Road work leads to his­tory finds un­der Har­ford tav­ern

Newly dis­cov­ered foun­da­tion may be older than his­toric build­ing

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By David Anderson

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.

DAVID ANDERSON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN ME­DIA GROUP PHO­TOS

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.

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