Introducing Map-Based Medusa: Viewing Maryland’s Historic Places in Real Time

By Gregory Brown, Cultural Resource Information Manager

To kick off Preservation Month this May, the Maryland Historical Trust is pleased to announce a new interactive map-based tool, “map-based Medusa,” to explore the state’s inventory of historic places and archeological sites.  Taking advantage of new web-based mapping technology, map-based Medusa offers the opportunity to view Maryland’s extensive geographic database of historic and cultural properties and to access the records linked to these resources, all within an easily accessible user friendly interface.

Blog1The new system allows both in-house and remote access to the documentation of over 60,000 architectural and archeological resources in a variety of ways. Consultants and staff can view a proposed project area and see all known cultural resources, with links to Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties forms, National Register nominations, determinations of eligibility, and other detailed documents. Map-based Medusa also allows you to look up a property by name, address or inventory number, and view that property on a map along with associated forms and photos.

Most architectural information is freely available in Medusa. Archeological site location is restricted to qualified archeological professionals as mandated in the state’s Access to Site Location Policy. Any qualified professional can apply for a Medusa account to get access. For assistance using map-based Medusa, tutorials and FAQs are available online. We will introduce webinars and introductory videos in the coming months.

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The new map-based Medusa application was created with the technical assistance of the Applications Development team of the Maryland Department of Planning, the Maryland Historical Trust’s parent agency. We are grateful for the efforts of Information Services Manager Ted Cozmo, Doug Lyford, Greg Schuster, and Debbie Czerwinski, building on earlier database development work of Maureen Kavanagh, Carmen Swann and Jennifer Falkinburg. The online version of Medusa was supported in part through a Preserve America grant administered by the National Park Service, Department of Interior, and by funding from the Maryland State Highway Administration through its Transportation Enhancement Program.

To start using map-based Medusa, go to https://mht.maryland.gov/secure/medusa/.

For more information, please contact Gregory Brown, Cultural Resource Information Manager, at gregory.brown@maryland.gov.

Preparing for Future Floods

By Nell Ziehl, Chief, Office of Planning, Education and Outreach

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Hoopers Island

As we turn from Ellicott City’s disaster response to recovery, and watch hurricanes threaten Florida and Hawaii, it’s hard not to think about all the places throughout Maryland that are prone to flooding. We built our earliest towns, cities, roads and rail lines along the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. As ports and fishing industries boomed, we developed more. And let’s be honest: we all love to live and play near water. Continue reading

My Summer in Maryland Archeology

By Justin Warrenfeltz

As the 2016 Summer Archeology Intern with the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT), I have worked on a wide variety of projects, each more interesting than the last. In June, I assisted with the planning and implementation of the Archeological Society of Maryland annual Tyler Bastian Field Session in Maryland Archeology. As a former archeological crew chief, this was a perfect opportunity for me to contribute substantially to MHT’s work at the River Farm site. Under the guidance of archeologists with the Lost Towns Project, I assisted with excavation and site management.

Justin Janes Island

The author at Janes Island State Park in Crisfield

After the Field Session, State Terrestrial Archeologist Dr. Charles Hall asked me to plan and implement a research method for oyster shell analysis of artifacts recovered from the Willin Site in Dorchester County, most recently excavated by MHT archeologists in 2009. Continue reading

2016 Cultural Resources Hazard Mitigation Planning Grants Awarded

With funding from the National Park Service Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Fund, the Maryland Historical Trust has awarded seven grants throughout the state to help protect historic places and archeological sites from future storms. These grants will be supported by the Trust’s Cultural Resources Hazard Mitigation Planning Program, which was created to assist local governments to better plan and prepare for the effects of coastal storms and other hazards that impact historic places and properties. The grant projects are described below.

Anne Arundel

Early 20th century vernacular home common to Shady Side

Anne Arundel County Trust for Preservation, Inc., Phase I Hazard Mitigation Planning for Anne Arundel’s Cultural Resources: $32,000
Three areas in the county (Shady Side and Deale; Pasadena; and Maryland City, Laurel, and Jessup) face the highest risk to flooding and contain the most undocumented historic structures, as well as unsurveyed potential archeological resources. To remedy this, the Anne Arundel County Trust for Preservation will conduct a study to identify historic structures and archeological sites and evaluate the potential damages caused by flooding. Continue reading

The Maryland Resiliency Partnership: State Agencies Working Together for a More Resilient Maryland

By Jen Sparenberg, Hazard Mitigation Program Officer

Several Maryland state agencies have come together to work collaboratively to increase the ability of buildings and infrastructure to withstand the damaging effects of natural hazards and climate change.  The Maryland Resiliency Partnership is comprised of the Department of Natural Resources, the Maryland Department of the Environment, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, the Maryland Historical Trust, and the Maryland Environmental Service.  All five agencies are working together to leverage funding, personnel, and projects to support efforts that integrate floodplain management, hazard mitigation, and coastal resiliency.

MD Resiliency Partnership

Maryland Resiliency Partnership members at the 10th Annual MAFSM Conference

The Maryland Association of Floodplain and Stormwater Managers 11th Annual Conference held on October 15, 2015 in Linthicum, Maryland was the perfect opportunity to promote the Maryland Resiliency Partnership.  Kevin Wagner of the Maryland Department of the Environment and I co-presented a paper on historic structures and flood mitigation, after which several Maryland Resiliency Partnership members took the stage to participate in a mitigation showcase. The showcase featured information on how to use the Maryland flood insurance rate maps to assess, plan for and mitigate flood risk to historic and non-historic buildings, and infrastructure.

Smith Isle Nov 2015 Mtg

Mark James, the State Hazard Mitigation Officer, presenting information to Smith Island residents at a flood risk workshop

Recently, the Maryland Department of the Environment coordinated flood risk outreach workshops in Crisfield and Smith Island with several local, state and federal partners.  All of the Maryland Resiliency Partnership members were on-hand to provide residents with additional information on grant programs and flood mitigation best practices, like elevating houses above the predicted flood water level.  Look for information coming soon to our Facebook page on upcoming Maryland Resiliency Partnership workshops.

2016 Sustainable Communities Tax Credits Awarded

On November 16, 2015, the Maryland Historical Trust announced the recipients of the latest round of Sustainable Communities Tax Credits. State funds provided by this program will help create over 650 construction jobs in projects designed to revitalize communities and promote green building practices.

The Sustainable Communities Tax Credit Program and its predecessor, the Heritage Structure Rehabilitation Tax Credit, has invested more than $370 million in Maryland revitalization projects since it began in 1996. The investments have helped restore more than 4,198 homeowner and 638 commercial historic structures, preserving buildings that contribute to the distinct character of Maryland’s towns, cities and rural areas. According to a study by the Abell Foundation, the program has helped to create more than 27,000 jobs through construction and new uses of these significant historic resources.

The six recipients are described below.

Hoen LithographHoen Lithograph, East Biddle Street Baltimore City
($3,000,000 in tax credits awarded)

Originally built in 1898 for the Bagby Furniture Company the site is most closely associated with the Hoen Lithograph Company which operated on the property from 1902 to 1981. Hoen, which was established in 1835, was the oldest continuously operating lithographer in the United States when it closed in 1981. The historic complex is being restored and converted to house a lively mixed use development featuring a food production kitchen, a brewery, office space for start-ups and non-profits and market rate apartments targeting healthcare workers.

Footer's Dye WorksFooter’s Dye Works, Howard Street, Cumberland, Allegany County
($1,875,000 in tax credits awarded)

Built in 1905, this building is an important remnant of the city’s industrial heritage. The Footer’s Dye Works functioned as one of the dominant cleaning and dyeing facilities in the mid-Atlantic region thru the first third of the 20th century. This structure will be restored and expanded to house a mix of rental housing units, a restaurant/brewery and commercial office space.

Hearn BuildingHearn Building, Race Street, Cambridge, Dorchester County
($959,034.40 in tax credits awarded)

Originally constructed as a commercial hardware store and later used as a furniture store this 1915 building is one of only a few large scale early 20th century commercial buildings surviving on the Eastern Shore. This significant building will be restored and repurposed to house rental residential apartments and retail spaces.

Saint Michael's Church ComplexSt. Michael’s Church Complex, East Lombard Street, Baltimore City
($2,861, 111.60 in tax credits awarded)

Constructed between 1850 and 1927 the St. Michael’s Church complex is a remarkably intact example of an historic urban religious campus. The church played a key role in the assimilation of German immigrants arriving in Baltimore and with its school and parish hall served as the social center of the parish. The now vacant complex will be restored with a mix of commercial uses occupying the former sanctuary building and parish hall and with other areas of the school and rectory being converted to rental residential apartments.

Academy SchoolAcademy School, Mill Street, Cambridge, Dorchester County
($287,500 in tax credits awarded)

This 1906 school building has been vacant and endangered for many years. The project will restore the exterior of the building and repurpose the historic classroom, library and office spaces for use as a senior living apartment building.

Sykesville HotelSykesville Hotel, Main Street, Sykesville, Carroll County
($58,000 in tax credits awarded)

This hotel was originally constructed in 1905 and remained in service as a hotel and restaurant until the 1920’s when it was converted to apartments. The renovation of the structure will restore the exterior of the building including the restoration of the siding, reopening of historic windows and doors and the reconstruction of the building’s missing porches.

Prehistoric Ossuaries: A Personal Journey

by Dennis C. Curry, Chief Archeologist, Maryland Historical Trust

Theodor de Bry engraving of a John White watercolor, possibly showing an ossuary at Secotan.

Theodor de Bry engraving of a John White watercolor, possibly showing an ossuary at Secotan.

It’s funny how things work.  Some 20 years ago, in response to requirements of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the archeology staff was compiling an inventory of human remains curated at MHT.  During that process, the extreme complexities of ossuary remains and sites led me to look at these unique features in Maryland.  The ultimate result was a book, Feast of the Dead: Aboriginal Ossuaries in Maryland.  Then about a decade ago I was asked to write a book chapter that would look at ossuaries from throughout the entire Middle Atlantic region.  Although that book project eventually died, I reworked my chapter and submitted it as an article to the journal Archaeology of Eastern North America, where it was recently published.  Below are some highlights.

Ossuaries are communal graves.  They are also secondary graves, meaning that the deceased were originally buried in individual graves before being exhumed and reinterred in a collective burial.  Early historical accounts of Huron ossuary burials (such as those by 17th century French Jesuit missionary Jean de Brébeuf) describe an elaborate burial ceremony referred to as the “Feast of the Dead.”  And while early explorers in the Middle Atlantic region do not mention ossuaries (they describe individual burials, and the deposition of “king’s” bodies in charnel houses), I think watercolorist John White inadvertently depicted an ossuary at the North Carolina village of Secotan in 1585.  There, he portrays a small plot (B) “where they assemble themselves to make their solemn prayers;” it is topped by a ceremonial fire and surrounded by wooden posts carved with human faces, and it is adjacent to a structure (A) “wherein are the tombs of their kings and princes.”  Each of these characteristics has been documented archeologically at various ossuary sites.

Today, ossuaries are typically encountered by accident, such as at this house construction site on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Today, ossuaries are typically encountered by
accident, such as at this house construction site on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

One advantage to looking at ossuary sites from a large region (the core of the Middle Atlantic runs from Cape Henlopen, Delaware to Cape Fear, North Carolina) is that trends start to appear.  One thing that I noticed throughout the region was that ossuaries consistently occur in one of three settings: in isolated locations, within village sites, and within what appear to be defined “cemetery areas.”  The latter really intrigued me.  I looked at 27 primary sites from the region, and 16 of these contained cemetery areas consisting of multiple ossuaries; these ossuaries range in number from 2 to 13, and total more than 60.  In most cases, these multiple ossuaries are fairly tightly clustered, yet they never intrude into each other.  (Similarly, in village settings, ossuaries are not disturbed by other village features or structures.)  This makes me think that ossuaries—which were sometimes re-opened and re-used—were clearly marked and maintained on the landscape, probably often visited and esteemed by the local population.  It also makes me think that there are many ossuaries that have not yet been found.  Today, most ossuaries are found by accident, usually exposed during construction activities, and when I visit such finds, I often wonder how many more ossuaries are there, just beneath my feet.  Recently, I got a partial answer to that question.  A Maryland county was looking to develop one of its properties…a property on which several ossuaries had been found in the past.  Since I was convinced there was a “cemetery area” at this location, we recommended that the county undertake a non-destructive ground-penetrating radar survey of the area.  The results obtained by geophysical archeologist Dr. Tim Horsley were spectacular: clear indication of at least 8 more ossuaries on the property!  Yes, indeed, this was a “cemetery area.”

Results of a ground-penetrating radar survey at a site with 3 known ossuaries (blue), indicating the presence of at least 8 more probable ossuaries (red).

Results of a ground-penetrating radar survey at a site with 3 known ossuaries (blue), indicating the presence of at least 8 more probable ossuaries (red).

During the course of my study of Middle Atlantic ossuaries, many other patterns emerged.  Some of these include:

  • Ossuaries vary in size from just a few individuals to more than 600; the average is around 70 people.
  • The largest ossuaries tend to occur in the tidewater Potomac region of Maryland and Virginia, where a dozen ossuaries average nearly 250 people each.
  • The earliest ossuaries contain no associated artifacts.  Later, when artifacts do appear, they are usually non-utilitarian and decorative in nature.
  • The most common artifacts are beads (initially shell, then copper, then glass and/or a combination of types).  One Virginia ossuary contained 35,000 shell and glass beads, but that is unique.
  • Notably, artifacts are often associated with the remains of children.
  • Artifacts may also indicate the social status of individuals, such as a presumed “shaman’s kit” from a North Carolina ossuary, and a possible copper headdress from one in Maryland.
  • Specific treatment of remains (for example, extended articulated burials, or cremations) may also suggest social differentiation of individuals.  In fact, I have wondered if the death of these “special” people actually triggered the periodic Feast of the Dead.
  • In any event, ossuaries are not merely jumbles of bones.  Specific individuals (as bundles, articulated burials, or cremations) can be discerned, and it is clear that their identities were maintained by family members over the years-long burial process.  In this sense, they truly represent a community of the dead.

So it is that a simple catalog compilation developed into a 20-year immersion into the study of prehistoric ossuaries, first in Maryland, then further afield.  I hope my work allows modern Native Americans to better understand the ways of their ancestors, as well as allowing non-Native Americans to appreciate other cultures.  And some 20 or 50 years down the road, I hope this work will help guide future archeologists.

A post script:  When my article appeared in Archaeology of Eastern North America, I told my wife that it had been published.  She asked to see a copy, explaining “I don’t really understand what you do.”  (I know she started reading Feast of the Dead, but I’m fairly sure she never finished it.)  Anyway, that’s a pretty big shortcoming on my part, so I decided to write this blog from a more first-person perspective in order to provide an “inside look” at how one archeologist works. — DCC

Links for further reading: