Buried bricks belonged to pottery

Workers' find was kiln operated by shop in Catonsville years ago

September 01, 1999|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Workers who hit a pile of bricks while building a sidewalk in Catonsville at first thought they had struck the foundation of an old house.

But when they returned to the site after recent rain, they saw a strange masonry arch about 2 feet high protruding from the mud.

That was the start of a three-week mystery that ended yesterday as state archaeologists determined the bricks were the remains of a kiln that belonged to a pottery local historians say operated in the town from the 1860s until 1961.

"I thought it was some sort of storm drain system," said Dan Benhoff, whose company, Melvin Benhoff Sons Inc., was building the sidewalk as part of a reconstruction of Egges Lane.

County officials initially agreed, until Philip Schubert, 71, showed up with an envelope full of pictures and a head full of memories.

Schubert, who lives in Ellicott City, said he had grown up next door to pottery shop owner William Kalb and had been inside the business many times. As a teen-ager fascinated with fire trucks, Schubert had frequently visited the Catonsville fire station next door and remembered the heat the kiln generated outside the station's windows.

"You couldn't believe the smell from that coal," he said. "It held many, a many flower pots."

Yesterday, scattered among the crumbling bricks of the kiln were pottery shards and what appeared to be the bottom of a flower pot.

"It's not a clear situation of whether it should be preserved," said Tyler Bastion, archaeologist with the Maryland Historical Trust, who was called in yesterday to investigate the site.

The pottery kiln apparently had been forgotten and was on no county or state list of protected historic sites, said Baltimore County historian John McGrain.

For years, the remains had lain under a small park next to the fire station. It probably would have gone undisturbed even longer had not Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. asked Benhoff to dig a hole beside the new sidewalk for a conduit line. That was when workers hit the kiln remains, and work was stopped.

With a sidewalk to complete and electric lines to lay, county officials conferred with McGrain and state officials and decided to bury the kiln remains again and put a sign nearby to describe the pottery that had operated there.

BGE's lines and the sidewalk will be installed as planned, even though they will destroy a part of the kiln's walls, said Bryan Sheppard, an aide to County Councilman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat.

What is left of the kiln will remain in the ground if historians or archaeologists ever want to revisit the site, Sheppard said.

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