This site consists of buried mid to late 19th- and 20th-century building and outbuilding foundations within the 200 block of Pearl Street, Baltimore. These foundations are depicted on Sanborn maps (1890, 1901/2, 1914, 1951) and represent portions of an industrial building (Union Soap Works) and row houses.

Archaeological Investigations

R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates, Inc. conducted a Phase I archival and archaeological study of an approximately 22,110 square foot portion of Block 25 (200 block of North Pearl Street) in Baltimore.

Objectives of the study were to identify archaeological resources within the project area and to render a preliminary assessment of the significance of identified resources. These objectives were achieved through a combination of archival research, archaeological fieldwork, and laboratory analysis. Following consultation with the Maryland Historical Trust, additional archival and archaeological excavations were undertaken to recover and analyze the contents of a brick-lined shaft (Feature 2-03), the only undisturbed feature identified within the project area. The deepest stratum within this shaft was a remnant organic privy deposit that contained a dense concentration of cultural material.

The intact deposits in Feature 2-03 were completely excavated. All temporally and functionally diagnostic artifacts were retained, as were samples of faunal and archeobotanical materials. The resulting assemblage, following intensive analysis and site-specific archival research, was identified as household debris that likely resulted from the occupation of this property by Bernard Zell (1763-1833), a former butcher and local soap manufacturer.

Archival research found that the Block 25 project area initially was occupied around the beginning of the 19th century, and was developed most intensively from ca. 1825 through the first quarter of the 20th century. At the peak of its development, the project area supported a mixture of residential, commercial, and industrial structures. Retail stores, saloons, restaurants, and a Chinese laundry were the principal commercial establishments within the project area; industrial facilities within and adjacent to the project included a soap factory and a Morocco leather factory.

Destruction horizons and fill material related to the demolition of the Union Soap Works and adjacent row houses prior to the mid-20th century, and the conversion of the area to a parking lot, were present across the site. Intact deposits related to the occupation of row houses at 214 Pearl Street and 208 Pearl Street underlay destruction horizons in some areas. Features present included brick and concrete walkways, and portions of three shaft features. The shaft features were: a brick lined well or privy (214 Pearl Street; Feature 2-03); the base of a barrel privy (208 Pearl Street; Feature 5-02), and the base of a privy shaft (208 Pearl Street; Feature 5-03).

Archeobotanical Studies

Floral analysis of remains from the Block 25 privy by Justine McKnight provide an opportunity to examine yard features associated with early 19th-century domestic life in Baltimore. The privy contained both carbonized and non-carbonized plant remains. Non-carbonized seeds occurring within archaeological soil samples from open-site environments are usually considered to be modern specimens. However, privy contexts often constitute an exception to this rule, as is the case here. The preservation of delicate textile fragments in association with non-carbonized archeobotanical materials suggests that the non-carbonized plant remains are contemporaneous with period artifacts recovered from the same contexts.

The archeobotanical assemblage provided valuable subsistence data. The recovery of cultivated canes, vegetables, orchard fruits, and nuts attests to the importance of these products in the subsistence economy of the inhabitants. The remains of raspberry/blackberry, grape, cherry, and peach document that orchard fruits made a significant contribution to the plant-food economy of the site. Garden crops such as tomato, cucumber, squash, and strawberries also were well-represented archaeologically. Nut utilization is evidenced by hazelnut and black walnut shells recovered from privy fill.

Wood identified within the privy represents native species. Both wood charcoal and non-carbonized wood fibers were recovered. The charcoal may have entered archaeological contexts as discarded fireplace ash, and the non-carbonized wood fibers may represent decayed building materials from the privy superstructure.

Improvements in urban sanitation from the 19th century onward included the routine removal of privy fill, and it is likely that much of the cultural material examined from the privy was episodic fill deposited just prior to feature abandonment. Fruit seeds were the most common elements identified within the privy, and the assemblage included many species with durable seed coats (which can travel unharmed through human digestive tracts); these are routinely recovered from historic privies. The seeds of comestible fruits and other food remains may also have entered the archaeological record as kitchen trash disposed of in the privy shaft.


Williams, Martha R. et al.
2007 Phase I Archeological Investigations and Data Recovery of Feature 2-03, UMB Block 25 (200 Block of North Pearl Street), University of Maryland Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland. (R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates, Inc.) MHT # BC 164.
McKnight, Justine W.
2007 Analysis of Flotation-Recovered and Waterscreen-recovered Archeobotanical Remains from an Early 19th Century Privy (18BC162), Baltimore City, Maryland. Appendix III to Phase I Archeological Investigations and Data Recovery of Feature 2-03, UMB Block 25 (200 Block of North Pearl Street), University of Maryland Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland. (R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates, Inc.) MHT # BC 164.

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