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Kelly and Liz Photo

Kelly and Liz using the mechanical screen


Hey everyone,

Each update I try and describe the discoveries of the last month and how they affect what we do at Fairfield. But it is hard for me to follow the excitement of last month's mechanical excavation. In fact, we continued this method late in August on both the barn area (see month 8 update) and the area surrounding the possible slave quarter west of the main house. At the barn we located another 3 monstrous postholes extending the dimensions of the structure to at least 50 ft. x 30 ft. In contrast, almost no structural features were found at the slave quarter. The 25-foot square excavation was limited to two burned clay patches, a possible fenceline, and some seemingly random postholes scattered throughout the area.

Our excavations extended beyond these areas, though, and two test units were excavated along the west side of the manor house with the hope of finding a wall separating two phases of the building. Henry Forman, one of the pioneer architectural historians of the early 20th century, studied Fairfield in great detail, concluding that the southern section was constructed first with the middle section and the "ballroom" wing added later. When you look at the picture of the house on our website, the southern section extends from the wooden porch to the left side of the building.

In contrast, architectural historians from Colonial Williamsburg suggested that the southern section was likely built last. They had the benefit of seeing our discovery of the lost wing (see month 7 update) and knowing that the building was likely constructed in two phases and not three, including a T-shaped section and a smaller rectangular section to the south.

What we discovered this last month was that southern section was built after the T-shaped section. How long after, though, we don't know. We also discovered a significant deposit of charcoal, burned window glass, and domestic artifacts (including cast-iron stove legs, complete glass bottles, a horse shoe, and a nutmeg grinder) closer to the mid-section of the building. This may indicate that the fire that destroyed the house in 1897 began in the middle of the house, but we'll need to excavate much more before we know for sure.

The manor house continues to amaze us with its complexity of design and the quality of masonry work. We could literally study the building for years, looking at every aspect of the building's design and use from construction in 1694 to its dismantling sometime after 1905. Our first grant proposal will hopefully help us do just that. It will be submitted this Friday to the Beazley Foundation in Portsmouth. We're hoping that they will help support our efforts to study the manor house at Fairfield and the earlier brick home beneath the ruins at Rosewell. Our work on these two structures, both built in the 1690s, would add significantly to our understanding of architecture during this period and the transition to the Georgian mansions of the mid-eighteenth century. Wish us luck.

It's at this point in most emails that I invite all of you out to the site to see the excavations and talk with us about our research. This month, though, it means even more that you visit. We're at the stage in our development where we are planning to formally open the site to the public. We know it is going to take a lot of time and patience before we have a good plan, and securing the funding to implement it is an even greater challenge. But we want to share our work with the public and the landowner is dedicated to that goal as much as we are. Your comments are crucial to this design and we welcome any ideas you might have both in presenting the building to the public, as well as presenting and utilizing the surrounding landscape to best benefit the community. Once we have a solid plan we will present it to the landowner and seek his approval. Feel free to contact me at the address or phone number below and we can arrange a visit. We're never too busy to talk and hear your ideas.

In the past we've talked about the wonderful articles written in the Gloucester-Mathews Gazette-Journal by Kim Robins. If you visit their website, http://www.gazettejournal.net, you'll see a wide array of articles that change every week focusing on issues important to the local community Unfortunately, links in previous Fairfield Updates won't lead you to those articles and I apologize for the confusion. In the future, we'll try to send out quick email updates, in addition to the monthly update, letting you know when a new article goes to press. The Journal's support of this project has been crucial to our success and we will be forever grateful. A sixth article in the series is expected in the near future and we are looking forward to working with Kim again.

I'll end this update with another call out for volunteers. We are absolutely swamped with artifacts in the lab and desperately need help washing and sorting the ceramics, pipes, and other amazing objects from the slave quarter excavation. We've also had to say good-bye to one of our best volunteers, Joanne Curry, who is moving to the Colonial Beach area with her husband. She was absolutely amazing, donating over 300 hours during the last six months. For those of you who would like to volunteer, be it for 1 hour or 300 hours, we have opportunities during the week and in the evenings throughout the week. We need your help and welcome anyone who is interested.

Until next month,.

Dave Brown, Assistant Director,
Fairfield Division, Gloucester Historical Society,
P.O. Box 157,
White Marsh, VA 23183
Lab Phone: 804-6944775
EmailDavid Brown

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Copyright © Jane B. Goodsell, 2001