Archaeology at the North Kitchen-- almost finished!


At long last, we are just about finished at the North Kitchen.  With the season winding down, we are starting to finally find some resolution to questions that have been plaguing us all summer–chief of which is why we have not been able to locate the hearth for the kitchen!  By the end of June we had completely removed all of the duPont fill at the kitchen and had finally revealed all of the red clay fill that covers the site (click on photo to the left). At first we had assumed that the bright red clay in which was set river cobbles was the Madison-era surface as it was very similar to other Madison-era surfaces we had found around the mansion.  When we started to excavate this material, however,  we realized that the artifacts coming from below and within the deposit were much too late–dating the 1880s.  Given our hypothesis that the kitchen had been removed at that time, we figured the red clay was put down as a cap layer following the removal of the structure.  In turn, we hoped that removal of the fill would reveal the much desired features at the site.  What we found, however, was a thin layer of buried topsoil that quickly came down to subsoil and that the area to the north (where we thought the hearth would be located) had been cut down in the 1920s for the installation of a boiler room by the duPonts.

There are, however, intriguing clues we have located to the west of the 1908 foundation.  Located between utility lines, we have found several features that appear to be pier basins (footers for piers) that are possibly related to the kitchen (click on photo to the right).  Work to the west of the kitchen has also uncovered several layers of fill in the area of the Temple Allée, within and under which we are hoping to find the remants of the pine trees planted by Mr. Madison in the 1808-1812 time period.  Over the next month, Adam Marshall is going to be analyzing these features in relationship to the soils found below the 1908 duPont addition to determine the answer to several questions:

  • Are the cobble-filled basins the piers for the kitchen?  How do these relate to the position of the kitchen as shown on the insurance plat?
  • Is the surface found below the red clay under the 1908 duPont addition a cut surface following the removal of the kitchen in the 1880s?
  • How do the kitchen deposits relate to the fills located to the west in the area of the Pine Allee?

The ultimate site would be such as what we found in the South Yard, where at the end of the dig, we get into the bucket truck, take a picture from 30 feet in the air and the picture showing the chimney base, scatters of stone and brick holds the key to the interpretation of the site.  With the North Kitchen, it is the post-excavation analysis of the site that will provide the main body of data–and hopefully the kitchen might be able to rise out of the ashes of its shattered tomb!

Next week will complete excavations at the North Kitchen and the next Expedition Program to be held on August 31st will initiate our focus on the next project–the NorthWest Yard–which contains a trash deposit placed to the north of the mansion during the late 18th century.   During these excavations we will also be exploring the 18th-century brick landscape walls that surround the mansion and the evidence for the early 19th-century Pine Allée.

Red clay surface at kitchen as revealed at the end of June

Red clay surface at kitchen as revealed at the end of June.

North Kitchen Site Bucket Shot, August 27th

North Kitchen Site Bucket Shot, August 27th.

Potential positions of the North Kitchen

Potential positions of the North Kitchen.


Matthew Reeves