Alexandria Archaeology: The City of Alexandria’s Archaeological Protection Code turns 25!

In this week’s #SHA2016 Conference blog post, on D.C. area archaeology, we take a look at Alexandria Archaeology! This is a season of anniversaries as the City of Alexandria’s Archaeological Protection Code recently turned 25!

In 2014, the City of Alexandria celebrated the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Archaeological Protection Code, serving as a preservation model for local jurisdictions across the nation.  The Code has enabled sites that otherwise would have been lost to development to be excavated and studied.  These sites have provided information about the full range of human activity in Alexandria, from Native American occupation through the early 20th century.  The excavated sites highlight the wharves and ship-building activities on the waterfront; the commercial and industrial establishments, including potteries, bakeries, and breweries; life in rural Alexandria; the Civil War; cemetery analysis and preservation; and the lives of African Americans, both free and enslaved.  Over the 25 years the Code has been in effect, the City’s archaeological staff has reviewed more than 11,000 projects that range from building a fence to developing an entire city block, and everything in between.

However, formal archaeology did not begin in Alexandria until 1961.  In conjunction with the Civil War centennial, the city took steps to develop a park at the site of Fort Ward, one of the more than 160 forts built by the Union Army to protect Washington, D.C.  Spurred by citizen interest, the archaeological information recovered from Fort Ward led to a reconstruction of its north bastion, as well as the construction of a small museum and visitor center at the park.

A few years later, a series of urban renewal projects began along King Street, part of a nationwide trend occurring in many American cities in the 1960s. Buildings that lined the 300, 400, and 500 blocks of King Street were torn down and replaced with newer buildings, and a large market square was built fronting on city hall.  Original plans called for 16 blocks to be demolished, but a citizen-led historic preservation movement helped to limit the scale of urban renewal in Alexandria to those few blocks on King Street.  Nevertheless, when the buildings came down, numerous brick-lined wells and privies, as well as deposits of artifacts were visible, and citizens reached out to the Smithsonian Institution to conduct rescue excavations on these blocks.  Into the void stepped Richard Muzzrole, a technician with no formal archaeological training, but with an unwavering desire to save as much of the threatened archaeological record as he could.  With guidance from his Smithsonian colleagues, Muzzrole marshalled a small cadre of volunteers and conducted salvage archaeology of the wells, privies, and other archaeological materials uncovered by construction equipment.  Muzzrole established a laboratory for the artifacts in the old Torpedo Factory, which eventually became the iconic Torpedo Factory Art Center. The visibility of the rescue archaeology, and the display of the extensive artifact collections recovered from the King Street wells and privies continued to ingrain archaeology into the civic consciousness.

The Smithsonian funded the rescue work from 1965 until 1971. And, for two more years, a group of Alexandrians called the Committee of 100 continued to fund the rescue work with each member pledging $10 per month (today, that would be nearly $60 per month). Eventually, this group actively sought City Council support to include archaeology as a permanent service of the City of Alexandria government. The Council was convinced of the importance of archaeology and historic preservation, and, in 1973, the City began directly funding Mr. Muzzrole and several assistants who worked with the collections. Throughout these years, the display of excavated artifacts, public lectures, and the ongoing rescue excavations continued to forge a public appreciation of archaeology in Alexandria.

In 1975, the City established the Alexandria Archaeological Commission, a volunteer citizen group that advises the mayor and Council on issues involving local archaeology and historic preservation- the first organization of its kind in the United States.  The formation of the Archaeology Commission was the first step in professionalizing the practice of archaeology in the city, which in turn led to Alexandria hiring Pamela Cressey as its first City Archaeologist in 1977. Since that time, Alexandria Archaeology has grown from a rescue operation in the Old Town area to a City-wide community archaeology program.

Throughout the 1980s development in Alexandria continued at a brisk pace, threatening, damaging, and likely destroying archaeological resources.  Many of the development projects were private enterprises, and did not fall under the federal cultural resource protection laws.  To stem the loss of archaeological sites, the Alexandria Archaeological Commission spearheaded a preservation initiative that culminated in 1989, with the drafting of an archaeological ordinance requiring a five-step review process for all site plans that involve more than 2,500 square feet of ground disturbance.  This Archaeological Protection Code sets out a process whereby the private sector absorbs the cost of archaeological excavation and analysis before ground disturbance occurs on large-scale construction projects.   Incorporated into the City’s Zoning Ordinance, the Code requires coordination with other City departments—the planners, engineers, landscape designers, and other regulatory officials who oversee the site plan process. Implementation involves review of all City development projects by staff archaeologists. The staff determines the level of work needed for each project, and, when required, a developer must hire archaeological consultants to conduct investigations of potentially significant site locations and produce both technical and public reports on their findings.

From these beginnings, Alexandria Archaeology now manages over 2,000,000 artifacts collected from over 100 archaeological sites scattered across the City.  The collections are open to researchers, and a small sampling of the artifacts are on display for benefit of the public at our museum, in the Torpedo Factory Art Center, alongside 85 studios designed for artist-public interaction.  The Archaeology Museum’s glass windows and public laboratory encourage visitors to observe the archaeological process in action.  Numerous research projects are undertaken as well, which include public participation through volunteer work, education in the museum, and outreach activities.

Volunteerism is the watchword of Alexandria Archaeology; we could not exist without the contributions of hundreds of volunteers.  More than 100 give of their time and talents in an average year.  One special volunteer still works in the lab after more than 30 years. Volunteers work in all aspects of the program from digging and laboratory work, to education, research, oral history, and editing.  In 1986, a group of volunteers formed a 501(c)3 organization, the Friends of Alexandria Archaeology (FOAA).  FOAA sponsors events, publishes a newsletter, maintains a website, Facebook page, and Twitter account, and supports the Museum in all its work.  The future looks bright for Alexandria Archaeology.  It has been 50 years since Richard Muzzrole first poked a shovel in a privy on King Street.  Here’s hoping that we have another 50 years in front of us of community archaeology in Alexandria!

Please Visit our Website: www.AlexandriaArchaeology.org

Friends of Alexandria Archaeology: http://www.foaa.info/

Preserving Black Heritage in London, Ontario: The Fugitive Slave Chapel (1847-1869)

by Matthew Beaudoin, Holly Martelle, Nicole Brandon (Timmins Martelle Heritage Consultants Inc.), and Darryl Dann (Independent Researcher)

The plain, wood framed, vernacular style, residential cottage sitting upon the lot at 275 Thames Street, London, Ontario, was slated for demolition to make way for an expansion of the Aboutown Travel Services parking facilities. After the request for demolition was approved, groups of concerned and aware citizens began protesting and combating the order because they remembered the history associated with the structure; they remembered the building as the Fugitive Slave Chapel.

History of the Slave Chapel

The area surrounding London has an important, if often forgotten, association with 19th century Black heritage in North America. As one of the terminus points on the Underground Railroad, the population of former slaves was increasing during the early nineteenth century. As such, there are numerous points of local history, like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, near Dresden, as well as communities, like the former settlements of Wilberforce, near Lucan, and Buxton, near Chatham. The first African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church (referred to as the Fugitive Slave Chapel) in London, Ontario was one of these focal points.

275 Thames Street c.1926

The AME Church was built in the area known as the Fork of the Thames in 1847 to service a settlement of Black refugees who lived on the south side of the Thames River. The AME Church purchased the lot through a board of trustees from William Clark, a carpenter who obtained the original deed for the lot. The church was renamed the British Methodist Episcopal Church in 1856 to reinforce its commitment to the British Crown. In 1869, a new church building was erected at 430 Grey Street, which is the location of the current Beth Emanuel Church, and the property containing the original AME Church was sold to James Seale. The church building at 275 Thames Street remained on the lot and became a residential property. It was long assumed that the original structure was demolished; however, E.J. Carty, a reporter for The London Advertiser (1864-1936), was able to confirm that the structure at 275 Thames Street was the original structure.

During its tenure at 275 Thames Street, the AME Church was visited by several notable people, including John Brown, who spoke to a delegation here advocating revolution and what would transpire as the raid on Harper’s Ferry.  In 1986, the London Historic Sites Committee recognized the AME Church as a site of historic and cultural importance in London, and erected a plaque on the building.

Public Excavations

The public outcry concerning the demolition of the building was enough to get a 60 day stay of demolition to properly document the cultural and archaeological heritage of the property. In this time, Timmins Martelle Heritage Consultants Inc. (TMHC) offered its services to conduct the archaeological assessments. While the City of London financed some portions of the archaeological assessment, much of the personnel, time, and resources was supplied by TMHC, volunteers from the Ontario Archaeological Society and the general public, who helped to make this project a success.

Volunteers conducting excavations at the site.

The excavations were conducted during weekends and included mapping the property, the excavation of test pits, the excavation of one-meter units, and the mapping and excavation of identified features. Given the time constraints placed on the project by the imminent demolition, the outpouring of public volunteers formed the backbone of this project and helped complete our archaeological assessment before the deadline.

A total of 41 units were excavated in the roughly 20 meters by 15 meters area behind the standing structures. The archaeological work uncovered a variety of domestic artifacts that included ceramics, glassware, iron objects, and modern refuse. The majority of the artifacts examined to date have been associated with the later 19th/early 20th century habitation of the site. A total of eight potential cultural features were identified and excavated; one of which may have been a grey water pit and the rest were likely small refuse pits.

Where are we now?

At the time of writing, the majority of fieldwork has been completed and volunteers have completed the processing of artifacts, with cataloging and analysis to follow. There are plans to conduct additional mechanical topsoil stripping behind the house to look for additional features. During the investigation process, the demolition plans for the building were put on hold to allow for the potential relocation of the structure to a new home.

275 Thames Street in 2013

The Fugitive Slave Chapel Preservation Project organizers are presently trying to raise funds (approximately $160,000) to relocate the Fugitive Slave Chapel structure to an empty lot adjacent to the Beth Emanuel Church on Grey Street. Once relocated, the Fugitive Slave Chapel will require at least $500,000 to renovate and repurpose it as a community center that will offer meals, counseling, and educational programs, as well as being a museum and focal point of Black history in London. Until now the Fugitive Slave Chapel Preservation Project has had moderate successes at raising the initial relocation funds from public donations through efforts such as their ‘2¢ Worth’ campaign; however, they will continue to require further donations to make their vision to preserve the Fugitive Slave Chapel a success. The revitalized role of Fugitive Slave Chapel continues to have tremendous potential to be a focal point of Black heritage in the area, as well as serving members of the London community in need.

This project helped emphasize the importance of archaeology to help communities remember, as well as the role we have in helping preserve, forgotten pasts; however, this was not a one-sided relationship. The public played a vital role in the implementation, excavation, and conservation of this project and it would not have been possible without their interest and support. While this project was not without its difficulties, as with any project, it shows that CRM archaeology and public engagement can work together to conduct archaeology that is significant to local communities.