Tour Uncovers Joppa, A Thriving Town/port Of 1700s Visitors Dig Into Wallets So Archaeologists Can Do So Under Ground

October 14, 1990|By Karin Remesch | Karin Remesch,Staff writer

Standing on the banks of the Gunpowder River, looking out onto a vast tidal marsh of reeds, it's difficult to imagine that tall ships carrying cargo from around the world docked here during Colonial times.

But those participating in next Saturday's Gunpowder Hundred Home and Garden Tour sponsored by the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection on Rumsey Island will have the opportunity to do just that. With a little imagination, they can step back in time and tour Joppa, a thriving town and seaport in the early 1700s.

Guides dressed in costumes of the period will recount the past as the tour begins on the historic church grounds.

Visitors though will not only be able to envision the past -- such as High Street, once the most inland of Joppa's roadways, and the inn where people stayed while conducting business at the courthouse -- they also will have the opportunity to tour modern-day homes and gardens situated on Rumsey Island's waterfront. Boats will be available for a ride along the island's shoreline.

"Proceeds from the annual event will benefit the ongoing archaeological study of the Joppa National Historic Site situated on the grounds of the Episcopal church," said Karen Hawley, tour chairwoman.

"We estimate that about 50 percent of the remains of the town of Joppa are still preserved below the ground," said Ted Payne, an archaeologist and member of the church who has volunteered his services to the project and is assisting with the formation of the Historic Joppa Foundation.

The foundation will administer to the preservation needs of the early part of Maryland Colonial history discovered on church and surrounding grounds and will assure that it will be available in the future for enjoyment and study.

The first link to the southern Harford County community's heritage was discovered in 1983 when the foundation of St. John, the original church of the town of Joppa, was excavated.

The 20- by 40-foot brick and stone foundation was found resting only 6 inches below the surface and just yards away from the Church of the Resurrection, St. John's successor.

Constructed of handmade bricks bonded by oyster shell mortar, the foundation is a typical example of building methods used in 18th century Maryland, said Payne.

Remnants of the courthouse are believed to be resting under a mound of ground on the church site, added Payne.

As the guided tour continues through a wooded area to the banks of the Gunpowder River, exposed bricks can be seen along the way -- reminders of other Joppa buildings and signs of the once prosperous town.

In its thriving days, Joppa received manufactured goods from beyond the Atlantic and exported great quantities of tobacco and corn.

But the town's prosperity was short-lived. Joppa deteriorated rapidly when silt, set loose following extensive cutting of trees to clear the land for tobacco fields, filled up most of the mile-wide harbor. A smallpox epidemic accelerated the town's downfall.

By 1814 nothing was left of the original town and not until Joppa was revived by the building of modern Joppatowne in the early 1960s was there talk again of the Colonial town.

"It's exciting what's happening here," Payne said as he pointed to an exposed brick on the ground. He estimated that the foundations of numerous homes, wells and a jail still can be found below ground.

"And the ongoing archaeological study will enable us to preserve Joppa so that no more of it will be disturbed or destroyed as has been in the past," said Payne. "We have no plans to dig up the entire town -- we only dig to address specific research questions and accuracy of the town plan.

"We are here to preserve what's left of Joppa so that future generations can enjoy the site and learn from it," Payne added.

Once visitors conclude their guided tour of the historic site next Saturday, they will be given a booklet and map of the island to continue a walking tour of the area at their own pace.

Homes open on the tour include the Rumsey Mansion. Built in 1724, the house stands as the only reminder of 18th century Joppa.

Advance tickets for the tour are $7; they are $8 the day of the event.

Ticket sales will be cut off at 3 p.m. to allow visitors time to complete the tour, which should take about 2 to three hours.

The rain date is Saturday, Oct. 27. For more information, call 679-8700.

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