Excavating Blandwood

4.19.17_Features_Emily Moser_Blandwood_Emily Moser (1)

Emily Moser

Emily Moser
   Staff Writer

Located in the heart of downtown Greensboro, the historic Blandwood Mansion tells stories about life from the time of its construction in 1795, to today.

Charles Bland built the two story farmhouse in the rural woods, and soon, the home was nicknamed ‘Blandwood.’ Built in 1795, the home predates the founding of the city of Greensboro.

After Bland, the home was purchased by the progressive North Carolina Governor, John Motley Morehead. Morehead is the governor responsible for establishing a more modern transportation method, enforcing quality education and networking social programs. Additions were added to the home under his ownership; the New York Architect, Alexander Jackson Davis, designed the home to fit in the 19th century Italianate style. With its completion in 1846, it stands as the oldest standing Italianate building in the United States.

After the Moreheads, the property was sold to the Keeley Institute, who used the home as a hospital-like resource to help recovering alcoholics. They occupied the home shortly after the civil war to 1961.

Today, Blandwood is a museum with guided tours and open gardens. Interestingly, much is known about the complex people that lived at Blandwood. Yet, so much of how they lived remains a secret. Obviously, much can be said through the architecture, furniture and household items; yet, so much information is left behind underground as rubble and trash.

To learn more about life at Blandwood, UNCG professor, Linda Stine, used archeology in the Bicentennial Commission of 2008. Stine gave a public lecture in the Blandwood Carriage House on April 10 that explained her findings. With student aid, they were able to find evidence of backyard structures and thousands of artifacts from the Antebellum South to the 20th Century.

This complicated project had many research sources: oral tradition, geographically supported evidence and text based resources like maps and writings. Information found in previous excavations, like the Skowronek Project of 1980, was also helpful in constructing a more complete narrative of the region.

During the Skowronek Project, walls of backyard structures were found. Also, fragments of an Antebellum saucer and a plate belonging to the Morehead family were excavated. This hints that the kitchen, which was separate to the home,  may be in one particular area on the property.

Several Methods were used. First,  GPR (ground penetrating radar) surveyed the grounds for large underlying structures. Next, students cut 1×1 meter and 2×2 meter squares in the ground. These seven units, determined by previously made maps and extensive research, housed valuable information on Blandwood’s past. Soil tests, mesh screen tests, numerical lists and separate packaging of findings helped to organize the process.

Each unit was placed in an area that could potentially be the kitchen or the slave house. Because the Morehead family likely hired out their slaves, there is no concrete evidence of where the slave house was on the grounds. It was very important to Stine and the students to find evidence of the enslaved African Americans that also lived and worked at Blandwood.

In Unit one, not much was found. One rivet was excavated which ties interestingly to Governor Morehead’s blacksmithing hobby.

Unit two had a few more findings: a post hole, a brick wall with concrete fragments and a bead. This intricate Bohemian bead dates from as early as 1835.

Unit three also did not offer many findings. In this Unit, they found a wall that zig-zagged across the space along with the corner of a wall.

The fourth unit provided some more insight. In this unit, they excavated concrete brick along with several domestic objects: pieces of pottery, glass and a plate with evidence of gold and a bead. This bead fits conventions of a bead popular in African American culture.

Unit five was a bit of a disappointment. Located right outside the dining room of the main house, Stine thought that the unit could house many artifacts from trash. Instead, there was only clay soil.

The sixth unit was interesting. With brick and utility pipe, this unit also contained yellow tile that definitely belonged to the Keeley Institute.

The final unit was a shock to even Stine. Here, old brick made from civil war and Antebellum material was found. There was a sizeable amount of architectural and kitchen debris. Buttons from all periods of Blandwood’s history, pottery, toys and other domestic artifacts were found. Interestingly, the walls found in the unit did not line up with any original maps provided, and the material was evidence that is was not part of the Keeley expansion. Could this be where the slaves lived?

After the excavation was over, the team found around 6,500 artifacts. This helps build an understanding to the complex history of Greensboro’s oldest and most famous home.

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