Road work leads to history finds under Harford tavern
Newly discovered foundation may be older than historic building
Bush Tavern in Abingdon is a storied site: The 18th-century building has been a tavern, a home, a courthouse and a stagecoach stop on the Post Road connecting Baltimore and Philadelphia. These days, it’s a doctor’s office. But a new archaeological survey conducted for the State Highway Administration has uncovered remnants of a structure that may predate the tavern building in Harford County.
The survey and dig have been under way since September as the SHA prepares safety improvements at the nearby intersection of Routes 7 and 136 in a project expected to cost between $1.2 million and $1.4 million.
The work uncovered a stone foundation that experts believe may be separate from the historic tavern.
“We found out that not only do we have one stone foundation, we had two stone foundations,” said Julie Schablitsky, chief archaeologist for the SHA’s Cultural Resources Section. “They are delineating two separate buildings during two separate time periods.”
The “big question,” Schablitsky said, is whether the stone foundations are older than the Bush Tavern.
The exact age of the Bush Tavern is unknown, but it was standing in 1781 during the Revolutionary War when French troops supporting the Continental Army camped in the area.
The tavern was part of the Bush settlement, also known as Harford Town, that was founded in 1774.
Harford Town was the county seat until Dr. Peter Holt, who owns the Bush Tavern, points to its location on a map of the former Bush settlement. 1791, when the seat was moved to Bel Air.
In March 1775, a group of 34 local men signed the “Bush Declaration,” supporting the Philadelphia-based Continental Congress and its push for war and independence.
It’s not known where it was signed, though a historical marker along Route 7 commemorates the event.
During the Colonial period, Henry Ozman ran the popular tavern with his wife. An African-American family lived at the building during the 1860s; one of its members, David Norton, served with the Union’s U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War.
Dr. Peter Holt, current owner of the Bush Tavern, whose office is decked out with tavern artifacts, said he believes the uncovered foundations could be another tavern or possibly a “kitchen house.”
One section of the newly uncovered foundation includes a square cellar and a rounded portion that indicates a well.
Researchers are using dendrochronology — essentially the study of tree rings — to determine the age of wooden beams on the site.
Artifacts “related to every aspect of daily life” have been found, said Aaron Levinthal, an SHA archaeologist and lab director. They include food bones, tableware, cookware, construction items, wine bottles, thimbles, buttons, pieces of tobacco pipes and even slate pencils.
Items found date from the late 1700s to the present day, Levinthal said.
“Here and there, we’re finding pieces that were [made] earlier and are wondering when they’re from,” he said. “We’re wondering if there is an earlier tavern in this area.”
Holly Baldwin, an SHA archaeologist, said ceramics are particularly helpful, because they can be traced to a specific period based on style and how they were manufactured. “They’re really easily datable,” she said. Baldwin and Jason Shellenhamer, an archaeologist with the Baltimore engineering and consulting firm RK&K, were at the site last week showing visitors items that have been found, including coins and ceramic fragments.
“Taxpayer money is going into this,” said Schablitsky.
“It’s important to share what we’re finding with the public.”
Holt and his wife, Kristan, were dressed in Revolutionary War-era clothing during the open house, mingling with archaeologists and the visitors. Peter Holt said whatever the findings produce, it will add yet another layer to a site already steeped in history.
“The history of the tavern, in some ways, is the history of America,” he said.
Julie Schablitsky, chief archaeologist for the State Highway Administration, right, shows fellow archaeologist Stacy Bumback of Seattle the stone foundations uncovered behind the historic Bush Tavern along Route 7 in Abingdon.