The Harford Furnace Site (18HA148) was an iron furnace that operated in Harford County, Maryland in the 19th century. Industrial scale production at the furnace created a community that, at its peak, consisted of 48 buildings, including a store, post office, blacksmith shop, lime kiln, saw mill, warehouses, ironworks, and workers’ houses. One of these workers’ houses, occupied by foreign-born ironworkers and their families between the 1830s and 1880s, was excavated prior to highway construction.
Little comparative work has been done regarding the material goods, housing, diet, and economic status of industrial tenants, and how they varied from their agrarian neighbors. The collection recovered from Harford Furnace is therefore important because it has the potential to shed light on the living conditions of laborers in early industrial America. Historical, architectural, and archaeological evidence provided vital data on the lifeways of foreign-born ironworkers in a rural setting in 19th-century Maryland.
In 1981, the Maryland Geological Survey conducted a Phase I investigation prior to improving Maryland Route 543 in the vicinity of Harford Furnace. Test pits, measuring 60-by-60 centimeters, were excavated at 15-meter intervals across the project area, revealing concentrations of historic artifacts associated with the iron foundry.
In 1985, John Milner Associates undertook Phase II investigations, excavating shovel tests measuring 40 to 50 centimeters in diameter at 5-meter intervals across the project area. Intermediary shovel tests were dug to define boundaries when cultural material was encountered. Additional one-by-one-meter test units were then excavated to confirm the site’s subsurface integrity. All soil was screened through ¼-inch mesh.
The Maryland Geological Survey, under the direction of Silas Hurry, conducted Phase III investigations at one of the workers’ houses at Harford Furnace in 1985 to document the site’s history and physical layout, the economic status of the inhabitants, their foodways, and how these activities changed over time. Twenty two-by-two-meter test units, dug in one-by-one meter quadrants, were excavated to the top of subsoil. All soil was water screened through ¼-inch mesh, and a two-liter flotation sample was taken from the northwest corner of each layer. Slag was quantified from the northwest quadrant of each unit, while a two liter sample was retained from each layer. The overlying soil was then mechanically stripped to expose cultural features. Flotation and slag samples were collected from each feature, and the remaining fill was water screened through ¼-inch mesh. In addition, all architectural features were photographed, mapped, and sampled, including a nearby retaining wall and headrace.
The workers’ dwelling was a two-room duplex with a central H-shaped chimney on a mortared, roughly dressed, fieldstone foundation. Probably of frame construction with a whitewashed interior, the dwelling was one-and-a-half or two stories in height with overall dimensions of approximately 16 by 32 feet. Located near an access road paved with slag and two drainage features from the iron furnace, this two-family structure was surrounded by a formally-kept front yard and an enclosed back yard used as a service area. Additional features associated with the ironworkers’ residence consisted of planting holes or beds, postholes and postmolds from two fencelines, a privy, and a large trash-filled relict creek channel.
Over 36,000 artifacts associated with the industrial processes of the ironworks and the daily activities of the ironworkers were recovered from archaeological investigations at the Harford Furnace Site. Four hundred and fifty-seven ceramic vessels, 279 glass bottles and drinking vessels, 234 buttons, 20 utensil fragments, and 32 children’s toy fragments were recovered. Hurry suggested that the tenant families enjoyed a relatively high standard of living compared to agrarian laborers, using their income to purchase portable material goods. Many ceramics exhibited transfer-printing or hand-painting, while bottles revealed a large number of purchased medicinal remedies and spirits. Artifacts were separated into three distinctive groups for analysis: the random sample of plow zone, the subsurface features associated with the residence, and materials recovered from the relict creek bed.
Plow zone artifacts and subsurface features around the dwelling represent over fifty years of deposition by several families between the 1830s and 1880s. Distribution maps for plow zone artifacts, including kitchen, clothing, personal, tobacco pipe, activity, arms, and furniture groups, reveal an artifact concentration around the structure that decreased with distance. Floral analysis suggests that the residents purchased supplies such as food, alcohol, and medicine rather than producing or growing their own, but faunal remains indicate that the residents maintained their own livestock and supplemented their diet with hunting and fishing.
The trash-filled relict creek deposit probably represents only two families who resided at the domicile between the 1830s and the mid-1840s. Domestic refuse from this tightly dated deposit included a number of highly decorated ceramic vessels, bottles, table glass, Prosser buttons, and leather shoe fragments from men, women, and children.
The document collection consists of original records in good condition,
with the exception of some discoloration and minor staining from field
use. The collection is housed in six letter-sized clamshell archival boxes,
one of which contains four small archival enclosures, and four oversized
Miscellaneous documents include artifact tracking forms, various categories of historic artifact analysis, floral and faunal analysis, slag analysis, prehistoric material analysis, unit indexes, feature analysis, lot number lists, miscellaneous plans and profiles, and report graphics. Catalogs are available in the form of computer or written coding. These have been scanned as .PDF files and are not searchable. Daily field journals from the summer of 1985 have been treated the same way. Historical background research is also found in the collection but has not been digitized.
Three reports exist for the Harford Furnace site: Archeological Reconnaissance of Maryland Route 543 from North of James Run to Maryland Route 7, Harford County, Maryland (Kavanagh 1981); Phase II Preliminary Site Examination: Harford Furnace Archeological Site (18HA148). Maryland Route 543 Bridge Replacement over James Run (Parrington 1985); and Archeological Data Recovery at a Nineteenth Century Iron Workers’ Dwelling at Harford Furnace, Maryland (Hurry 1990). All are available online as word searchable PDF documents.
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.
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