Archaeological dig at Herring Run Park provides insight into life of notable Baltimore family

In 1865, William Carvel Hall returned from the war to Eutaw Manor, his family’s estate in Northeastern Baltimore. He was a defeated man, having fought and lost with the Confederacy. The estate was in decline and had been since his father’s death.

In October, a christening party was held for a niece. The family brought out their finest china, purchased years prior, when they had that kind of money.

The night of the party, the house went up in flames.

A century and a half later, a married couple would rediscover the home’s foundation, nearly by accident. Lisa Kraus, 43, and Jason Shellenhamer, 38, presented their findings from the ruins of the Eutaw Manor on Sunday.

Their talk, entitled “The Archaeology of Everyone Who's Anyone: How Herring Run Park Tells the Story of Baltimore's High Society,” was the first installment of a three-part lecture series on historical topics to be held at the Garrett-Jacobs Mansion in Mount Vernon, now home to the Engineer’s Club.

Kraus and Shellenhamer had just moved to Baltimore’s Lauraville neighborhood in 2012 when they began walking their dogs in Herring Run Park. They soon found out that, far from being a “primeval forest,” untouched by modern man, Kraus said, the park had once been a populated area, featuring a number of mills and the Hall’s notable estate.

But the inhabitants of the area were forced to move out in the early 1900s. The Olmsted brothers — whose father designed New York’s Central Park — were commissioned to design a park in the area. They selected Herring Run. The disruption, Kraus said, was bad for the people who lived there, but it left intact an undeveloped area, like a time capsule, waiting to be rediscovered. Kraus called it “a wonderful situation for archaeology.”

In 2014, they began digging.

Shellenhamer works for Baltimore-based company RK&K, which previously sponsored an excavation in Patterson Park. Their neighbors asked them to start a public archaeology dig in Herring Run, Shellenhamer said. They located a promising site to start within the park, and, Kraus said, almost immediately, they came across historic pipe stems and pottery shards.

They had expected perhaps they’d found a mill house or other modest settlement, but soon discovered a 2.5-foot wide stone wall. It was, they later realized, the foundation of Eutaw Manor, the Hall family’s home.

The following year, they began to invite volunteers to participate in the excavation. They probed their findings at a lab space donated by the Natural History Society of Baltimore.

Retired web developer Richard Messick, 67, has spent hours standing at the sifter in Herring Run Park, running his hand through the dirt. He recalls one day coming across a cache of buttons and needles while volunteering at the dig.

Messick was in attendance at the lecture Sunday. Having worked with Kraus and Shellenhammer for several seasons, he said he would be “president of their fan club — if we had a fan club.”

“They love their work, and their whole philosophy is to share it,” he said.

Over the years, volunteers have also discovered slivers of fine French porcelain that had been burned by the 1865 fire, as well as remnants from the slave quarters in the basement. A wine cellar, too, was discovered, along with three dozen bottles of wine and a seal from a bottle of French Chateau Latour. Shellenhamer said that the wine — one of the most expensive available from the Bordeaux region — had likely been purchased by Benedict William Hall, a wealthy flour merchant who lived at Eutaw Manor in the 1820s and 1830s.

Taken as a whole, the haul reveals “an abundance of artifacts associated with a very wealthy family during a very particular time in the 19th century,” Shellenhamer said.

In contrast to the spendthrift Hall family, the archaeologists digging up their belongings have survived on a bare-bones budget. In 2015 they received a $5,000 grant from Preservation Maryland to pay for field equipment. But they never needed a whole lot of money, relying on field equipment built by volunteers.

“We’re very good at doing economy archaeology,” Kraus said.

ctkacik@baltsun.com

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