Dig in Towson turns up no remains Excavation clears way for parking structure

September 20, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Now they really can rest in peace -- the developer, the preservationists and descendants.

An archaeological dig in east Towson yesterday uncovered no human remains outside a tiny family cemetery, clearing the way for developer David G. Rhodes to proceed with his $25 million redevelopment plan for the former Hutzler's building.

The old graveyard -- a resting place for the Towsons, Schmucks and Shealeys who pioneered the town -- is next to the Shealy Avenue site of a proposed 800-car parking garage that would be part of the project.

"I'm relieved," Rhodes said yesterday. "We're anxious to move forward."

The mostly routine excavation -- a joint effort by Rhodes; the Baltimore County Historic Trust and Historic Towson Inc., both preservation groups; and county officials -- did have a few tense moments, though.

The discovery of a red-brick formation startled the archaeological crew about a half-hour after it started the 8: 30 a.m. operation. But the circular arrangement with ashes and dirt in the center turned out probably to be a cesspool, instead of a valuable historic structure.

The other finds of the day were not exactly treasures either -- a 20th-century jacks game ball, a dirt-caked toy truck, a few shards of modern chinaware, rusted door hinges and an empty McCormick's bottle, probably filled with vanilla at one time.

The only noteworthy discovery was a broken pre-Prohibition beer bottle from the early 20th century. It provided an odd complement to the empty, modern-day Black Watch vodka bottle that littered the often-forgotten graveyard.

Still, the dig was necessary, said archaeologist Kathy Lee Erlandson, a member of the Baltimore County Historic Trust, who volunteered her time yesterday with Earl Strain Jr. and Dana Kollmann.

"We needed to check it out," Erlandson said. "Once archaeology is destroyed, you can never go back."

Over the past eight years, the nearby Hutzler's building has become an empty white elephant, hovering over a major intersection in the county seat.

Rhodes' plans call for turning the former, four-level department store into a retail discount center with a restaurant and possibly movie theaters.

The parking garage to be built at the archaeological site would connect by a walkway to the main building. Rhodes has released no specifics on tenants for the project but recently said he hopes to provide details in the next two months.

The dig -- a first for the bustling business district -- got off to a positive start as backhoe operator Bert Hewes, an archaeological veteran with Precision Concrete Construction Co. Inc., uneventfully scooped up swipes of soil to ease the archaeologists' work.

'Nothing here'

The group, in a trench about 1 1/2 feet below ground level, dug carefully with shovels, trowels and dustpans, looking for disturbances in the dirt that would signal decomposed bodies.

"There's nothing here," Erlandson said.

But, shortly after that, the archaeologists found the first brick. "It's not a chimney. It could be a well or privy," Erlandson said.

After more digging and dusting -- and smelling the soil -- the group decided the bricks, which had no mortar between them, probably marked a cesspool.

"It doesn't appear that old," Erlandson added.

Today, the area around the cemetery will be graded and seeded at the expense of Rhodes, who also paid for the backhoe and driver.

'A super effort'

"It was a super effort," said Towson Republican County Councilman Douglas B. Riley, who shed his blue blazer and shoveled at the site yesterday.

No one is really sure how many bodies are buried at the cemetery, which dates to the early 1800s. Some family members believe about 18 Towson family members are interred there.

Darlene Dail of Dundalk -- a great-great-granddaughter of Mary Ann Shealey, a descendant of town founder Ezekiel Towson -- said she is happy the archaeological survey would not delay Rhodes' project.

"I'm glad for David," she said. "Everybody has been kind and considerate. I don't think we could ask for anything more."

Pub Date: 9/20/96

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