History Mystery at Mount Vernon
Team Archaeology of Mount Vernon’s Historic Preservation and Collections Department began excavations in front of the kitchen on May 29th. With the help of 9 students enrolled in a Field Methods in Historic Preservation course through the University of Maryland, we opened 3 test units measuring almost 10x10’. The south wall of each of these units abuts the 1775 kitchen foundation. Though the field school continues through July 3rd, archaeologists will be working in front of and around the south lane side of the kitchen through the fall.
By excavating these units, we hope to explore one of Mount Vernon’s great history mysteries – what did Mount Vernon look like before the Revolutionary War? In 1775, George Washington began a large-scale and multi-year campaign to renovate and remodel his Mansion, outbuildings, and landscape including the gardens and grounds making it the iconic house you experience when you visit today. However, before this transformation, Mount Vernon was a different place. Right up next to the Mansion, on the west side, there were four outbuildings arranged at angles from the corners of a smaller Mansion.
How do we go about solving this history mystery?
Our evidence comes from primary sources, both documentary and archaeological. We know from the estate inventory taken after Lawrence Washington’s death in 1752 that he had four outbuildings including an earlier kitchen, dairy, storehouse, and washhouse. This document combined with earlier generations of archaeology dating all the way back to the 1930s provided a conjectural layout of the early Mount Vernon. Using modern excavation and mapping techniques, we will be able to make a more concrete map based on our findings. Additionally, we anticipate finding features associated with the 1775 kitchen, including a brick drain.
Visitors to the site often ask how we know where to dig. In this case, our project goals are part research and part maintenance. We are working closely with the Operations and Maintenance Department to fix some of the drainage issues in this area in addition to removing some of the utilities that are no longer functioning.
Want to learn more about the trash generated from these early outbuildings? Visit our midden site!
The Kitchen excavation team gathers near the site of the kitchen
Students and volunteers begin the excavation work near the site of the pre-1775 kitchen at Mount Vernon