Digging up the past at Charles Carroll's place


Baltimore archaeologists digging in their own back yard have turned up thousands of clues to city life in the 18th and 19th centuries, and more mysteries than answers.

The Baltimore City Life Museums' Center for Urban Archaeology began the dig Oct. 12 in the courtyard behind the Charles Carroll Mansion, in the 800 block of East Lombard St. They hope to locate traces of the 1804 mansion's stables and other structures.

The house is now a museum, restored to its early 19th-century appearance. It also houses the archaeology center's offices and laboratory.

In the early 1800s, however, it was the home of Richard Caton and his wife, Mary, who was the daughter of Charles Carroll of Carrollton.

Archaeologists are exploring the courtyard because it is scheduled to be re-landscaped as part of the planned construction of a state-funded museum just to the north. The archaeological work is supported by $40,000 in city capital-improvement funds.

"What we're trying to do is interpret the courtyard's connection with the Carroll-Caton family," as well as its later uses, said project archaeologist Lisa DeLeonardis.

Mr. Carroll, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, lived in the mansion at the end of his life and died there in 1832.

It later housed a tavern and a series of small craft shops, immigrant sweatshops, apartments and, in the early 20th century, a city vocational school.

The dig has so far recovered several pieces of creamware ceramics dated from 1762 to 1820. Butchered bones, children's marbles and other domestic and industrial trash have also been found, most dating from later periods.

With a jackhammer, diggers punched through a modern patio and uncovered a round brick cistern used to collect rainwater, perhaps for irrigating the mansion's garden and orchard.

Unlike most people in his day, Mr. Carroll was known to take a daily bath. Louise Akerson, the center's archaeological curator, said that he may have had servants draw his bath water from the cistern.

At the north end of the courtyard, near the stable site, excavations have uncovered a rectangular brick structure, with a brick floor. It was filled with 19th-century refuse, suggesting that it was used as a kind of early Dumpster.

"We don't know if it was constructed for that purpose, but that's how it was used," said Ms. DeLeonardis.

A similar, but smaller structure found nearby was first thought to be the base of a chimney. But subsequent digging turned it into another mystery, perhaps tied to the vocational school.

The dig continues into December. Visitors may drop by for site tours at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

Volunteers should call 396-3277 to schedule hours with a staff archaeologist.

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