Archaeological Dig on The Hill in Easton

Photos below are from the archaeological dig going on at the “Buffalo Soldier’s House” in The Hill area of Easton, Md. (323 South Street). Visitors are welcome to stop by this upcoming week, Monday thru Friday, between 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., to observe the dig.

The house (built c. 1880) belonged to relatives of William Gardner, a Buffalo Soldier. The archaeological dig is part of a process to help save the house and also is part of a wider investigation of the history of the entire neighborhood.

(click on the photos below for larger versions)

UMD students examine a button they found during the excavation.

Excavating in the backyard of the house.

Combing through the excavated rubble and dirt.

Excavating an area thought to be part of an alley that once separated the house from another home next door that has since been demolished. The students have found coins, marbles and pieces of metals and plastic so far.

Photos of the house itself:

323 South Street

The rear of the house.

Portion of the side porch. Many of the windows and doors are gone and covered with plywood painted to resemble the real thing so the home looks nicer.

View of a hole in the ceiling of the front porch reveals older trim and paint.

Layers of siding reveal themselves.

The Hill: Amazing Tales and Discoveries

I had an amazing time today at the presentation about The Hill in Easton — I got to hear stories from current and former residents about the way African Americans developed this neighborhood from the late 18th-century to today. We took a walking tour and stopped into one of the churches that is at the neighborhood’s core. I also discovered that I had happened upon a real gem during a prior project that has value for the history of The Hill.

Below are some photos and tidbits from the day (click on the photos for larger versions):

Our tour started on Higgins Street, in front of these duplexes that pre-date indoor plumbing. A resident said that bathrooms eventually were built on to the back porches of houses.

Another view down Higgins Street, with the AME church steeple in the background.

The steeple of the church is topped with a pineapple, a Colonial symbol of welcome and hospitality.

The church dominates the view down South Lane.

The “Buffalo Soldier’s House.” Sgt. William Gardner never lived there, but his enlistment papers were found there. The house was owned by his brother.

View of the “Buffalo Soldier’s House” with one of The Hill’s AME church steeples in the background. Archaeologists from the University of Maryland will dig at this site this summer.

Barney Brooks, a descendant of one of the owners of the “Buffalo Solider’s House” is interviewed by a student from Morgan State University during today’s breakout session, where residents could tell their stories and have their documents scanned for posterity.

Habitat for Humanity will be renovating this house. Today, they were painting the boards over the windows and doors to make them look like real windows and doors in the interim, to keep the property from looking abandoned.

This is one of the oldest houses, especially brick structures, in The Hill neighborhood, dating to 1798.

The corner of Hanson and South Streets, with 3 c.-1870 brick homes. The neighborhood has traditionally been mixed-race. Columbia, Md., developer James Rouse (aka actor Edward Norton’s grandfather, for those outside of Maryland), grew up here. He got his ideas for creating a mixed-income, mixed-race community from his time spent in Easton.

Frederick Douglass once spoke at both AME churches in Easton. The rostrums at which he spoke survive to this day. Here is the rostrum at the Bethel AME Church on Hanson Street.

Now, for the coolest part of the day for me. In a talk about the “Buffalo Soldier’s House,” local historian Priscilla Morris mentioned two black women from The Hill, Ann Eliza Skinner Green Dodson and her sister, Temperance (whose son was the Buffalo Soldier, William Gardner). [4/2: Oops! I was a little confused during this presentation -- I was so excited when I realized I had the photo. Temperance's sister Ann was an early owner of the property known as the "Buffalo Soldier's House." The house passed to Temperance's son before it was sold to the Gardner family.] Morris mentioned that Temperance was a servant of the Hambleton family, who lived in the building that is now the Bartlett Pear Inn.

I realized I had a photo of Temperance.

When I did the history of the Bartlett Pear Inn, I came upon a stereograph image of the building (the top photo on the poster here) at the Historical Society of Talbot County. Pictured on the front porch are members of the Hambleton family. On the sidewalk, with two of the Hambleton children, is the Hambleton’s African American servant. Temperance.

No one at today’s meeting had seen the image before — I was able to show it to them on my phone. It was so exciting to share this rare piece of history with the group!

The Hill Project Presents: “A Stroll Down Memory Lane”

I hope those in the Easton area can attend this event on March 31 (click on the poster for a larger view):

I’m really looking forward to learning more about this area from the residents and to participate in the walking tour. I’ll post a follow-up blog post when the event is over!

Learn more about The Hill here and/or visit the Historic Easton web site.

Help Preserve an Historic African American Neighborhood: The Hill in Easton, Md.

I’m posting the below on behalf of Historic Easton. If you could help spread the word by sharing the link to this blog post, we are in need of stories about The Hill neighborhood and also donations to support an archaeological dig this summer to help us better understand and preserve the area.

Donations can be sent to Historic Easton, PO Box 1071, Easton, MD 21601. We are a 501 (c) (3) corporation, so gifts are tax deductible. Stories about the area can be sent to HistoricEaston@gmail.com and will be used to help illustrate life in the neighborhood over the years.

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Morgan State University in partnership with Historic Easton, Inc. is embarking on a project to raise the awareness, appreciation and understanding of a currently undocumented and underrecognized aspect of the history of the African American experience in Maryland and in the Country as they seek to not only include the architectural and cultural significance of “The Hill,” located in the heart of the Town of Easton, Maryland, and within the boundaries of the Easton National Register Historic District, but to Re-Honor “The Hill”; through restoration, rebirth, renewal and regeneration.

We believe “The Hill” is the oldest African American neighborhood in the country, predating what is thought of as the oldest documented African American neighborhood: “Treme” located in New Orleans, LA.

“The Hill” was first settled prior to 1790 as a neighborhood comprising free blacks and slaves. It is documented that the first African American church congregation began on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and on “The Hill” officially in 1818 (Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, 110 South Hanson Street, Easton, Maryland). Free blacks and slaves were already living there well before 1818 and arguably thriving and well-settled as “The Hill” was chosen by the African Methodist Episcopal Baltimore Conference of 1816 to found the first African American Church organization on the Eastern Shore of Maryland starting at “The Hill.”

Whereas, “Treme” is currently  documented as the oldest African American neighborhood in the country (1810 land purchased by the City of New Orleans and subdivided in 1816 to sell lots to blacks) and is nationally recognized as the birth of Jazz; the Morgan State research effort will document that “The Hill” is older, as it was settled by 1790; and it is also underrecognized as the birth of African American Methodism on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.