Blacksmith Shop (1763-1797)

Research & Collections

While today the area for the Blacksmith Shop is a grassy lawn decorated by Mr. Madison’s Temple, in the 18th century the scene would have been very different.  Following the acquisition of the Montpelier property by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Montpelier archaeology department carried out surveys of the area around Mr. Madison’s Temple. This surveys revealed hundreds of pounds of iron slag, iron artifacts such as lock and gun parts, nails and horseshoes, and large amounts of iron scraps and wasters spreading over a two-acre area.

In the early 19th century, President Madison would remove the blacksmith shop to build the present-day temple and icehouse.  The soil removed from the excavation of the icehouse would then be used to cover the remains of the Blacksmith Shop and preserve it for future archaeological investigations. Underneath the picturesque landscape, however, archaeologists recovered evidence for the original blacksmith’s shop in the form of slag and iron scraps.  In this 5 ft. × 5ft. unit alone, approximately 600 lbs of iron slag were recovered—a testament to the sheer scale of industry at Montpelier.


Stratigraphy at Temple/Blacksmith Shop

The individual layers of soil can reveal much to the trained archaeological eye (picture to left).  In this image of the Temple unit you can see the red clay subsoil at the bottom (R), then the black charred wood and iron slag produced by the black smith shop in the 18th century (F, G, H, J, and K).  Above that lies the soil slaves excavated while digging the icehouse pit that is directly below the temple (D, D, and E).  The backdirt from excavating the icehouse served the dual purpose of covering over the waste from the old blacksmith shop and giving the temple the appearance of sitting on a slight mound.   


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Archaeologists recording soil profile from unit that revealed the buried layer of the blacksmith operation (dark soil layer below red clay overburden from excavation of ice house).