The earth-movers, construction trailer and stack of felled trees stand in stark contrast to an old tobacco barn and re-created 1696 wooden crate of a house.
But at the end of next summer, this section of Historic London Town and Gardens will have a $5.1 million museum, visitor center and archaeology lab, providing thousands of visitors with historical context for what they see at the bygone colonial tobacco port and ferry crossing just south of Annapolis.
"It is going to dramatically change London Town and Gardens. It is going to orient people to the site and provide interpretation," said Donna Ware, Anne Arundel County historic planner and interim executive director of the 23-acre park on the South River in Edgewater.
A groundbreaking ceremony Friday will mark the official start of construction of the unusual complex intended to help visitors make sense of the historic site's assorted elements.
For years, visitors to London Town have had little explanation of the town's significance 350 years ago and what life, houses and trade were like at the time.
"London Town is a wonderful site, but it needs that visitor center," said Donna Dudley, executive director of the Annapolis, London Town and South County Heritage Area, formed to promote the area's culture and history.
Referring to the intertwined tobacco, African-American, maritime, political and business histories, Dudley said London Town has "all these stories that you can't possibly know about just walking on the site."
A boomtown in an era when was tobacco was gold, London Town became an early bustling export center run by suddenly wealthy Scottish families. It drew tradesmen and travelers, and purveyors and buyers of tobacco, slaves and goods from 1683 to the mid-1700s.
But it was abandoned shortly after the colonial government decided not to authorize it as a tobacco port in 1747. The only structure that survived was a waterfront brick mansion that later served as the county's almshouse.
The construction project, funded by a combination of federal, state and local dollars, is part of a longtime master plan.
Officials hope to draw more than the current 26,000 visitors who come each year to London Town, and they plan to combine outdoor living-history re-creations with indoor museum interpretations. They also intend to increase the county site's educational use.
Visitors will get a start-to-finish sense of the archaeology that turned up remnants of this lost town. They can enter "digloos" - the temporary structures over excavation sites - and on certain days can join in the search for artifacts.
Visitors will be able to watch the cleanup and identification of artifacts, and sometimes pitch in, Ware said. They also will see how fragments are pieced together. Throughout, they can learn what the artifacts reveal about Colonial life.
"You will see the largest archaeological investigation in Maryland going on, and you can participate in it and see archaeologists process artifacts," she said.
The building that will house the complex was once an abandoned underground wastewater treatment plant - a vault measuring 120 feet by 80 feet, with a depth of 28 feet. It will erupt above ground into what will look like two buildings with a plaza.
Visitors will be guided from a new parking area into the center, Ware said. They will see myriad exhibits as they wind through the lower floor before heading upstairs and returning outdoors. Some will describe the site's maritime history, others will be interactive, and still others will encase artifacts.
The structure also will include a classroom, which officials hope will help increase the number of schoolchildren who attend programs there, currently about 4,000 a year.
Other parts of the master plan have been completed in recent years to bring London Town to life.
The Lord Mayor's Tenement, a house, has been rebuilt. A kitchen garden and an African-American garden are growing, despite groundhogs' foraging. A pipe kiln is operating. A rope walk and tobacco prize, or press, are being built to show the commercial aspects of the town.
The long-term plan also calls for a greenhouse and shade house, a new entrance to the park cut through the site's woods, construction of the tavern and carpenter's shop, and boat-building at the South River. Volunteers in period dress will complete the picture.
"We want to have a living history program," Ware said.