This year the theme for Archeology Month is “Out of the Ordinary: Tavern Archaeology in Maryland.”  As you may know, an ‘Ordinary’ is an older word for Tavern, used commonly during Colonial times.  Ordinaries were more than what we know today as bars.  They were centers of political and social activity, with everything from drinking and eating, to voting and political and social meetings.  At the Ordinary you could meet your friends and family; sit down for a meal; hold a political meeting; read a newspaper, or, if you couldn’t read, have one read to you; you could even vote, a custom that might be good to bring back.

Here in Montgomery County, Dowden’s is one such ‘Ordinary,’ now memorialized by the ‘Dowden’s Ordinary Special Park’ in Clarksburg.  In 1752 Michael Ashton Dowden patented 4 acres near Clarksburg and in 1753-1754 he built his Ordinary in Clarksburg, as a stop for travelers en route between Georgetown and Frederick along what is now the Rockville Pike or Frederick Road, then known as the ‘Great Road.’

According to literature about the park, “Michael Dowden was the catalyst for the Repudiation Act of 1765; the tavern was a regular meeting place for the local Sons of Liberty who met during the revolutionary war; and Dowden’s Ordinary is the only known French and Indian War site in the County.”

During the French and Indian War General Edward Braddock stayed at the Ordinary from April 15-17 in 1755, while his troops camped across the way, as they moved towards Fort Duquesne in what is now Pittsburgh.  One seaman records the weather during that April week: “We got our tents pitched by, when the wind shifted from the South to the North—from a sultry hot day it became excessively cold, and rained with thunder and lightning till about 5 in the morning, when in 10 minutes it changed to snow, which in 2 hours covered the ground a foot and a half.”

The Ordinary was demolished in the 1920s and now the remains are commemorated as an archaeological site and park with a scale skeletal metal structure reminiscent of the original building.  Archaeological excavations by the county Parks Department have uncovered broken fragments of tableware, including from bowls, mugs, bottles and jugs. Pieces of olive green-colored thick bottle recovered from the dig, along with oyster shells suggest the meals that were served at the Ordinary.

There are a few events for Archaeology Month in Montgomery County, and throughout the state the various counties and municipalities are celebrating. On April 16th a symposium on ‘Recent Archaeological Investigations in St. Mary’s City’ will be held at the Historic St. Mary’s City Visitors Center in St. Mary’s City.

‘Discovering Archaeology Day’ is on April 18th, at the Jefferson-Patterson Park and Museum in St. Leonard, in southeastern Calvert County.  If you’ve never been to this wonderful facility, which houses the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, drive down for both the event and to see the place, one of the premier Conservation laboratories in the country with state-of-the-art analytical equipment.

Here in Montgomery County, on May 2nd, the County will hold a Family Archaeology Day at Needwood Mansion in Derwood.

One of the most significant finds of the past year was that of the skeletal remains of Richard III, identified by examination of the bones, and with comparative DNA testing.  The King’s remains were found by archaeologists under an asphalt parking lot.

In the United States federal laws require that when the federal government undertakes a project involving some ground disturbance, or funds or permits a project with ground disturbance, where there is some possibility of impacting an archaeological site, the project proponent must follow the requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act, and complete a survey to see if any archaeological sites are buried within the project area.  Many important archaeological sites have been found through this process that would otherwise have been destroyed.  In Maryland in addition, many counties, including Prince George’s County, and Anne Arundel County, have similar local laws, allowing the discovery of numerous archaeological sites.  Populations whose lives and communities may not have been recorded, or left much visible above-ground evidence of their presence, including Native American and enslaved African-American homes and villages, may be identified only with information gained from archaeological fieldwork and studies.  Their stories can only be told through archaeology and their own histories. 

Other local governments in our region have strong laws protecting archaeological sites.  It is time for Montgomery County to do the same.

The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect formal positions adopted by the Federation.  To submit an 800-1,000 word column for consideration, please send an email attachment to montgomerycivic@yahoo.com.

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