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Focus turns to preserving history unearthed in Patterson Park dig

Now that signs of the history of Hampstead Hill have been unearthed, historians hope to keep its 200-year-old stories from being forgotten again soon.

Advocates for Patterson Park and Baltimore's legacy of the War of 1812 plan new signs and displays for artifacts uncovered in an archaeological dig completed this month, including a musket ball and gunflint dating to 1814 and a belt buckle from the Civil War. They also plan to seek inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.


More than 900 schoolchildren got to join in the dig, and organizers hope to expose what they uncovered to many more when festivities mark the bicentennial of the Battle of Baltimore in September. But they hope the discoveries are remembered far beyond that.

"A lot of cool things have been learned, or I think maybe relearned," said Johns Hopkins, director of the nonprofit Baltimore Heritage, which organized the dig. "It would be a real shame to have all that disappear again."


Archaeologists spent a month digging trenches and sifting dirt around the pagoda, an area where militiamen camped and defended the city during the battles of Baltimore and North Point in September 1814.

Flanking the pagoda, they found evidence of one of the remnants of war they had set out to uncover — a line of earthworks that helped Baltimoreans fend off British forces. As little as a foot and a half below the surface is dirt that had been dug from deep trenches and piled into a wall, creating a barrier to advancing enemy soldiers.

The archaeologists mapped about 700 feet of the earthworks, said John Bedell, a senior archaeologist at the Louis Berger Group in Washington and principal investigator on the dig.

In a shady area just north of the pagoda, they uncovered the brick basement of Jacob Laudenslager's butcher shop, which gives the Butcher's Hill neighborhood its name. Inside and around it were old pottery shards, nails and chunks of plaster.

The musket ball and flint (used to ignite gunpowder in early firearms) were exciting, given the dig's mission in search of artifacts from the War of 1812. Two bullets were dated to the Civil War, as was a "USA" belt buckle. But some items were much older, including 14 pieces of flaked stone from toolmaking and one finished tool, an arrow point believed to date to the Piscataway tribe in 1000 B.C.

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Baltimore Heritage and the Friends of Patterson Park plan to use state grant money set aside for the War of 1812 bicentennial to eventually place some of the artifacts on display inside the pagoda, which is open to the public for half the year. New signs bearing information gleaned from the dig will be installed in the park, likely before a bicentennial festival to be held on Hampstead Hill on Sept. 14.

"We are hoping to give people visiting the pagoda a sense, when they look out over the city, of what it might have looked like in 1814," said Jennifer Arndt Robinson, executive director of the Friends of Patterson Park.

Both groups plan to work with the city's Department of Recreation and Parks to apply for recognition on the National Register of Historic Places. The designation is not that uncommon — there are more than 40 sites on the register in Baltimore — but it adds a layer of oversight before any federally funded construction or other action can take place there and possibly disturb the site, Bedell said.


In the meantime, more is planned to engage park visitors with history. On Friday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes are scheduled to join eighth-graders from the city, Baltimore County and Prince George's County for a field day in Patterson Park, the culmination of school projects on the War of 1812.

"What we've learned from the archaeological dig is really going to inform and excite our work as we go forward," Robinson said.