19th Century Kitchen Cellar


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18th Century Cellar

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19th Century Kitchen Cellar (44KW236) Overview

by Tom Hobbs

Note: Click on images to view them larger and to read a description

In 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.

The 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 Merit Badge.

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 house.

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.

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