The Birely Tannery (18FR575) operated in the city of Frederick from the late 18th century through the early 20th century. Investigations document that the tannery complex contained a variety of activity-specific structures and associated artifacts which detail nearly 200 years of tannery operation.

Archaeological Investigations

Phase II evaluation was conducted under the direction of Charles Cheek (Professional Service Industries, Inc.) in 1984. Field excavations included four shovel test pits, five backhoe trenches, and three auger tests. Archival and archaeological research resulted in documentation of eligibility for National Register nomination.

Phase III data recovery at the Birely Tannery was conducted by MAAR Associates, Inc. for the City of Frederick in anticipation of proposed construction associated with drainage improvements along Carroll Creek.

Archaeological excavations revealed over 40 features and associated midden areas, including the remains of four tannery structures (a bark mill, a hide house, a lime house, and a beam house), 24 tanning vats, a cobble road, a section of paling fence, a large leather/hair dump, and both modern and early midden deposits. The excavations have for the first time, at least in the Middle Atlantic, given us a comprehensive look at an industry which, throughout the 18th century and much of the 19th century, was second only to agriculture in its economic importance. The investigations conducted at this relatively small tannery have helped to shed some light on a number of topics, including: (1) the types of archaeological features and remains which can be expected at tanneries, (2) the layout of tanneries in terms of the process of leather production, and economic efficiency in terms of time and motion, (3) the introduction of new technologies due to innovations and research in the fields of mechanical engineering and in organic chemistry, and (4) the historic traditions associated with the craft.

Archeobotanical Studies

Archeobotanical remains recovered from Phase III features at the site were inventoried by an unknown analyst. Seventeen walnuts, 4 bitternuts, 6 hazelnuts, 31 butternuts, 3 unidentified nuts, a cherry pit, 5 plum pits, and 108 peach pits were identified.

Wood samples from a 19th-century tanning vat and associated wooden artifacts were submitted to Bruce Hoadley at University of Massachusetts for speciation. Red and white oak, pine, hemlock, ash, and spruce woods were identified.


Cheek, C. D., A. Friedlander, T. E. Ossim, and C. A. Holt
1984 Archaeological Testing of Six Sites in the Carroll Creek Project, Frederick Historical District, Frederick, Maryland. (Professional Service Industries, Inc.
Thomas, R. A., K. Baumgardt, M. Dunn, and R. F. Hoffman
1988 Archaeological Data Recovery at the Birely Tannery (18FR575), City of Frederick, Maryland. MAAR Associates, Inc. for the City of Frederick.

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