Archaeology at the Cottage

During the restoration of President Lincoln’s Cottage, archaeological testing was conducted to see what kinds of evidence were left behind by the Lincoln family and other residents of the Cottage.  Through archaeology, the “trash” left behind by past peoples can be used to learn more about them.  Archaeologists excavated shovel test pits (round, systematically dug holes) on the Cottage lawn and in and around the north driveway.  Test units (1m x1m squares) were excavated in targeted areas along the north façade of the Cottage and in the driveway.  Many of these targeted areas were chosen based on historic photographs and maps that showed evidence of other outbuildings around the Cottage.

Some of the test areas yielded few artifacts due to significant ground disturbances over the past century.  But others contained a considerable number of artifacts, dating from before President Lincoln’s time at the Cottage to well after his presidency.

The artifacts are as varied as the activities they reflect.  Colorful pieces of ceramic, fragments of animal bones, and broken glass are the remnants of cooking and eating habits.  A recovered laundry iron is a reminder of past household chores.  Even two marbles, once toys meant for entertainment, provide insight into the past associated with President Lincoln’s Cottage.

Not only does the archaeological evidence reflect the activities of people associated with the Cottage, but it has also provided information on design elements of the Cottage.  For example, a test unit excavated by the driveway on the north side of the Cottage revealed a small, intact portion of a cobblestone gutter.  From this small piece of cobblestone gutter, archaeologists were able to deduce that the whole elliptical driveway in front of President Lincoln’s Cottage was once bordered by a cobblestone gutter.

The archaeological testing performed during the restoration and rehabilitation of President Lincoln’s Cottage indicates that promising archaeological deposits may still exist around the Cottage.  Future excavations are intended in order to learn more about the Cottage and President Lincoln’s time spent here.

Archaeology Phase One

Led by archaeologist Charles LeeDecker, the Louis Berger Group, Inc. (Berger) surveyed President Lincoln’s Cottage grounds in the summer of 2003. The National Trust for Historic Preservation directed Berger to perform the following:

-Survey the area immediately surrounding the Cottage to obtain general information on the condition of the site, identify major landscaping events, and determine the presence of potentially significant archaeological features or deposits, such as kitchen middens or trash pits;
-Search for surviving evidence of pathways from the Lincoln period that are known to have been located to the south and west of the house to determine if there are physical remains of these features;
-Search for an ephemeral structure located to the east of the Cottage that appears in a period photograph;
-Investigate the north porch to examine the relationship between the granite sill and concrete slab and identify artifact deposits or important architectural information in that area; and
-Investigate the area beneath the south porch to search for domestic artifact deposits, architectural material associated with the numerous construction episodes, and subsurface features, such as a cistern or a porch pier.

The Berger field survey consisted of digging 46 shovel test pits on a 30 foot grid established around the Cottage, mainly on the east and west sides of the building and the south lawn. The south lawn is approximately 250’ from east to west, and is about 200’ on its north-south axis. Some test pit locations deviated from the grid for the specific purpose of investigating elements of particular interest, such as the location of a Lincoln-era flagpole. Berger recovered 99 artifacts during this phase of archaeological fieldwork.

Following archaeological fieldwork, Berger cleaned, stabilized, cataloged, and prepared artifacts for long-term curation in accordance with the Guidelines for Archaeological Investigations in the District of Columbia. The types of artifacts recovered included fragments of domestic dishware, construction materials, bottles, oyster shells, faunal remnants, and discarded pipe stems. Slate fragments informed the choice of replacement material for the new roof installed as part of the exterior restoration. The complete list of recovered artifacts from this phase appears below.

Artifacts recovered from President Lincoln’s Cottage
Artifact Type / Subtype Count Artifact Type / Subtype Count
Ceramics   Vessel Glass  
  Creamware (1762-1820) 1   Wine/liquor bottle 9
  Pearlware, Plain (1775-1840) 5   Unidentified bottle/jar 18
  Pearlware, Hand painted (1775-1840) 3   Paneled tumbler 1
  Pearlware, Transfer-printed 2   Unidentified tableware 1
  Whiteware, Plain (1815-present) 4 Architectural  
  Whiteware, Handpainted (1815-1915) 3   Handwrought nail (before 1820) 1
  Whiteware, Transfer-Print (1835-1910) 2   Unidentified nail 1
  Yellowware, Rockingham (1812-1940) 1   Glazed brick 1
  Unglazed Redware 8   Roofing slate 1
  Other Earthenware 4   Stone 5
  Oriental porcelain 3 Other  
  Hard-paste Porcelain, Plain 1   Clay marble 1
  Stoneware, plain brown salt glazed 1   Limestone marble 1
Faunal     White clay tobacco pipestem 1
  Oyster shell 5   Iron Hardware (pipe support?) 1
  Bone 9 Total 99

Testing documented a number of landscaping and site development events around President Lincoln’s Cottage but very little in the way of intact archaeological remains. Despite extensive searching in the south lawn area, none of the landscape features shown on nineteenth century maps, such as paths and a flag pole, were found. It is likely that the remains of historic landscape features have been destroyed by modern landscaping. Any historic features dug to a depth of more than 1 foot, such as wells or privies, probably survive despite landscape disturbances. If such features are still present at the site, they will be very difficult to find, due to the lack of maps and other sources indicating the locations of such features and the modern disturbances to the landscape.

A remnant of a nineteenth-century brick walkway was identified flush along a portion of the Cottage’s south façade. The walkway may have been in existence when the Lincoln family was in residence; further investigation is merited. The remnant brick walkway may represent the type of material used in the pedestrian walkways on the south lawn.

Fill that may have been deposited when the Sherman Building (ca. 1857) was constructed is present east of the Cottage and contains nineteenth-century artifacts. Most artifacts cannot be dated more specifically than to the half century or even the century, so distinguishing specimens of the Civil War period is very difficult. Most of the soil within 50 feet of the Cottage has been disturbed by utility installations. Twentieth-century infill, sometimes up to 1 foot deep, makes it difficult to interpret the small artifacts that were recovered in those areas. No remnants of the ephemeral structure located to the east of the Cottage that appears in a period photograph were found.

While it is possible that archaeological remains precisely datable to the Lincoln period are present around the Cottage, none have been found to date, and no particular locations can be suggested that would be likely to yield such remains. There is, however, some possibility that unidentified significant deposits might exist at the site, so any ground-disturbing activities will be monitored.

Aside from domestic deposits, there is also a possibility that remains of a Civil War encampment associated with the Lincoln presidency are present somewhere on the AFRH property. This possibility will be taken into account during future site development. During the time that the Soldiers’ Home served as President Lincoln’s seasonal residence, Company K of the 150th Pennsylvania Regiment (Bucktail Regiment) was the active duty unit stationed at the Home to guard the President.

Archaeology Phase Two

Phase Two of the archaeological investigation at the site was led by Lynne Lewis, Senior Archaeologist for the National Trust. Lewis was particularly active during the exterior restoration of President Lincoln’s Cottage. Whenever there was a necessary ground disturbance, Lewis was on site collecting, cleaning, and cataloging finds.

Between May and October of 2004, Lynne Lewis spent several weeks at the Cottage monitoring the excavation of trenches for new utility lines, lightning rod grounds, and exterior lighting. Lewis undertook testing in several areas, the most interesting of which was carried out beneath a very large (10’ long x 3.5’ wide) stone that served as the landing for the porch steps on the southern side of the Cottage. Masons had to temporarily move the stone to complete exterior restoration work on the Cottage. Historical documents indicated that the stone had been rotated by 90° when the porch was reconfigured in the 1860s. Potentially, the ground beneath the large stone could reveal information and artifacts from the earlier period of the Cottage’s history.

Lynne Lewis commented on her findings.

Drain pipe and shard of
glass uncovered

“Alas, when the stone was ever so carefully lifted by the masons, a jumble of peanut shells, cigarette filters and a pretzel bag were among the most distinguished artifacts. The cigarette filters were from a brand that was not introduced until the 1960s, and it became clear that the stone had been lifted and re-set sometime after that. Other artifacts included nails, both machine cut and wire, and two intact bottles – one for ink and one for whiskey. The bottles, and all the artifacts in general, date from the last third of the 19th century. Virtually no evidence from the Lincoln or earlier periods of occupation has been recovered to date.”

“Further excavation exposed a drain pipe trench cutting across the area, which would also account for some of the disturbance, and its installation may be the reason the stone was lifted. Within the pipe trench two nearly complete medicine bottles were recovered. Artifacts from all the monitoring and Phase II excavations have been washed and are being cataloged. A report on this work is in preparation. The stone will be returned to its original position once the porch restoration is completed.”


Archaeology Phase Three

Phase three archaeology at President Lincoln’s Cottage included themonitoring of all ground-disturbing activities related to final work on the Cottage, rehabilitation of the Visitor Education Center, and all landscaping and trenching work.

The Phase III archaeological work took place in the fall of 2007, during restoration of the elliptical drive north of the Cottage and therehabilitation of the landscape immediately north of the front entrance to the Cottage.

Restoration of the ellipse included the removal of the asphalt covering the elliptical driveway and the concrete curb north of President Lincoln’s Cottage.  During the removal process, three architectural features were uncovered:  a brick drain, a brick walkway, and a cobblestone gutter on the east side of the driveway.

The cobblestone gutter extending north from the shallow brick gutter, on the eastern side of the elliptical driveway, extended 4.1 feet.  The cobbles were small and hen’s-egg size, and laid on end.  No artifacts were recovered during the excavation, making it difficult to determine the date of construction for the cobble gutter; however, it appears that it predates the adjoining brick gutter installed in the late 19th or very early 20th century. Several months prior to the start of monitoring, a section of a similar cobblestone gutter was identified on the south side of the elliptical driveway, north of the Cottage.  Based on these two finds, it is likely that the cobble gutter once encircled the entire ellipse.  Over time the majority of the drain was destroyed as a result of later landscaping and construction projects.

Ceramic fragments found north of the Cottage

In addition to the three architectural features, a historic ground surface was exposed following the removal of the asphalt on the south side of the elliptical driveway. The historic ground surface appeared to underlie several layers of fill containing a mix of brick rubble, cobble, and gravel paving measuring approximately 1.8 feet thick.  Workers recovered 233 artifacts in a 2-foot wide trench created during the removal of the existing concrete curb that exposed a section of cobble drain.  A complete list of artifacts recovered in that trench follows.

Artifacts recovered from President Lincoln’s Cottage
Artifact Type / Subtype Count Artifact Type / Subtype Count
Ceramics   Architecture  
Creamware, plain (ca. 1762-1820) 50 Machine-cut nail/wrought head (ca. 1790-1840) 30
Creamware, transfer print (ca. 1780-1820) 6 Window Glass 8
Creamware, embossed rim (ca. 1762-1820) 2 Roofing Slate 5
Pearlware, plain (ca. 1775-1840) 158 Brick 1
Pearlware, dipped (ca. 1790-1840) 31 Faunal remains  
Pearlware, shell edge (ca. 1800-1840) 6 Cow bone 8
Pearlware, transfer print (ca. 1800-1840) 277 Large Mammal 19
Chinese Porcelain (ca. 1660-1860) 23 Oyster/Clam 5
Porcelain, hard paste 13 Other 1
Yellowware, dipped (ca. 1827-1940) 1 Iron (Laundry) 1
Redware 90 Pipe Bowl 1
Albany-slip Stoneware (ca. 1800-1940) 72 Pipe Stem 1
Wine/Liquor Bottle 20    
Unidentified Bottle 11    
Stemware 1    
Tumbler 1    
    Total 841
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