Junior archaeologists dig up jail yard dirt Historical society sponsors project

July 18, 1993|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

The middle-school students were plucking bits o 19th-century life from the dirt at the old Carroll County jail yard. They found bullet casings, animal bones, teacup pieces and whiskey bottles.

It was cool stuff.

After they dug it up, they packed it for posterity. The artifacts they found in the jail yard at 98 N. Court St. will be kept for historians to study in the future.

"It's been fun. I've always wanted to be an archaeologist," said Brook O'Keefe, 17, of Taneytown, who was a teaching assistant at last week's dig.

About 15 sixth- and seventh-graders from around the county worked at the site last week as part of a summer course sponsored by the Historical Society of Carroll County. Three weeks ago, six eighth- and ninth-graders dug at the jail yard.

The three-story stone building, which still has bars on many windows, was built in 1837, said Joseph M. Getty, Historical Society executive director. It now houses Granite House, a nonprofit agency that helps the mentally handicapped.

Most of the artifacts the students found probably belonged to the families of sheriffs who lived at the jail over the years, Mr. Getty said.

Heather DeRita, 11, of Westminster displayed a hambone dug up at the back of the jail in a shady corner. Michel Sears, 12, of Finksburg showed a small slice of bone, probably that of a chicken, dug up near where the students believe they also found part of a stone wall that surrounded the jail.

Near the front of the jail, Michael Andrews, 10, of Westminster and Andrew Wherley, 10, of Finksburg displayed something with a bit more intrigue -- a bullet casing for a 32-caliber Smith & Wesson firearm.

"They might have had an escaped convict," young Andrews said.

The students didn't find much evidence of the three hangings that occurred at the jail. But Michel showed a small piece of white paper with "Carroll County Jail Yard" written on it that she and her cohorts found about 1 1/2 feet below the surface of the yard.

The students speculated that the paper could have been a ticket one of the hangings, but then decided it might have been from a newspaper clipping, she said.

Three convicted murderers were hanged at the jail. They were:

* Rebecca McCormick, a slave who worked on the William Orendorff farm near Westminster, who was hanged in June 1859 for killing a teen-age male slave.

* Joseph W. Davis, 24, who was hanged in February 1874 for murdering his employer, Abraham L. Lynn, a miller who was found dead in a hopper of wheat.

* Solomon Sutler, a young man who was hanged in April 1916 for a murder on a Silver Run farm where he worked.

The students also got to venture into the basement of the old jail where dark, damp cells with heavy iron gates are intact. The rooms now are used for county storage.

Mr. Getty said the cells probably were used from 1865 to 1912, when the county renovated the jail.

Digging in the yard, the students also found pieces of coal, rusted and bent nails, buttons, pieces of red clay jars, red bricks that might have been part of a sidewalk, and pieces of various types of dinnerware.

Christine O'Hare, 10, of Mount Airy said her group dug in the shady corner at the back of the jail because it was secluded and might have been a play area for the sheriffs' children. The students found a marble and a small iron figure that might be a doll, she said.

They also dug out a tooth that was partially decayed and probably belonged to a rodent, said Anne Foreman, 10, of Sykesville.

The students recounted their work for a Prestige Cable TV cameraman Friday. Their story will be broadcast later on Channel 3, he said.

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