Here's What We Dug Up:

Exciting news at The Woodlands—we made an archaeological breakthrough!

 Kim sorts and washes artifacts found during the dig. Photo:  Ryan Collerd

Kim sorts and washes artifacts found during the dig. Photo: Ryan Collerd

If you’ve walked through the grounds recently, you may have noticed we’ve been doing some digging around the Mansion. Thanks to a grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, The Woodlands has partnered with AECOM to conduct a series of archaeological digs between the Mansion, the Stable and the (no longer extant) greenhouse hoping to locate a servant pathway that once connected them.  

The path was described in detail and sketched by Charles Drayton after he visited The Woodlands in 1806, but was filled in at some point once the Cemetery Company took over the grounds. Drayton’s sketch is one of the only known visual records of the Hamilton-era landscape and the only map that explicitly illustrates the path between the Mansion and the Stable. According to Drayton’s description, the path was sunken below grade and concealed by a screen of shrubs and trees, reflecting William Hamilton’s interest in choreographing and concealing movement (particularly servant movement) around the Mansion and the landscape. The pathway extended from the west end of the cryptoporticus (the subterranean passageway also utilized by servants that spans the north side of the Mansion) slowly rising upwards and expanding as it reached the Stable and greenhouse. Hamilton’s design ensured that visitors arriving by carriage at the north side of the Mansion enjoyed an uninterrupted view of the landscape.

Earlier archaeology work undertaken in 2009, located what we believe to be part of the foundation of William Hamilton’s greenhouse. The greenhouse is also included on historic maps dating into the Cemetery Company Era in the mid-19th century. Hamilton’s sizeable greenhouse would have extended west of the Stable, in the general vicinity of the walled carriage turnaround, which was added later by the Cemetery Company.

 Sketch of the path made by Charles Drayton which accompanied the description in his diary entry on November 2, 1806 (dotted line indicates the location of the path).

Sketch of the path made by Charles Drayton which accompanied the description in his diary entry on November 2, 1806 (dotted line indicates the location of the path).

 A Site Plan for The Woodlands Cemetery from 1846 depicts the location of Hamilton's greenhouse relative to the Mansion and Stable. 

A Site Plan for The Woodlands Cemetery from 1846 depicts the location of Hamilton's greenhouse relative to the Mansion and Stable. 

To estimate the precise location of the path, the archaeology team first projected the Drayton sketch and other historic maps onto current aerial imagery. Once a rough location of the path was determined, they further analyzed the area using ground penetrating radar. Based on findings, three dig locations were chosen along the projected path.

 Photos:  Ryan Collerd

Photos: Ryan Collerd

Less than an hour into the first dig and approximately three feet below the current grade, the team hit two stone walls that we later learned enclosed the brick-paved walkway. The rough schist walls weren’t immediately identifiable as part of the path system, but continued excavation eventually revealed the paved brick path about three feet farther down.

An intact section of the path showed smooth and worn 18th century brick laid in a herringbone pattern. It also appeared to rise at a gentle slope towards the Stable, matching the verbal account written by Charles Drayton in 1806!  

 The first excavation trench, facing southeast towards the mansion, shows rough schist walls flanking the subterranean path. 

The first excavation trench, facing southeast towards the mansion, shows rough schist walls flanking the subterranean path. 

 View of the walls and path from above the pit, facing west. 

View of the walls and path from above the pit, facing west. 

 Detail of 18th century herringbone brick path.

Detail of 18th century herringbone brick path.

In addition to locating the path, the dig produced a number of artifacts including 18th century delft pottery, Chinese porcelain, redware, creamware, oyster shells, and silver utensils and accessories. The wealth of artifacts in this small area only further confirms the fact that significant, untapped archaeological resources remain on site.

 Artifacts found during excavation on display at The Woodlands annual benefit. Pictured from top: redware, 18th century creamware, and Chinese export porcelain. Photo:  Ryan Collerd

Artifacts found during excavation on display at The Woodlands annual benefit. Pictured from top: redware, 18th century creamware, and Chinese export porcelain. Photo: Ryan Collerd

 Piece of 18th century delft  featuring a cherub's head,  found during the excavation. 

Piece of 18th century delft featuring a cherub's head, found during the excavation. 

Findings from this project further enhance our understanding of the Hamilton Era, help us interpret and illustrate the connection between the Mansion and the Stable and greenhouse, and help inform future landscape decisions at The Woodlands—which we now realize will likely include more archaeology! Until then, the path will be filled back in for safekeeping. Stay tuned for more information as we continue to analyze the results.

By Starr Herr-Cardillo

Sources:

Wunsch, Aaron. “Woodlands Cemetery,” HALS No. PA-5

Drayton, Charles. Diary (photocopied transcription), 2 November 1806, Drayton Hall Coll., National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Drayton, Charles [Sketch accompanying diary entry of 2 November 1806]. Drayton Hall Coll., National Trust for Historic Preservation.  

Plan of the Woodlands Cemetery, 1846, The Woodlands Cemetery Company Collection.