Catoctin Furnace is a group of archaeological sites associated with a 10,000-acre iron working furnace complex dating from the late 18th and 19th centuries in Frederick County, Maryland. The collection includes materials from the foundry site (18FR320), a springhouse site (18FR321), an African-American slave cemetery (18FR323), and a 19th-century miner’s house (18FR324). These sites were documented in 1977 during a Phase I survey by Orr and Son for the proposed dualization of U.S. Route 15 between Putnam Road and Maryland Route 77 in Thurmont. Catoctin Furnace represents a valuable resource for documenting the development of the iron industry in the United States and increasing understanding about the lifestyles and material culture of its workers.
Catoctin Furnace Foundry Site (18FR320)
The Catoctin Furnace Foundry Site (18FR320) is the location of a late 18th-/19th-century iron furnace. Among the principal activities undertaken there were refining iron and casting iron objects. In addition to the foundry, other associated structures and features, such as a mill raceway, a charcoal house, an unidentified structure, and an earthen storage dam, were also located and excavated.
Orr and Son excavated ten backhoe trenches and five test units at the foundry during their Phase I survey. Phase III investigations were undertaken by John Milner Associates (JMA) beginning in the summer of 1979. Nine backhoe trenches were excavated there to locate and explore architectural remains. Thirty-one five-by-five-foot test units were also excavated, and soils were screened through ¼-inch mesh only when deemed necessary for the recovery of small artifacts. A backhoe was then used to mechanically remove the top two feet of fill to reveal features. JMA conducted additional excavations in 1981. Three backhoe trenches and 29 partial five-by-five-foot test units were excavated using the same techniques as the 1979 investigation.
A total of 7,809 artifacts were recovered from the Catoctin Furnace Foundry Site, most reflecting the industrial function of the site. Ironworking activities at 18FR320 were primarily identified through the classification of tools, fragments of manufactured items, and slag. A large portion of the assemblage consisted of cast and wrought iron objects. Few non-industrial objects were recovered.
Archaeological evidence supports historical documentation that indicated that bombshells, pots, kettles, salt pans, iron stoves, and dutch ovens were produced at the foundry. A large percentage of the artifacts from 18FR320 were flat, featureless cast iron pieces, probably from plain stove plates. Two stove door latches, two stove feet, and a stove door frame were also recovered. The only decorated stove parts were ornamented along an edge to mask a joint. Fragments of various-sized cooking pots and kettles were also recovered, including an almost complete cast iron pot.
The types of tools and machinery hardware identified at the site indicated the iron working activities at Catoctin Furnace, and suggested the presence of a blacksmith. A variety of wrought tools, including 11 cold chisels, six files, three wrenches, two mold maker’s slicks, a hammer and a draw knife, were used on site to trim and finish iron castings. In addition, cast iron flask clamps, gaggers, runners, and wedge-shaped gates were also used during the casting process. The presence of horseshoes, ox shoes, and wagon parts confirm the use of draft animals to transfer ore and fuel to the furnace and to transport goods to various markets.
Evidence of non-industrial activities at Catoctin Furnace probably relate to the individuals who worked at the site. Five hundred and sixty-five ceramic sherds include coarse earthenwares, transfer-printed and annular whitewares, green-edged and blue-edged pearlwares, American stonewares, and hand-painted Chinese export porcelains. The bulk of glass bottles are colorless, with a few fragments of dark blue and green wine/beer bottles. In addition, a copper alloy powder flask with an embossed shell motif was recovered.
Catoctin Furnace Bathhouse/Springhouse/Raceway (18FR321)
The Catoctin Furnace Bathhouse/Springhouse/Raceway Site (18FR321) is a 19th-century structure associated with a spring near the Auburn Mansion. The stone building was utilized as a springhouse from approximately 1815 to 1860, when it was modified to a bathhouse. A raceway was later constructed to channel water to Auburn Pond.
The earliest structure at 18FR321 had a mortarless fieldstone foundation measuring 12 feet on each side, and a brick entry step, and appeared to function as a springhouse for the refrigeration of foods. A one-inch thick wooden trough was placed around the interior of the stone walls to channel spring water into a metal catch basin in the southeast corner. Orr and Orr conjectured that a raised brick floor was present in the structure’s unexcavated center. Water escaped through a barred grill on the downhill side, which continued in use after renovations converted the building into a bathhouse. A foot of soil was placed over the original floor, and a "Y"-shaped brick drain was used to transport water directly to the square iron catch basin, from which a pipe was installed to channel water outside of the structure. A new flagstone floor was put down, and a bathtub was installed in the southwest corner, where a square pipe was located. A photograph revealed that the building was plastered, and had a shingled roof. The building was abandoned in 1915, when indoor plumbing was installed in the Auburn Mansion, and its fieldstone walls were later used to construct a driveway.
During the Phase I survey in 1977, Orr and Son excavated one two-by-two-foot test unit in the northwest corner of the building, revealing six courses of fieldstone three feet below the ground surface. An additional two-by-two-foot test unit was placed in the structure’s interior, uncovering a stone floor at a depth of 18 inches. Orr and Son also conducted Phase II investigations at 18FR321 in 1979. Four trenches were excavated to subsoil at the corners of the building, perpendicular to the walls, and were expanded to explore up to half of each wall. In addition, two pathway trenches were dug, one in front of the doorway and one eight feet east of the southeast corner. Stratigraphic layers were excavated separately, and all soil was screened through 1/8-inch mesh. The Phase II investigation excavated approximately 50% of the site before it was buried for the dualization of U.S. Route 15.
A total of 7,815 artifacts were recovered during the investigations at the Catoctin Furnace Springhouse/Bathhouse/Raceway Site. Artifact analysis was used primarily to date specific renovations to the structure and to define the activities that occurred at the site.
Artifacts date the construction of the springhouse to the early 19th century, and included items which are considered to be functionally related to its activities. Four hundred and fifty ceramic sherds, dating from c.1820-c.1860, include American stoneware and earthenware vessels, and a large amount of transfer-printed and blue and green shell-edged pearlwares and whitewares. The majority of the ceramic sherds are kitchen-related wares representing dishes and crocks for food storage and refrigeration. Architectural debris, such as nails, plaster, and brick fragments, were also common.
The conversion to a bathhouse is evident in the artifacts dating from the second half of the 19th century. Sixteen complete bricks and a large number of hand-molded brick fragments were discovered in the fill that elevated the stone floor. Other architectural debris included flagstone spalls, nails, mortar, and plaster. Ceramics and glass bottle fragments also dated from the late 19th century.
Catoctin Furnace Renner Burial (18FR323)
The Renner Burial Site (18FR323) is an unmarked, late 18th through early 19th-century African-American cemetery in Frederick County. Fieldstone markers, primarily of local quartzite and limestone, indicated the interments of probable African-American slaves associated with the Catoctin Iron Works. This cemetery was laid out in north-south rows spaced ten feet apart, with graves oriented east to west approximately four feet apart. All 35 graves were single interment coffin burials, with one exception: a child interred directly above an adult female. Individuals were buried supine, with heads to the west, and in an extended position with hands folded over the abdomen. Rectangular and pinch-toe type coffins were made of white oak and chestnut. Age at death in this cemetery population ranged from neonate to elderly, and the condition of the skeletal remains varied from poor to excellent.
Historical documents indicate that the individuals buried at Renner Burial between 1790-1840 worked in a variety of occupations, some at the Catoctin Iron Furnace Complex and others in the local community. Even though age and sex distributions within the cemetery appear to be random, some individuals seem to have been buried in groups, possibly providing evidence of family interments. The burials appeared to reflect European Christian mortuary practices, but there was also evidence of possible African American folk beliefs, such as the presence of fruit and seed funeral wreaths, as opposed to flowers, in three of the interments.
Orr and Son identified the location of the cemetery. Five test excavations were conducted on the graves, which confirmed the presence of human remains. Orr and Son estimated the cemetery contained approximately 100 interments, with a third of them situated within the proposed highway right-of-way.
Mid-Atlantic Archaeological Research, Inc. (MAAR) conducted Phase III excavations on the western third of the Renner Burial Site (which fell within the proposed highway right-of-way) between July and October 1979 and in May 1980. During the 1979 field season, MAAR manually and mechanically excavated trenches to locate burials and to define the perimeters of the site. Twenty-six graves were found between a depth of 2.4 and 5.1 feet below the surface. All graves were excavated in four-inch increments, and fill was screened through ¼-inch mesh. In order to locate every burial remaining in the right-of-way, a gradall removed the topsoil at the beginning of the 1980 field season. Nine additional graves were excavated, following the procedures and standards established in the 1979 investigation.
A total of 1,312 artifacts, predominantly nails, screws, buttons, and shroud pins, were recovered from the excavation of 35 graves at the Renner Burial Site. All artifacts recovered from the graves had a date range of between 1790 and 1840. Dr. J. Lawrence Angel conducted the osteological analysis of the skeletal remains, which are curated at the Smithsonian Institution.
The bulk of the artifacts from Renner Burial were associated with the manufacture of wooden coffins. Nails utilized in the simple slat coffin construction included handwrought, machine-cut, and machine-cut with handwrought heads. Only one coffin contained additional hardware: four iron bars that were used as reinforcing brackets.
Of the 35 graves excavated at Renner Burial, only 21 contained evidence of clothing or a shroud. Four burials contained 22 buttons, indicating that they had been interred in simple garments. Eleven copper alloy and two white metal buttons of various sizes were recovered, all having a plain, flat front with a ring-eye back. Seven additional buttons, each with five holes, were manufactured from bone, while two were shell buttons with four holes. Ten individuals were buried in shrouds, evident from the 26 copper alloy pin fragments recovered. A few fiber fragments, which survived in association with the buttons and pins, were identified as woven, wool textile remains.
Flotation samples collected from the graves revealed traces of botanical remains, such as seeds. Found on or within three coffins, these seeds suggested intentional placement at the time of interment. One infant contained a cluster of raspberry or blackberry seeds, which formed a corona around its cranium, while two adult graves had sassafras on top of the coffin surface.
Catoctin Furnace Carty House (18FR324)
The Carty House Site (18FR324) is a 19th-century dwelling for one of the iron workers at the Catoctin Iron Furnace. Possibly associated with Earl Carty, a worker at the Big Ore Bank, this log cabin had a stone foundation measuring approximately 21-by-21 feet, with a cellar at its south end. The site is significant for the information it revealed about the lifestyles and material culture of the workers at the Catoctin Iron Furnace.
Orr and Son excavated two two-by-two-foot test units, four two-and-a-half-by-two-and-a-half-foot test units, and a trench measuring one-by-five feet within both the stone ruins and the yard of the Carty House. In 1979, Mid-Atlantic Archaeological Research, Inc. (MAAR) conducted Phase II excavations in the Carty House west yard, which fell within the highway right-of-way. Seventy-four shovel test pits were excavated at five-foot intervals with a six-inch post-hole digger to subsoil or a depth of 30 inches. Five-foot test units placed across the west yard were then excavated following natural strata. All soil was screened through ¼-inch mesh. Four major features were uncovered: a brick sidewalk, a subsurface trash deposit, a shallow trench, and a brick slab covered with Portland cement, possibly representing an outbuilding. MAAR also excavated the builder’s trench of the structure, and two postholes. Unfortunately, MAAR’s report on the Carty House and its associated paperwork have not been located, so all information concerning their excavation was located in Orr and Son’s 1980 Interim Report.
A total of 5,954 artifacts were recovered from excavations at the Carty House. They represent the domestic refuse of the dwelling’s inhabitants between its construction around 1825 through the early 20th century, when it was abandoned.
The 1,214 ceramic sherds from the Carty House included lead-glazed coarse earthenwares, creamwares, pearlwares, whitewares, ironstones, yellowwares, Rockingham-type glazed wares, and soft and hard-paste porcelains. Also present were 87 white clay tobacco pipe fragments, 90 glass bottle fragments, five glass canning jar lid liners, and three table glass fragments.
A number of personal items were also recovered from the Carty House. Buttons, including 22 shell, 17 porcelain, five metal, three glass, and two bone, were found in various shapes and sizes. The presence of children on the site was indicated through seven marbles, three graphite pencil fragments, a lead alloy toy sword, and a white porcelain doll fragment. In addition, five hair comb fragments, a purple glass bead, a complete iron spoon, and a copper alloy furniture tack in the shape of a shell were recovered.
The Catoctin Furnace Records Collection has been divided into four areas by archaeological site number: the Foundry (18FR320); the Springhouse/Bathhouse/Raceway (18FR321); the Renner Burials (18FR323); and the Carty House (18FR324). Original records for all four sites are minimal, but those that exist are in good condition, with little dirt and staining. The collection is composed of four letter-sized archival clamshells, one oversized enclosure, and one document roll.
Excavation records for 18FR320 consist of daily field journals, plans, and profiles. They have been organized by year of excavation (1979 and 1981). For the 1979 excavations, only nine feature forms are present. All other records have been scanned as .PDF files, available online but not searchable. They include plans/profiles, bag and photograph logs, background research, elevation/depth records, notes on the basin dam, oversized maps, and other miscellany. There are two reports on the Foundry site: Archaeological Excavations at Site 18FR320 Catoctin, Maryland (Milner 1979), and A Report on the Excavation of an Ancillary Area (Site 18FR320) of the Historic Ironworking Complex at Catoctin Furnace, Frederick County, MD (Parrington and Schenck 1982). All type-written reports are available online in .PDF format and are word searchable.
Excavation records for 18FR321 are incomplete and have not been included in the database. All records have been scanned as .PDF files and are not searchable. They include plans/profiles, elevations, artifact catalogue packing and delivery lists, ceramic analysis, miscellaneous artifact analysis, geological reports, and miscellaneous maps. Two reports for the Springhouse/Bathhouse/Raceway are included: Interim Report of the Catoctin Furnace Archaeological Mitigation Project (Orr and Orr 1980); and The Catoctin Furnace Archaeological Mitigation Project Final Report of the 1979 Excavation (first, second, and final drafts) (Orr 1982).
There are no excavation records for 18FR323 (Renner Burials) and 18FR324 (Carty House). A small number of miscellaneous notes have been scanned as a single .PDF file. One report exists: Archaeological Data Recovery at Catoctin Furnace Cemetery (Burnston and Thomas 1981).
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 photographic records do not necessarily exist for all features or units. Original images consist of slides, negatives, contact sheets, and prints, and are housed at the MAC Lab.
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