An Archaeology of Baltimore
The history of Baltimore has been written in books and historical documents, but another history exists which lies scattered around the city and buried underneath it. This is the tale of the lives and enterprises of prominent families like the Carrolls and Garretts, but also the material record of enslaved peoples, immigrants, and countless others whose names and deeds scarcely made it to the written page. From the material they left behind —their artifacts and features, we can piece together portraits of their lives and construct a much broader and inclusive picture of Baltimore.
The goal of the Baltimore Archaeology Project is to research and explore the archaeological heritage of metropolitan Baltimore and tell a more representative history of the city and region.
Our research focuses on:
-Spatial and material patterns of urbanization and industrialization
-Residential differentiation and segregation on the landscape
-Labor relations and the working class
-The evolution and expression of social categories of class, race, gender, and ethnicity.
2018 Salvage excavation at the Sellers Mansion in West Baltimore
Working with partners like the Baltimore Archaeology Forum advocacy group (https://www.facebook.com/BaltimoreArchaeologyForum/), the Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation, the nonprofit historic preservation group Baltimore Heritage and local academic institutions, we have explored these questions through the excavation of several sites in and around Baltimore. With our work, we have tried to prioritize threatened or overlooked sites.
Currently, Baltimore City and Baltimore County lack strong local regulations to protect this heritage. Through advocacy and awareness, we hope to broaden the scope of archaeology and work towards the better protection of these resources. We welcome the help, feedback, and partnership of anyone interested in Baltimore’s archaeological history including students, volunteers, and other professionals and institutions.
Please feel free to contact Dr. Adam Fracchia (fracchia [at] umd [dot] edu) if you are interested in joining our efforts or are interested in one of the sites we have explored. We also encourage people to look at the Herring Run Archaeology Project (https://herringrunarchaeology.org/) led by Lisa Krauss and Jason Shellenhamer which has explored several archaeological resources including in Herring Run Park and the Caulker’s House in Fells Point.
Upton Mansion Project
A current image of the Upton Mansion Property
The Upton Mansion is a historic building in West Baltimore. Built in the 1830s, the Greek Revival-styled building has seen many uses over its history. While currently in a state of disrepair, the property is starting a new chapter in its history. https://www.afrocharities.org/upton-mansion and will be renovating the building for the future home of the Afro Newspaper (https://dhcd.baltimorecity.gov/news/news/2020-02-27-historic-upton-mansion-serve-new-home-afro-american-newspaper
Pursuant to state and city regulations, archaeological testing of the property has to take place prior to the renovations. Our goal in doing this archaeology is to survey and test the property for subsurface cultural features in order to document the history of the building and its many occupants.
A Brief History
The Upton Mansion was built on the outskirts of Baltimore on a portion of a larger tract of land called Chatsworth owned by William Russell and granted to Edward Ireland in 1791. Four generations of Ireland’s family lived on the property after the original house was built, including Ireland’s daughter, Mrs. Zebulon Hollingsworth, his granddaughter Mrs. Alexander Hamilton Boyd, and his great-granddaughter Elizabeth H. Boyd Findlay. Elizabeth lived at the property until she was twenty-two years old in 1838 when the property was sold to David Stewart and the Boyds moved to the south side of Saratoga Street.
The Upton property and mansion (denoted with a red arrow) on the 1869 E. Sachse Bird’s Eye View of Baltimore https://www.loc.gov/item/75694535/).
The Stewarts tore down the original structure of Edward Ireland, and built the current structure in the highly popular American Greek revival style. David Stewart served during the 30th United States senate in 1848 for only a year, but began his time at the property as a young lawyer known for entertaining in his newly built mansion. Stewart’s Upton property was enclosed with a wrought iron fence which remained when the property was bought by the Dammann Family after Stewart’s death in 1858.
The Damman family were German immigrants and originally employed as merchants. Several generations of the family lived in the home until the 1920s. In 1924, Robert J. Young, a renowned black musician who spent time performing in Europe purchased the property and resided there with his wife Matilda and two children Robert, Jr. and Matilda.
A photograph of the mansion house and carriage house and one of WCAO’s towers in the foreground. Source: Afro Charities and Kilduff.net
In 1930, Robert Young sold the property to the radio station WCAO (one of oldest radio stations in Maryland) which added two 105 foot towers, created studios for orchestras, and renovated the interior. In 1947, the property was sold again and became the Baltimore Institute of Musical Arts (BIMA), a musical school that taught aspiring black musicians who were not allowed to enter conservatories like the Peabody (an exhibit about BIMA: https://exhibits.library.jhu.edu/exhibits/show/a-message-of-inclusion/local-musicians-and-programs/bima and a WBAL News program about BIMA: https://youtu.be/nOB-irVLL9o ). After the BIMA closed, the property was used by the city for various functions before standing vacant.
Student Tammie Gillums excavates a shovel test pit next to the carriage house
Project and Research Goals
- Find and identify any subsurface cultural resources on the property and assess their integrity.
- Document the evolution of the many uses of the property as a home, radio station, music school, and city office.
- Document the lives of the inhabitants of the property, especially the people who worked on the property
- Detail the evolution of the neighborhood
- Historical research: census, plats, photographs, deeds, city directories…
- Archaeological survey: excavation of a systematic shovel test pit survey (small pits dug by soil layer with the soil screened for artifacts).
- Archaeological testing: excavation of test units to uncover and document any subsurface features.
As this project moves forward, we are trying to build a history of the building and neighborhood from the community’s perspective. We are collecting oral history of the building and neighborhood and we welcome comments and community involvement. Please contact Adam Fracchia at fracchia [at] umd [dot] edu () if you have any questions, comments, or would like to be involved in the project.