Farmed field in Arnold yields Colonial artifacts Houses to be built on excavated site

May 03, 1993|By Donna Weaver | Donna Weaver,Contributing writer

Adam Crist and his family picked more than just tomatoes and squash from the Arnold field they farmed for 30 years.

Besides bumper crops of vegetables, Mr. Crist and his grandchildren found pieces of history: twisted yellow bricks, Indian projectile points and shards of china and pottery.

Mr. Crist, who died in 1986, always had his own theory about what may have existed in the field, says his grandson, Anthony Rezendes.

"He thought it was an Indian trading post because of the arrowheads we found," Mr. Rezendes says.

Mr. Crist was partially right: A building did stand there, but Indians weren't the builders. It was Mordecai Hammond, a wealthy 18th-century lumber-mill owner and tobacco merchant. That's the conclusion of County Archaeologist Al Luckenbach and a band of volunteers, who, after two months of digging and research, have discovered the footprint of a house probably dating to 1710, when Mr. Hammond purchased the property.

But archaeologists wouldn't have found anything at all if Mr. Rezendes hadn't been persistent and told them about the artifacts and bricks his family had picked from the field. The county already had approved construction of 78 single-family homes on the field, an extension of the Harding Farm subdivision.

"I called to try to stop some of the building, to save the homes of the foxes, rabbits and raccoons that live there," says Mr. Rezendes, a teacher at Bodkin Elementary School. "I know that's not possible."

Mr. Rezendes showed Mr. Luckenbach his family's collection of artifacts: boxes full of pieces of pottery, pipes and china. One china piece, for example, bore the initials G.R. for King George I, II or III. The pieces date from 1715 to 1785.

He showed the archaeologist the yellow bricks lining his mother's garden, topping off his grandfather's wishing well and sitting in the shed -- the ones he and his sisters and brother used as roads for Matchbox cars.

Then he took Mr. Luckenbach to the field and pointed out the spot where his grandfather could never plow because of the yellow bricks buried there.

Mr. Luckenbach was intrigued by the find, called Dutch yellow bricks.

"These bricks were used in St. Mary's City in the 1670-80s," says Mr. Luckenbach.

"They normally occur in Maryland not later than 1680. They were extremely high-fired, dense bricks that were used as ballast in Dutch ships. They're ordinarily just used in fireboxes because they can withstand heat."

Thinking that the remains of a 17th century house were buried beneath the field, he gathered a team of volunteers and began digging.

Part of the orange-colored iron sandstone foundation was found after one foot of dirt was dug up. Yellow and red bricks were found lying in almost a straight line at one end of the pit. These bricks formed the chimney that probably had tumbled into the house after it was abandoned in the 1780s.

Mr. Luckenbach, archaeologist Esther Doyle Read and several volunteers a so have found many artifacts dating from 1710 to 1780: pieces of Chinese export porcelain; delftware; part of an off-white stem from an English pipe; brass buttons and a jew's-harp, a small, lyre-shaped metal frame that's placed in the mouth and plucked to produce music.

The artifacts and land records suggest that the house was built later than 1680. James Connaway and Thomas Turner were the first to purchase the land in 1668 and did not build on it, Mr. Luckenbach says.

So why were these bricks found at this site? Mr. Luckenbach at first suspected they had been pulled from an earlier house. Then he began reading about Dutch shipwrecks and discovered that salvagers were finding Dutch yellow bricks in the hulls of wrecked ships as late as 1720.

The bricks at the site probably came from such a ship, he believes.

Now, he says, "we're trying to figure out what the house looked like." But he doesn't have much time. The land already is slated for single family homes.

Working quickly, Mr. Luckenbach has arrived at several answers. The house probably was typical, a 16-by-24 foot, 1 1/2 -story wooden frame house with a chimney at one end. It probably had one room on the first floor and a sleeping loft. Archaeologists also have found an 8-foot addition at one end of the house.

"Houses like these usually lasted about 80 years," he says.

But the house survived Mr. Hammond, who was born in 1695 and died in the 1740s. He purchased the property in 1710 after his father's death. He built the house and a lumber mill on nearby Mill Creek.

Mr. Hammond became a wealthy and prominent man, according to research by county Historic Sites Planner Donna Ware and volunteer Tony Lindauer. He amassed 2,000 acres of land, sold lumber and tobacco, and maintained local roads and the law.

But he didn't die wealthy.

"For some reason, he acquired a large debt," Mr. Lindauer says. "There's the possibility that he had a couple of bad crops or a couple of bad deals."

Whatever the reason, his two children scrambled to pay off his debts. They succeeded, and the land remained in the family until it was sold in 1806.

Later it became a farm, playground and historical treasure trove for Mr. Crist and his family.

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