The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Fredericksburg courthouse dig yields Civil War-era building
BY ROBYN SIDERSKY
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Archaeologists have found the cellar of a previously unknown Civil War-era building where the new Fredericksburg courthouse will be built, at Princess Anne and Charlotte streets.
Over the past few weeks, archaeologists from Cultural Resources Inc. have been sampling the site for artifacts and presented their findings to members of the City Council and city staff Wednesday on a tour at the site.
“The whole idea is to find what was here and precisely document it. And once that’s done, then the site can be turned over to the general contractor for construction,” City Manager Beverly Cameron said.
The building is believed to be an early 1800s rowhouse that survived until the Civil War and its Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862.
It was 35 feet long by 18 feet wide and was likely two stories with a brick and stone foundation, said Taft Kiser, the site supervisor for CRI, which is headquartered in Glen Allen.
Along with some of the walls of the house, the archaeologists have found a medicine bottle, a porcelain pipe, musket caps and more than 60 Minié balls (or bullets), among other things.
Kiser said there was “military stuff from top to bottom” of one small area within the cellar that’s been excavated.
Another significant aspect of the building was that it had a clay tile roof, which was costly and very rare.
In the vicinity of the house, archaeologists also found a porcelain teacup, with a tea-leaf pattern, believed to be from the Civil War period.
Archaeologists found Aquia sandstone, a kind of stone quarried locally and used to build the U.S. Capitol and the White House.
Nearby, there is what appears to be a chimney base.
In another area of the project site, archaeologists found a well that CRI President Ellen Brady and Kiser said they can tell was out of use by 1800 or 1810.
In another area of the site near Charlotte Street, Brady’s team found a group of holes from privies, or outhouses.
They are about five feet deep. In one, there was a white bowl and a yellowware chamber pot. These likely would have been associated with a livery building near that part of the site.
To search the site, Brady’s team has excavated 5-by-5-foot test sections in a few areas.
Another find is 2-million-year-old soil from a river terrace that’s never been stepped on by man.
CRI initially was contracted to do a Phase 1 study, but upon finding the unexpected artifacts, it was authorized by city staff to begin a Phase 2 “data recovery period.”
That will continue through the end of the week and then the city will evaluate what to do next, Cameron said.
“We’re going to discuss how much additional time is needed to do some additional excavation, then decide whether to authorize that or not,” he said.
The archaeologists have found other artifacts and evidence of buildings at the site, including the right femur, or leg bone, of an adult male. It was recovered by a backhoe operator near the southwest corner of the basement excavation between 0.8 feet and 2 feet below the surface in a modern fill layer.
Historically, the lots have had several residential and commercial buildings on them, including a livery, a warehouse, a two-story 40-car garage and an auto repair shop, among other structures.
When its excavations are done, Brady’s team will spend eight to 10 weeks compiling a detailed report of everything found on site and its historical context.
The last buildings on the property were the city Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courthouse and the Savage Building, which housed two law firms and a business. They were demolished in August.
Construction on the $35.4 million courthouse is expected to begin within the next few months.
Staff writer Clint Schemmer contributed to this report.
Robyn Sidersky 540/374-5413