19th Century Kitchen Cellar (44KW236)
by Tom Hobbs
Note: Click on images
to view them larger and to read a description
the process of bulldozing in the summer of 1997 to install foundations
for a wing to his 1830’s house, Harold Longest of King
William County, Virginia, uncovered a wide area of scattered
brick, mortar, internal plaster and some ca. 1900 trash. Suspecting
that he had found the remains of an old wing on the northern
side of the house (which had originally been owned by Dr.
John O. Turpin, a Baptist minister), Mr. Longest called
me to ask if the Greater Richmond Area Chapter of the ASV might
be interested in doing a salvage dig on the site.
We had only a few weeks to complete
the project, as Mr. Longest wanted to have the new structure
built and his elderly mother moved in by Christmas.
immense labor of removing the building debris was accomplished
by GRAC / ASV members Dick Helm, Benny New, Elizabeth Barnett,
Bruce Baker, myself, Mike White (a former archeology student)
and about 20 Boy Scouts of Troop 521 near Mechanicsville (Cool
Spring Church). These young men were working on their Archaeology
All drawings and photographs
were done by me, and these remain in my custody for now. The
artifacts remain with Longest.
We quickly decided that all the
debris was cellar fill and to bisect this feature lengthwise,
removing debris first from its southern half (we hoped).
From the beginning, we excavated
an impressive number of discarded items, ranging from ca. 1900
bottles and metal cans thrown on top of the brick bats and mortar,
to Civil War uniform parts lying on the cellar floor.
Several rows of the cellar’s
west wall were intact, but none of its east wall remained. Nevertheless,
we were able to get a measurement of 25 feet.
The profile of the basement debris
revealed nothing unusual – the building obviously burned
sometime around the Civil War or shortly afterwards, as clearly
evident by the abundance of charcoal and in some cases the charred
remains of building timbers. Not long afterwards, someone robbed
the bricks from the site, thus explaining the paucity of whole
bricks in the fill. This crew also pilfered the south and east
walls very neatly, leaving only a nicely laid (and very worn)
set of steps up to ground level into the back yard of the main
We could only hope to get a “terminus
post quem” (a date after which some event had to have
happened) to help us arrive at an approximate date for the brick
removal. And we got lucky. In the sand-filled south “ghost
wall” we unearthed a Confederate brass fuse adapter (no
help) and an 1883 Indian Head Cent, tarnished but with no wear
whatsoever. We, therefore, concluded that the great brick robbery
occurred in the mid-1880’s.
The basement’s floor was another puzzling find. It was
bricked in a haphazard (and very uneven) fashion in the eastern
and western parts, but the middle third (roughly) was floored
with thick planks laid lengthwise over five 3” x 4”
square-hewn posts set apart at gaps ranging from a few inches
to two feet, these posts running north-south.