducted historical research on 53 city properties, resulting in 21 excavations. Some of the most important projects included the Clagett Brewery (18BC38)—one of Baltimore’s earliest breweries—along Jones Falls, and Cheapside Wharf (18BC55), where the Inner Harbor is located today. The center’s work generated around 500 boxes of artifacts—collections that have revealed important evidence about the city’s past and its important role as a port city.

conservancy tour

Members of an Archaeological Conservancy tour admire artifacts from the privy at Clagett’s Brewery

Elizabeth A. Comer directed the BCUA from its inception in 1983 until 1988, when she left to work in tourism in the Schaefer administration. Upon her departure the direction of the BCUA was shared by Kristen Stevens Peters and Louise Akerson. Louise, who had been the BCUA’s Lab Director since 1983, assumed overall direction of the BCUA when Kristin left in 1990, and continued in that role until her retirement in 1996. Esther Doyle Read was the final director of the BCUA until it was dissolved, along with the City Life Museums, in 1997. The collections generated through the center’s work were acquired by the Maryland Historical Society. For the next twenty years, the collections and the records associated with the excavations were unavailable to researchers and students. Negotiations between the State of Maryland, the City of Baltimore and the Maryland Historical Society resulted in the collections being turned over to the state in April of 2018.

The MAC Lab has already begun to make the collections available to the public.  A sample of artifacts from the Clagett Brewery Site was on display during Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum’s Discovering Archaeology Day event on April 21st and they were also popular with the Archaeological Conservancy tour of the lab.  Over the next several months, artifacts from the collections will begin to be added to the Diagnostic Artifacts in Maryland website and also to Maryland Unearthed, a website that allows the public and researchers to learn more about the collections at the lab.   For more information about this collection or the work of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, please contact patricia.samford@maryland.gov.

Author’s note: This is a slighly updated version of the original article with a few factual errors corrected.