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April-November 2003InteractiveDig Mount Vernon
[image] [image]
Photographed and mapped profile of wood-lined trough feature
Southern length of cobble-lined drain before excavation
The possible furnace feature
In situ foundation stones and sandstone and schist debris layer

Photos courtesy Historic Mount Vernon. Click on images for larger versions.
by Jennifer Strong Ebbert

Getting Down to the Details

As the end of the calendar year approaches, we've removed most of the larger blanketing layers, and we're now down to excavating features within the building. Drains, rubble piles, brick piers, burned areas--these are the types of things getting our attention now. They relate to how the distillery functioned, and some appear to be partially intact. The process of excavating these is more detailed than removing the more modern layers that covered them. We've added a few steps such as bisecting then drawing and photographing the profile of each feature. This captures a more complete picture for the archaeological record.

We've been preoccupied with a few different features on the south side of the site. There is a long drain running south from the brick pad area that then turns east along the southern wall (See the drain on our site map in units 737, 736, 735, 734, and 684). It seems to be comprised of varying material. The first few feet past the brick pad show bricks aligned to form the drain; farther along we encounter sandstone and schist rubble within the drain outline. Only small cobbles line the edges, then there's nothing but a dark earthen stain. We began excavation in unit 734 where the drain shows up as small cobbles lining a dark soil. We trisected it to get multiple profiles. Hopefully the reason different types of construction material were used will become more apparent as we dig.

Also on the south side of the building, we've excavated a large rubble pile in unit 735. This feature resembles the two burned features that flank the east wall (see them on our site map, one in unit 638 and one in units 635 and 685). However, the soil around this one has not been altered by heat as it was around the other two. It's also unclear what, if any, part of this feature was left in situ, or if it was all disturbed. We carefully bisected it and removed the four distinct layers. We found a few bricks and stones still intact, and we photographed and mapped them. This feature's function remains unclear.

The newest place we're working is the burned area in the southeast corner of the building that we believe is the base of a furnace for heating the stills. We haven't begun digging yet, but we've cleaned, photographed, and mapped the feature. We identified all of the different strata within the units as part of the mapping process, and this map is a guide for the excavation of this area.

We were excited to discover the northwest corner of the foundation intact. The last portion of the robber's trench that we excavated had a small section of large river cobbles and smaller broken rocks, presumably to fill the gaps between the larger ones.

One of the most intriguing areas we're currently working on is a series of linear intrusions on the north end of the building. Four of these features appear to run parallel on a north-south axis. Two in unit 741 begin at the foundation trench and run several feet south. These two were filled with mortar and carbon in a mixed clay matrix. The other two linear features, located farther east, were predominantly carbon and contained fragments of burned glass as well as nails that appeared to be lined up in situ. These linear features have been interpreted as the remains of floor joists or "sleepers." We know from documentary evidence that at least a portion of the distillery's floor was wood. These "sleepers" would have been the support for that floor.

Laura excavates linear features in unit 741

As for the big picture, we believe we're now down to a construction debris layer across the northern half of the site. The eighteenthth-century living surface or floor layer is gone, and we are left with a clay layer with sandstone debris and schist. This type of layer is surfacing across whole distillery site, and we think this represents debris from shaping the stones and building the structure left by James Keating, the stone mason and his workers.

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