Overhead shot of unit 583. The dark portion is the millrace outflow.
Iron artifacts found in 633

Photos courtesy Historic Mount Vernon. Click on images for larger versions.
by Dan Baicy

A Millrace Outflow and a Shed?

The halfway point of the six-month-long interns' field season comes with the hottest days of the Virginia summer. Despite heat and occasional rain for the past two weeks, we've continued excavations on the outskirts of the building and opened some new excavation squares.

We've already discussed the complex connections between the millrace outflow and a wood-lined trough (see Jen's post). You have seen us whittle away at this large feature, leaving the interaction point between the two until the bitter end. The depositional history of the millrace outflow in units 633 and 583 becomes increasingly interesting, as well as frustrating. Both units were in dire need of some work before we could make any interpretations, however. In order to clarify the millrace's border, we created a planview map of 583 detailing the visible layers and the order in which they are to be excavated. We then spent the next week diligently removing several layers until the line of the millrace outflow (the darker area with all the pebbles) was better defined.

While defining the millrace in 583, we removed several layers of soil that were full of cobbles and pebbles, more than in any other section of the millrace. Some of us have started to count and weigh these pebbles in the lab. One particular layer in 583 came out with more than 17,000 pebbles that I promptly--and quite loudly--spilled on the floor. As you can see in the photograph, 583 still has a large number of pebbles to be removed and counted. It's possible that these pebbles, best carried by a very high velocity of water, were dropped when the water suddenly slowed. We're counting the pebbles and will compare the results with those from other millrace outflow squares. We hope all this counting will lead us to firmer conclusions as to how the outflow was filled. Artifacts beyond construction-related items--nails, bricks, and cobbles--are few and far between in these units. We're excited that the next week or so of excavation will bring us down to the wood-lined trough and millrace outflow interaction and answer some questions that will aid in reconstruction of the distillery.

Another interesting development was speculation of a sandstone feature in unit 783 that runs east-west along the millrace outflow. With some input from architectural historians, we concluded that the sandstone feature could be evidence of a lean-to or other type of shed. As you can see in the map, the sandstone feature lines up fairly well about ten feet from the building. There is documentary evidence of these sheds at the distillery. Several entries in the farm manager's reports relate to the "hewing" and "preparing" of planks, timbers, rafters, and studs for sheds. They also make direct mention of constructing a hog shed. We're beginning to excavate the linear sandstone feature this week on the south side of the distillery, as well as delving into possible shed features outside the eastern foundation. We hope to uncover some evidence for or against the presence of these sheds in the days to come.

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