A Summer Exploring Maryland’s History by Land and Sea

A Summer Exploring Maryland’s History by Land and Sea

By Stephanie Soder, 2019 Summer Intern in Maryland Archeology

Having recently graduated with a Master’s degree in Maritime Studies (Archeology), I was excited when I was chosen as the Maryland Historical Trust’s summer intern. I grew up just over the Mason-Dixon border in Pennsylvania and spent about half of my life in Maryland, so I was happy to be back in the state I considered “home”. The MHT Archeology staff wasted no time in throwing me into the chaos of gearing up for the annual Tyler Bastian Field Session that was taking place at Billingsley House in Prince George’s County.

The Author examining a prehistoric pit feature exposed during the 2019 Field Session
(Drone imagery courtesy of Ryan Craun, M-NCPPC).

Though the Billingsley House dates to the 18th century, this 11-day field session focused on finding two 17th-century Native American villages. I was charged with keeping the field lab running smoothly and the site forms organized. Water buckets and toothbrushes came out every day for artifact washing, allowing volunteers to take a break from digging in the heat. Every tenth bucket coming from each unit was water screened through a ⅛” mesh, hoping to reveal small trade beads (and creating quite the mess). By the end of the session, 12 units had been opened, resulting in artifacts ranging from pre-colonial lithics and ceramics to nails, faunal remains, and fire-cracked rock. Thanks to the hard efforts of the lab volunteers, almost all of the artifacts were washed and weighed by the end of the last day.

The remaining time of my internship was split between a variety of projects. I was able to work on projects that met my interests, and though I love to be out in the field, I challenged myself by taking on tasks that I was not as familiar with: Section 106 review and compliance, artifact identification, and remote sensing.

A Late Archaic projectile point recovered at Billingsley (Photo by the author).

Compliance archeology focuses on ensuring that federal and state funded projects limit impacts to the historical integrity of sites around Maryland. Dixie Henry and Beth Cole shared their expectations for compliance reports and gave me federal and state standards for archeology and architectural studies to read. They then allowed to me to review some compliance reports and tag along on a consultation meeting with the National Park Service to mitigate impacts to historic sites while building their new C & O Canal Headquarters. The time I spent learning about compliance has reinforced my appreciation for the work that goes into protecting our historical resources.

My graduate research focused largely on Pacific Islander culture and modern conflict, so getting familiar with artifacts found throughout Maryland was a necessity. I spent much of the second half of my internship in the lab cleaning, identifying, and photographing artifacts from previously completed fieldwork in Janes Island State Park (Somerset County). I then began working on site forms and compiled a report that highlighted research on each type of artifact find. There’s no better way to learn how to complete a task than getting to do it first-hand, and I feel that my time working with the artifacts helped familiarize me with examples found around Maryland and the resources available for identification.

Most of my previous work involved excavation or evaluation with very little training in remote sensing. Under the tutelage of Matt McKnight and Charlie Hall, I learned how to run a magnetic susceptibility meter and a fluxgate gradiometer. Putting what I had learned to the test, we set out for a new site that may be associated with an ordinary dating from the origins of Caroline County. I assisted with using the gradiometer and practiced with the magnetic susceptibility meter. The collected data will help with future work on the site by the Caroline County Historical Society. Out on Janes Island, Troy Nowak put me to work completing a side-scan sonar and bathymetric survey in Maryland waters. With a steady hand and concentration, I learned to follow transect lines while driving a boat in order to collect data consistently. The rest of the week was spent surveying the shoreline and tracking how it has changed over time in order to evaluate potential impacts on historical sites.

The author collecting marine remote sensing data off of Janes Island (Photo by Troy Nowak).

My summer at MHT came to an end far too quickly, but it has been an extremely rewarding experience. It has helped prepare me for a career in Maryland, and I’d like to thank the entire staff at MHT for their guidance, patience, and for providing me this amazing opportunity.

Introducing the MHT Library

By Lara Westwood, Librarian, Maryland Historical Trust

In honor of National Library Week, we are showcasing the library at the Maryland Historical Trust, an often overlooked resource for those seeking guidance on restoring and preserving historic properties, researching archeological sites, or simply interested in Maryland history, historic preservation, architectural history, and archeology. The library collection holds over 10,000 books, archeological reports, architectural drawings, as well as historical maps, oral histories, and over 100,000 photographic slides and negatives, which could benefit a wide variety of researchers.

The library at the Maryland Historical Trust.

Books in the library range in topic from prehistory, anthropology, and geology to biography, decorative arts, and modern architecture. The collection emphasizes studies of Maryland in county histories, genealogical works, and other resources, but is not limited in scope. The owner of a historic home, for example, may find catalogs advertising house kits and other building supplies, how-to manuals on repairing and preserving roofs and windows, and books on architectural styles useful. The wide selection of books on interior design, historic wall finishings, and house styles may appeal to students of architecture or historic preservation. Archeological research can be supplemented by books on Native American cultures, technology and theory, shipwrecks, and more. Dissertations, theses, and student papers by professors and university students on relevant themes have also been collected. New books are frequently added to the collection, including limited run, locally and self-published works. The library also maintains subscriptions to a numbered of local, national, and international professional and popular journals and periodicals, often not available in local public libraries.

A sampling a just a few of the thousands of titles in the collection.

Supplemental materials related to the nearly 50,0000 properties on the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties (MIHP) are some of the most unique items in our collection. This includes historic structure reports, field and research reports, published works, architectural drawings, vertical files, and photographs. Historic structure reports are typically in-depth studies of single properties with recommendations for rehabilitation and conservation work. A wide variety of structures have been investigated including houses, government buildings, lighthouses, and churches, and these reports are often helpful sources for chain of title information, property history, and modern and historic photographs. Paint analysis reports may also interest researchers seeking information on period accurate paint colors, and work in dendrochronology could assist in dating wooden buildings, which are cataloged with field and research reports. The architectural drawing collection is another underutilized gem for researchers of architectural history. All counties are represented in the collection and includes many different types of structures from bridges and public buildings to palatial estate houses to barns and tenant houses. The vertical files also hold a wealth of materials, such as research notes, correspondence, newspaper clippings, and photographs, on various subjects, including MIHP properties, historical events, and cities and towns.

MHT has collected thousands of images to document historic properties, historic districts, and archaeological sites in Maryland. These slides, negatives, and photographs are maintained in the library and supplement the images available in the MIHP form. They primarily date from the 1960’s to present, but older photographs can sometimes be found. The architectural images in particular are of tremendous value in the study of Maryland’s history and development. Many of the buildings photographed are no longer extant or represent structures beyond the well known historic sites. In some cases, these are the only known photographs of a structure. The collection also provides examples of many architectural styles, building types, and design features.

An image of the Robert Llewellyn Wright House in Montgomery County, Maryland from the slide and negative collection.

The library also acts as a repository for the reports of archeological studies performed around the state. Compliance reports, artifact catalogs, other associated materials, and site surveys are available to researchers who meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Professional Qualification Standards for Archeology and their proxies. Members of the public can discover more about archaeological sites and artifacts discovered by exploring the Archeological Synthesis Project and Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory’s Diagnostic Artifacts in Maryland.

Oral histories and maps round out the library’s rich collection. The oral histories capture the state’s cultural traditions through written transcripts and audio and video recordings. Themes include African-American communities in Baltimore County, tobacco in Calvert County, lighthouses across the state, and more. Nautical charts, topographic maps, and other historical maps of Maryland and the mid-Atlantic region are also available to researchers.  

The library’s collection is always expanding. While some collection material has yet to be cataloged, visiting the library catalog is the best way to start a search. More information on the library can be found in the user guide and on the library’s web page. The library is open to the public by appointment, Tuesday through Thursday. Librarian Lara Westwood can be contacted (lara.westwood@maryland.gov or 410-697-9546) to schedule library visits or assist with any research inquiries.