Archaeological Investigations of the Madison North Detached Kitchen: Final Report

Abstract: During the 2008 and 2009 field seasons, the Archaeology Department of The Montpelier Foundation conducted archaeological excavations north of the mansion’s north (or Dolley’s) wing, an area that includes the previous setting of a Madison-era detached kitchen. This area was also the location for the early 20th-century duPont kitchen and boiler room, until July of 2008 when the structures were demolished and removed. This project is designated North Kitchen 2008-2009, and is considered to be a component of the Montpelier Mansion archaeological site, designated 44OR-249. This report documents the North Kitchen 2008-2009 project, and thereby encompasses and supersedes the preliminary report on the initial 2008 excavations (see Marshall 2008). Results of the 2008-2009 project include identification of intact 19th-century deposits, including those related to the Madison kitchen and surrounding landscape. Especially significant deposits include features that represent previous locations of kitchen piers. As will be detailed in this report, evidence suggests that the kitchen, following its initial construction around 1797, was moved 16 feet to the north. This relocation was concurrent with construction of the mansion’s north wing around 1809. Other important finds include large drainage trenches located below each kitchen location, post-holes related to a latticework screen along the west edge of the work yard, and a group of features suggesting the presence of a wooden deck that spanned the yard area between the mansion wing and detached kitchen. Additionally, a taproot feature potentially representing the location of a 19th-century Pine Allée tree was encountered about 15 ft west of the kitchen. A wide variety of artifacts were encountered, including bone and tableware fragments related to 19th-century kitchen activities. Excavations also revealed an extensive network of 20th-century utility lines and truncated surfaces related to the construction of the 1908 duPont kitchen. These disturbed areas included the expected locations of 4 of the 8 kitchen piers, as well as that of any chimney foundation.

The archaeology of this project began in 2008 as a preliminary assessment of the area in anticipation of proposed restoration landscaping. The discovery of important Madison-era deposits indicated the site’s potential for excellent research opportunities and the need for additional archaeology prior to any ground disturbing activities. The primary goal of the more intensive 2009 excavations was the discovery of features related to the Madison-era kitchen. Although the results were not always as expected and limited in certain aspects, data acquired from kitchen-related features and artifact assemblages do permit valuable interpretations of the structure with regard to its location, size, design, and furnishings, as well as the position of important elements such as the sub-floor drainage trenches. Information resulting from this project will be essential in any attempts to represent the kitchen on the current landscape, with possibilities ranging from interpretive signage to full-scale reconstruction. Such interpretive undertakings are vital in the representation of the lives of the enslaved African Americans who were the primary 19th-century actors within the site area.