Stadium dig turns jars into lost relics History: Long before the NFL's first jarring tackle, a shop on the site of Baltimore's new football stadium turned out pottery now desired by archaeologists.

July 10, 1998|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

The archaeologists who excavated the site of the new Raven's stadium in Baltimore are asking for help in finding a curious missing piece from the historic jigsaw puzzle that lies beneath the stadium.

For at least two decades -- from 1838 to 1858 -- potters working for downtown china merchant James Pawley cranked out tons of gray, salt-glazed crockery from a stoneware kiln that stood at Russell and Hamburg streets, just outside the new National Football League stadium.

The inexpensive jugs, crocks, jars and bottles were the Mason jars and Tupperware of their day, used to store anything from milk and water to pickles, gin and beer. Baltimoreans must have purchased thousands of them from Pawley's retail stores on Calvert Street, and perhaps from others.

But while archaeologists found thousands of "wasters" -- fragments of 13 types of Pawley crockery that broke in his kiln -- not a single intact example from 20 years of production has been found.

"We don't have any whole examples of this man's work," said Suzanne L. Sanders, of R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates of Frederick, the archaeological firm that studied the stadium site before construction. The archaeologists are left with only partial reconstructions and computer-generated images of crocks.

"Every time I go into an antique store, I'm asking myself, 'Is this one of Mr. Pawley's crocks?,' " Sanders said. "If someone has something that looks like this, we'd like to get photographs."

Better still, the Maryland Stadium Authority, which paid for the excavations, would like to have a Pawley crock for the 12-foot-long archaeological display being prepared for a wall near the season ticket-holders' entrance.

The display will recount the site's history. The story begins with the Ice Age cypress forest that grew there 34,000 years ago, traces of which were found under what are now the northwest stands.

Later chapters include the days of Pawley's stoneware kiln, which stood just outside the stadium's northwest gates; an adjacent brickyard; and the working-class rowhouse neighborhoods and modern industrial park that were later heirs to the same ground.

Digging up the kiln has provided archaeologists and social historians with a wealth of information of value on the history of Baltimore and its early industries, and to archaeology elsewhere.

"Each local potter would make standard forms but with different decorations that identified that as coming from a specific potter during a specific time," Sanders said. "It's a temporal marker that's really handy at archaeological sites."

Thanks to the stadium dig, whenever fragments of Pawley's stoneware are found at an archaeological site in the region, historians will be able to identify it, place an approximate date on the new site and draw conclusions about commerce and transportation at the time.

Pawley's crocks and jugs are much like those of dozens of 19th century potters -- gray, with a shiny, salt-glaze finish with the bumpy texture of an orange skin.

"This is a tradition that has its antecedents in Germany in the 16th century," said Martha R. Williams, Sanders' co-investigator at the stadium site. Similar stoneware was being produced at the same period by potters in Virginia and the Great Valley regions of Maryland and Pennsylvania.

What distinguishes one potter's work from another, Williams said, are the cobalt-blue floral decorations that were hurriedly added to the pottery just before it was fired in the kiln.

"They were hand-painted, with a brush or sometimes a stick," Sanders said.

Based on fragments found in the kiln's remains during 1990 and 1996 excavations, Sanders and Williams believe Pawley's craftsmen favored a tulip design.

Aside from a "2" or "3" stamped into the clay to indicate how many gallons they held, Pawley crocks bore no other identifying marks.

Sanders and Williams believe the Pawley kiln and the adjoining J. S. Berry Fireproof Brick Co. yard were established at Russell and Hamburg streets because the site was close to the kinds of marine clay deposits they needed.

Founded in 1812, the Berry Brick company operated at the Russell Street site from 1839 until the early 20th century. There, the archaeologists uncovered the 21-foot-diameter wooden floor of one of the yard's two horse-powered "pug" mills.

"I thought it was absolutely amazing that this wooden structure survived," Williams said. "This brick pug mill was still being used in the 1890s, but it's actually a much older technology."

Pug mills were essentially huge wooden mixing bowls with flat bottoms and slanted sides. A horse walking in circles around the mill turned a central shaft and paddles that mixed various clays with the ash, sand, brick fragments or chalk needed to give the bricks the desired consistency, strength and fire resistance.

Two later pug mills at the site were steam-driven. Fire bricks bearing the Berry name can be found in hearths throughout older sections of Baltimore.

Goodwin & Associates can be reached at (301) 694-0428.

Pub Date: 7/10/98

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