MECHANIC STREET
18AG206

Introduction

The Mechanic Street Site (18AG206) contained four house lots from a mixed working-class and middle-class neighborhood occupied from c.1813 until c.1913 in Cumberland, Maryland. Occupied by both owners and tenants, this area was developed in the second decade of the 19th century to accommodate the growing number of artisans and merchants in Cumberland.

The town of Cumberland, located adjacent to coal and timber areas in the western part of the state, was a major trade and transportation center for the entire Mid-Atlantic region during the 19th century. This small town’s early development as a commercial hub resulted in the creation of large middle and working classes. The artifact assemblage from Mechanic Street has the potential to address questions of household formation and development, consumption patterns, and health issues in 19th-century western Maryland. The collection details the transformation of a small frontier neighborhood through urbanization and industrial growth, and it is an important resource for comparing owner and tenant urban households, particularly since as the neighborhood had a stable population which often spanned generations. Furthermore, the Mechanic Street Site reflects the development of improved transportation and westward expansion, and can be used to examine the idea of the frontier in the formation of national identity.

Archaeological Investigations

John Milner Associates (JMA) conducted a Phase I survey for the proposed Station Square Park between September 17-25, 1992. This investigation included the excavation of eight backhoe trenches. Six trenches were located in the rear yards of the historic Mechanic Street buildings, while the remaining two were placed to the west to intersect the edge of the buried Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. Unprovenienced artifacts were collected from backhoe excavations, while diagnostic artifacts from distinct strata in the sidewalls were saved separately. Phase I testing identified an intact historic ground surface and associated features, such as a foundation wall and a privy, in one section of the four-acre project area.

Phase II work was undertaken by JMA between October 8-28, 1992 on three lots, measuring 200 by 250 feet, adjacent to South Mechanic Street. Twenty-one test units, all but three measuring three by three feet, were placed within 15 backhoe trenches to investigate the rear yards of the residential structures. All test units were excavated following natural stratigraphy or in half-foot arbitrary levels within strata. All soil from the units was screened through ¼-inch mesh, and flotation samples were collected from pit features. This testing confirmed the presence of intact historic deposits dating to the first half of the 19th century.

JMA conducted Phase III investigations at Mechanic Street in the winter of 1992-1993. Fifteen five-by-five-foot units were excavated stratigraphically with trowel and shovel. Strata thicker than one foot were excavated in arbitrary levels of 0.2 feet in the yard deposits, and 0.5 feet in other locations. All soil was screened through ¼-inch mesh. A backhoe was then used to strip the fill overlying the archaeological deposits, and all uncovered features were excavated. Twenty-six flotation samples were collected from eighteen 19th-century features, including a privy, brick drain, post holes, ash pits, and three unidentified pits.

Artifacts

The Mechanic Street Site collection consists of 47,529 artifacts documenting domestic life among urban artisans and working class families in western Maryland during three crucial periods: 1790-1820, 1820-1860, and 1860-1940. Data from artifact analyses also revealed differences between the household assemblages of owners and tenants over several generations.

A total of 12,273 ceramic sherds, 4,047 container glass fragments, and 238 table glass fragments were recovered from Mechanic Street. A minimum vessel list was developed for ceramics, bottles, and glass tableware as part of JMA’s analysis. Unfortunately, no inventory details the exact number and description of these vessels, and many artifacts identified as a vessel have a range of vessel numbers written on their storage bags.

Residents of Mechanic Street used predominantly hand-painted refined earthenwares. Transfer-printed ceramics occurred in much fewer numbers. Slipwares from the local Weis family pottery were also recovered, along with an abundance of Staffordshire pottery. Maker’s marks on glass bottles indicate that the Mechanic Street residents acquired goods produced in various cities, including Baltimore, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Charleston, West Virginia.

Personal artifacts included 33 chamberpot fragments, 30 bone comb fragments, four bone toothbrush fragments, three bakelite comb fragments, and two eyeglass lenses. Clothing and adornment artifacts included 99 buttons, four buckle fragments, two leather shoe fragments, two glass beads, a copper alloy earring, a copper alloy jewelry clasp, and a copper alloy jewelry chain fragment. Sewing implements included three straight pins and a copper alloy thimble. The recovery of toys, such as eleven doll parts, nine marbles, and three ceramic tea set fragments, provided information on children’s play at the site. Also found at Mechanic Street were five lead print plate fragments used in printing newspapers.

Environmental analysis from the Mechanic Street Site indicated that its residents utilized a wide variety of plant and animals. A total of 5,526 animal bones were recovered from 18AG206. Fifty-eight domestic mammal individuals, including 27 pigs, 22 cows, eight sheep/goat, and one horse, were recovered, but the residents also relied on deer, squirrels, chickens, turkeys, geese, and fish. A total of 15,345 seeds were recovered in flotation samples from 26 proveniences. Floral analysis identified 47 plant taxa, including cultigens, wild fruits and berries, herbaceous plants, and grasses.

Records

The document collection consists of original records in good condition, with some discoloration and minor staining from field exposure. The records are housed in five letter-sized clamshell archival boxes and two oversized archival enclosures.

The excavation records are organized by phase, operation, unit number, and feature. Phase II records are present for 14 operations and include 19 units. Phase III records contain 16 units and 8 features. Excavation records include unit reports, plan drawings, profile drawings, and feature records. There are no daily field journal records. Other documents include stratum summaries, photograph logs for Phases I-III, and artifact catalogs. These have been scanned as .PDF files and are available online, but are not searchable. Two reports are included in the collection: Phase III Data Recovery, Mechanic Street Site (18AG206), Station Square Project, Cumberland, MD. (Cheek et al. 1994), and Phase I and Phase II Archeological and Historical Investigations, Station Square Project, Cumberland , MD. (Yamin et al. 1993). Report .PDF files are word searchable.

Photographs taken on-site or in post-processing are available through the online database, and are searchable using the above criteria. Researchers should note that images are not linked directly to specific documents, and photograph records do not necessarily exist for all features or units. Original images exist in the form of slides and are housed at the MAC Lab.

References

Cheek, Charles D., Rebecca Yamin, Dana B. Heck, Leslie E. Raymer, and Lisa D. O’Steen
1994     Phase III Data Recovery, Mechanic Street Site (18AG206), Station Square Project, Cumberland, MD. Maryland State Highway Administration Archeological Report 69.
Yamin, Rebecca, Margarita Jerabek Wuellner, Stuart A. Reeve, Priscilla Knoblock, and Charles D. Cheek
1993     Phase I and Phase II Archeological and Historical Investigations, Station Square Project, Cumberland, MD. Maryland State Highway Administration Archeological Report 62.

Digital Resources

Documents

PDFs

Archaeological Report
Catalogs
Excavation Documents
Photo Log
Project Documents


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An online archive of over 30 archaeological sites in Maryland, produced by the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab with the support of the National Endowment of the Humanities.