The South Yard Duplex-- 2008


This is going to be a rather long post, so make yourself a cup of coffee (or tea!) and make yourself comfortable.  The first section is an introduction, while the second part, accessed by the “Read more” link, goes into greater detail.Illustrated overhead of the Duplex excavationsAs you may notice from the title, I’m no longer just referring to the “South Yard” in its entirety.  For month of October the Montpelier Archaeology Department has expanded the excavations to encompass the smoke house (structure 2), as well as to chase out the paling face and the formal fence that defined the end of the Madison formal yard.  We’ll be making a separate post about what these excavations have revealed to use in the new few weeks.For now, this post is primarily designed to round out the Duplex excavations for the 2008 field season and excavation programs by pulling together all the separate threads of evidence.  We do not profess to have a definitive interpretation, and it is only through further excavation that we will be able to prove or disprove our various interpretations. So, in brief, what did we find?  (please click on the photo above for the location of the various features discussed in this post)The DuplexOne of the great successes of the excavations was being able to identify the location of the duplex.  While the chimney base was constructed of a different material – stone rather than brick – the fact that it is symmetrical to the brick chimney base discovered in 1990/91 is highly suggestive that the structures are contemporary.  Furthermore, the discovery of evidence of another structure to the north, possibly our smoke house, would imply that the insurance plate, while incorrect on the matter of scale and measurements, is otherwise fundamentally correct.The Post Fence LineLocated almost immediately to the south of the duplex, and extending east-west from the Madison garden to the front fence line, is the fence that defines the curtilage, or the edge of the formal yard.  The spacing between the posts, and the size of the posts themselves, suggest a post and rail fence.  This fence also appears to have been up for some time, with several posts in the duplex and other areas showing some indication of repair.The Paling FenceThe line of paling fence stake holes was found to continue in a line extending to a point just shy of the currently enclosed duPont formal garden, where it ends on a north-south line that is aligned with the brick pathway (see below). This line of the paling fence is also at right angles to the main axis of the Madison garden (the modern Annie duPont formal garden is a part of the larger Madison garden, suggesting that they are contemporary to each other.Based on the crushed brick rubble we located, for a brief time, both the post fence and the paling fence were standing in the landscape at the same time, which is surprising given how close they are to each other.  It is possible that the paling fence line represents the edge of the curtilage, or edge of the Madison formal yard and was replaced by the post fence.  Its orientation with the garden and other landscape features is suggestive that it is a part of the original early 19th century landscape.At the time of writing we have as of yet to determine whether the paling fence extends to the Boxwood Grotto-the symmetric twin of the Madison Temple, itself a 19th century structure installed with the 1809-1812 alterations to the landscape.The Brick PathAs of yet, little has been determined about the brick path other than it ends on the same approximate line as the paling fence, which suggests that they went up to or ended because of the presence of an undetermined landscape feature.  While we have strong evidence to suggest that this path links up with other 19th century paths identified in the South Yard.  However, discrepancies in the fabric of the path (brick in the southern-most area, stone in the northern-most area) mean that the area underneath the Spanish Fir tree remains a lynchpin in our interpretation of the South Yard.19th century Occupation SurfacesScattered over the entire site is what appears to be primarily a 19th century occupation surface that is formed of several deposits, of which the “crushed brick rubble” and “bat layer” are just two constituents.  The crushed brick rubble layer, while probably being effected by close to 200 bracing Virginian winters, seems to be primarily the product of the occupation of the site—foot traffic served to scatter fragments of brick into the work yard behind the duplex, while the larger brick remains to the south of the post fence line.Sheet MiddenLying directly behind where the southern-most wall of the duplex would have been located, and mostly beyond the formal fence line, lies an rich concentration of artifacts that presumably formed a portion of the duplexes midden, or trash dump.  Outside of the view from the main house, this midden contained artifacts that ranged from ceramics to glass, nails to keys and locks, and even the knife, fork, and mouth harp that we mentioned in our previous post.  It is deposits such as these that will allow us to piece together the type of pots that the Madison domestic slaves were using to cook their food, plates and bowls they served it on, and even the type of music that they might have played.

The following post continues in further detail with the questions and complexities of the duplex excavations.  To continue to read this this post, then please click the “Read More” link.  To read older posts, either scroll down the page or click on the categories in the right hand column.  These links will take you to a page which lists all posts made under that category.  Click the title of the post and you will be taken to a dedicated page.


The 18th Century South Yard Complex

Within the 2008 duplex excavation area, which encompass 84 separate units or a total area of approximately 2,116 square feet, evidence for the 18th century complex was scant.  There are hints of it on the margins of the site (to the east) where we have some square post holes reminiscent of those found along the Madison, Jr., fence line, but beyond that very little.  Tentative dating evidence from ceramics recovered from the square post holes may indicate they date to the late 18th century.What appears to have happened at some point following the installation of the post holes is that the area immediately around the duplex was cut down to subsoil thereby obliterating evidence for any 18th century occupation of the South Yard.  Or, at least, in the area of the duplex.  South of the paling fence (see later) there is some limited evidence that we might have intact 18th century surfaces and deposits, but these were beyond the focus of this years field season and must await further excavation, possibly in the 2010 field season depending on the nature of funding, grants, and the over-arching interpretive focus of Montpelier at that time.

The 19th Century South Yard Complex

The majority, if not all, of the features and artifacts recovered in the 2008 excavation of
the duplex can be attributed to the 19th century occupation of the area.

The Chimney Base

A Stone (chimney?) BaseSince the discovery of this 9.1′ by 5.6′ stone base, we’ve been hesitant in calling it a “chimney base.”  The insurance plat of the service buildings clearly indicate that the duplex was some 20-25′ to the south-east. However, finds to the north of the Spanish Fir tree in the suspected area of the smoke house – a post about these finds is forthcoming – locate this structure in line with the stone base, rather than where the insurance plat would suggest.  Thus, at last, the “smoking gun” has been found.Unfortunately, we were not able to determine any related features that would give us more information on the structure itself.  The presence of the Spanish Fir (a Virginian State Champion tree), which all but sits directly on top of the northern part of the structure, hampers any further excavation of the duplex.  Continued excavations might also have caused damage to the tree itself, though luckily (and somewhat amazingly) no roots from the Spanish Fir went through the archaeological units.One final doubt, or at least question, that remains is the nature of the structure to which the chimney base would have been attached.  At present we are working with the reasonable hypothesis that the chimney base and the features on the other side of Spanish Fir represent two distinct structures.  Thus in this interpretation the base is for a likely central brick chimney of the duplex, and the smoke house lies to the north in line with the duplex.  However, given the size of the stone chimney base compared to the brick chimney base for “Structure 4″ (7′ by 6.25′), it might also represent an end chimney for another structure entirely.Only by opening up more units around the duplex and between it and the smoke house directly to the north will confirm or deny whether we’re looking at one structure, or the two distinct structures that we feel them to be.

The Brick Path

Brick pathIn interpreting the brick path to visitors to the South Yard site, the brick path was often described as a “thorn in our side” since, no matter whether you positioned the duplex where the insurance plat indicates or where the archaeological evidence seems to point, the path would have gone underneath the footprint of the building.  This is one of the reasons that we have until now been reticent to judge the “stone base” as a true chimney base.The presence of the compass bricks in the path itself suggests that it is early 19th century, dating from the construction of the portico columns in 1797.  (Compass bricks were also used in the construction of the colonnade and the Madison Temple Brick path with fillin the 1809-1812 alterations to the mansion and the mansion landscape.) Furthermore, the path also leads to “nowhere,” ending at a point in the landscape that does not associate with any known landscape features other than the paling fence, which also seems to end at the same line.  There is also evidence that the path was deliberately covered at some point in time.  Could this be a solution to the quandary of the path going underneath the duplex?  Was the path used for a short period from 1797 onwards, but is then subsequently covered when the duplex is built?The question of the chronology of the path will, however, largely remain a mystery until excavations can be expanded upon and the areas around and underneath the Spanish Fir explored.

The Paling Fence

Final overhead of 2008 duplex excavationsThe paling fence is composed of small stakeholes approximately 2-3″ in diameter spaced 2-3″ apart, one after the other along a line that extends across almost the entirety of the duplex excavations.  Driven 1′ into the ground, it is hypothesised to be a 19th century fence as it seems to extend to the Boxwood Grotto (the symmetric twin to the Madison Temple).  Furthermore, it is at right angles to the main axis of the garden, another 19th century feature.  Yet, as with the brick path, it seems to end before it reaches the garden.  What does this mean?Evidence from the paling stake holes in the main core of the site indicates that soon after the brick rubble (see below) is put down the paling fence is removed.   As with the brick path the indication is that it lead to an unknown landscape feature – perhaps the same unknown feature – but is removed fairly rapidly.Volunteers plan the paling fenceThe function of the paling fence in the landscape remains a mystery.  Does it extend all the way to the Boxwood Grotto, or is it actually an enclosure of some form—perhaps an 18th century garden?  As with many of the other features in the South Yard, only with further excavation will we gain the insight that we need to determine the function of the paling fence.

The Post Fence line

Posthole on Madison formal fence lineWhile the paling fence was originally thought to define the curtilage, or the end of the formal area of the early 19th century landscape, there were concerns that, given the time and expense taken in the front yard with the picket fence, the paling fence represented an unusual choice for defining such a significant boundary.  However, located at would have been the rear of the two duplexes (Structure 1 and 4), a series of post holes were discovered that stretch from the garden to the front fence line.  The post holes contain post molds of similar size to those in the front yard and, further, the spacing between the posts is also similar at 7.8′.  Several of the posts also show evidence of repairs, indicating that the fence was present in the landscape for some time.The relationship of the fence line to other parts of the duplex is problematic.  Interpretation of the stratigraphy indicates that both the paling fence and post fence seem to have been standing at the same time.  Following this, the brick rubble scatter that forms the a part of the 19th century occupation levels was placed on the south of the post fence line and both the north and the south of the paling fence line.  Relatively shortly after the brick is deposited, the paling fence is removed.  Does this mean that the paling fence was a transitory fence line built in the late 18th/early 19th century?   Or with the construction of the more formal fence line it is no longer considered necessary? In which case we come back to the question of the initial purpose of the paling

Occupation Surfaces

While some archaeological sites are defined by a complex series of overlapping deposits – strata – the duplex excavations could only be understood by looking at the horizontal relationships or distribution of these strata. What appears to have happened is that, shortly after the construction of the postfence line (above), the brick scatter was deposited to the south, perhaps to act as a weathering layer to keep water from sluicing into the duplex to the north, and the paling fence removed.  The brick scatter shows variation in its structure, from inclusions with stone similar to that which comprises the chimney base (above), to pure brick, all of which is overlain by a crushed rubble layer that probably derives from a combination of occupation of the site in the early 19th century, as well as weathering (i.e. “frost shatter”).  What is unique about this brick scatter is there is it contains no mortar and all the brick is low-fired brick–suggesting rejects from the brick making process rather than construction rubble.To the north of the brick layer, as well as to the east and west, there was a more diffuse “yard” scatter that, while it still contained artifacts, were not present in the same numbers over the crushed brick rubble.  It is therefore likely that the area immediately to the east and south-east of the duplex acted as a work yard and, as such, broadly kept free of domestic trash.  On the other hand, the area immediately to the south of the duplex had a much larger concentration of materials.

Sheet Midden

Located to the rear of the “Structure 1″ duplex is an area that is incredibly rich in artifacts of all types, from ceramics, glass, iron work, and nails. The patterning of this trash dump is similar to that seen in the duplex excavated in 1990/91 (”Structure 4″), which is  to the rear of the duplex and facing away from the main house.  Unusually, however, the topography in this area would make it an up-slope deposit, tending to keep the trash behind the house rather than away from it.  This implies that the primary reason for the location of the midden was to keep it out of view of the main house.

And finally…

Modified image of the South YardHow does our previous interpretation of the South Yard duplex, as represented in Linda Boudreaux Montgomery’s painting, compare to the reality of the archaeological record? Quite well, really.  The only discrepancies would seem to be the distance between the two rows and the positions of the paths.  While the original image shows the two rows being some 60′ from each other, while the most recent excavations indicate that it was almost half that.  Similarly, the configuration of the paths seems to have changed, although more work will be required to ascertain how the paths were arranged in the South Yard.


Mark A. Trickett