A mysterious pioneer's trash yields treasures for historians Archaeologists study Owings Mills artifacts

July 02, 1996|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

In a patch of woods near Owings Mills Mall, a fieldstone foundation hugs the shoulder of turnpikes both abandoned and imagined. Here, archaeologists are sifting for clues to 18th-century frontier life.

And as best as they can tell, the clues they were picking through yesterday are trash left by a fellow named Dorsey.

"We don't think he was a smoker," said archaeologist Bob Hoffman, noting a scarcity of clay pipe fragments. "On the other hand, he certainly was a drinker."

A drinker, judging by the wine and liquor bottles, and fairly well-to-do judging by the fragments of English and Chinese porcelain. Dorsey may have been a bit of an oddity among frontiersmen, but he nevertheless left a vault of history in the path of what soon will be Red Run Boulevard.

With bags of trinkets and treasures, Hoffman and his crew from Delaware-based MAAR Associates were combing the ground for more artifacts. Their job: Bag, tag, rebuild and analyze as much as possible from the site before it is paved for the $11-million road that will link Owings Mills and Franklin boulevards.

Eventually, the artifacts may be displayed publicly. The archaeological survey, which Hoffman said will cost Baltimore County government about $175,000, is required under federal permits needed for the highway and accompanying sewer line. During a similar study last year along the sewer line, archaeologists found remains of Indian pottery dating to before the 14th century.

Ground zero on this dig is an 18-foot square of stones, the foundation of what Hoffman suspects was a log cabin. The cabin may have been a farmhouse or tollhouse -- the stones are just outside a swale that marks a Colonial-era turnpike from Baltimore to Harrisburg. The stones, which over the past two centuries had come to be obscured by more than 3 inches of soil, were set only about a foot into the subsoil.

After studying land records and other public documents, the archaeologists believe the property was owned by the family that gave Owings Mills its name, and was sold to a man named Dorsey in 1780. They believe the buyer was a scion of a farming, slave-owning family from Anne Arundel County who set out to northwest Baltimore County to conquer what then was frontier territory.

He apparently abandoned the property about 1800, leaving everything from slate pencils and writing tablets to English coins.

Kelly Hott of Perry Hall was mining dirt with a trowel and a dustpan yesterday. Hott's last job was a prehistoric dig in West Virginia, but she said she prefers to explore history that is more recent.

"You feel a bond with what you're working on," she said. "You might have the names of the people, and you see evidence of their everyday life."

Pub Date: 7/02/96

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