Catoctin Furnace is a group of archaeological sites associated with a 10,000-acre iron working furnace complex dating from the late 18th and 19th centuries in Frederick County, Maryland. The collection includes materials from the foundry site (18FR320), a springhouse site (18FR321), an African-American slave cemetery (18FR323), and a 19th-century miner’s house (18FR324). These sites were documented in 1977 during a Phase I survey by Orr and Son for the proposed dualization of U.S. Route 15 between Putnam Road and Maryland Route 77 in Thurmont. Catoctin Furnace represents a valuable resource for documenting the development of the iron industry in the United States and increasing understanding about the lifestyles and material culture of its workers.

Catoctin Furnace Renner Burial (18FR323)

The Renner Burial Site (18FR323) is an unmarked, late 18th through early 19th-century African-American cemetery in Frederick County. Fieldstone markers, primarily of local quartzite and limestone, indicated the interments of probable African-American slaves associated with the Catoctin Iron Works. This cemetery was laid out in north-south rows spaced ten feet apart, with graves oriented east to west approximately four feet apart. All 35 graves were single interment coffin burials, with one exception: a child interred directly above an adult female. Individuals were buried supine, with heads to the west, and in an extended position with hands folded over the abdomen. Rectangular and pinch-toe type coffins were made of white oak and chestnut. Age at death in this cemetery population ranged from neonate to elderly, and the condition of the skeletal remains varied from poor to excellent.

Historical documents indicate that the individuals buried at Renner Burial between 1790-1840 worked in a variety of occupations, some at the Catoctin Iron Furnace Complex and others in the local community. Even though age and sex distributions within the cemetery appear to be random, some individuals seem to have been buried in groups, possibly providing evidence of family interments. The burials appeared to reflect European Christian mortuary practices, but there was also evidence of possible African American folk beliefs, such as the presence of fruit and seed funeral wreaths, as opposed to flowers, in three of the interments.

Archaeological Investigations

Orr and Son identified the location of the cemetery. Five test excavations were conducted on the graves, which confirmed the presence of human remains. Orr and Son estimated the cemetery contained approximately 100 interments, with a third of them situated within the proposed highway right-of-way.

Mid-Atlantic Archaeological Research, Inc. (MAAR) conducted Phase III excavations on the western third of the Renner Burial Site (which fell within the proposed highway right-of-way) between July and October 1979 and in May 1980. During the 1979 field season, MAAR manually and mechanically excavated trenches to locate burials and to define the perimeters of the site. Twenty-six graves were found between a depth of 2.4 and 5.1 feet below the surface. All graves were excavated in four-inch increments, and fill was screened through ¼-inch mesh. In order to locate every burial remaining in the right-of-way, a gradall removed the topsoil at the beginning of the 1980 field season. Nine additional graves were excavated, following the procedures and standards established in the 1979 investigation.


A total of 1,312 artifacts, predominantly nails, screws, buttons, and shroud pins, were recovered from the excavation of 35 graves at the Renner Burial Site. All artifacts recovered from the graves had a date range of between 1790 and 1840. Dr. J. Lawrence Angel conducted the osteological analysis of the skeletal remains, which are curated at the Smithsonian Institution.

The bulk of the artifacts from Renner Burial were associated with the manufacture of wooden coffins. Nails utilized in the simple slat coffin construction included handwrought, machine-cut, and machine-cut with handwrought heads. Only one coffin contained additional hardware: four iron bars that were used as reinforcing brackets.

Of the 35 graves excavated at Renner Burial, only 21 contained evidence of clothing or a shroud. Four burials contained 22 buttons, indicating that they had been interred in simple garments. Eleven copper alloy and two white metal buttons of various sizes were recovered, all having a plain, flat front with a ring-eye back. Seven additional buttons, each with five holes, were manufactured from bone, while two were shell buttons with four holes. Ten individuals were buried in shrouds, evident from the 26 copper alloy pin fragments recovered. A few fiber fragments, which survived in association with the buttons and pins, were identified as woven, wool textile remains.

Flotation samples collected from the graves revealed traces of botanical remains, such as seeds. Found on or within three coffins, these seeds suggested intentional placement at the time of interment. One infant contained a cluster of raspberry or blackberry seeds, which formed a corona around its cranium, while two adult graves had sassafras on top of the coffin surface.


The Catoctin Furnace Records Collection has been divided into four areas by archaeological site number: the Foundry (18FR320); the Springhouse/Bathhouse/Raceway (18FR321); the Renner Burials (18FR323); and the Carty House (18FR324). Original records for all four sites are minimal, but those that exist are in good condition, with little dirt and staining. The collection is composed of four letter-sized archival clamshells, one oversized enclosure, and one document roll.

Excavation records for 18FR320 consist of daily field journals, plans, and profiles. They have been organized by year of excavation (1979 and 1981). For the 1979 excavations, only nine feature forms are present. All other records have been scanned as .PDF files, available online but not searchable. They include plans/profiles, bag and photograph logs, background research, elevation/depth records, notes on the basin dam, oversized maps, and other miscellany. There are two reports on the Foundry site: Archaeological Excavations at Site 18FR320 Catoctin, Maryland (Milner 1979), and A Report on the Excavation of an Ancillary Area (Site 18FR320) of the Historic Ironworking Complex at Catoctin Furnace, Frederick County, MD (Parrington and Schenck 1982). All type-written reports are available online in .PDF format and are word searchable.

Excavation records for 18FR321 are incomplete and have not been included in the database. All records have been scanned as .PDF files and are not searchable. They include plans/profiles, elevations, artifact catalogue packing and delivery lists, ceramic analysis, miscellaneous artifact analysis, geological reports, and miscellaneous maps. Two reports for the Springhouse/Bathhouse/Raceway are included: Interim Report of the Catoctin Furnace Archaeological Mitigation Project (Orr and Orr 1980); and The Catoctin Furnace Archaeological Mitigation Project Final Report of the 1979 Excavation (first, second, and final drafts) (Orr 1982).

There are no excavation records for 18FR323 (Renner Burials) and 18FR324 (Carty House). A small number of miscellaneous notes have been scanned as a single .PDF file. One report exists: Archaeological Data Recovery at Catoctin Furnace Cemetery (Burnston and Thomas 1981).

Photographs taken on-site or in post-processing are available through the online database, and are searchable using the above criteria. Researchers should note that images are not linked directly to specific documents, and photographic records do not necessarily exist for all features or units. Due to the sensitive nature of the site as a cemetery, photographic records of burials and associated grave goods are not available for public viewing. Original images consist of slides, negatives, contact sheets, and prints, and are housed at the MAC Lab.


Burnston, Sharon A. and Ronald A. Thomas
1981     Archaeological Data Recovery at Catoctin Furnace Cemetery, Frederick County, Maryland. Report prepared for the Maryland Department of Transportation by Mid-Atlantic Research, Newark, DE.
John Milner Associates
1980     Archeological Excavations at Site 18FR320, Catoctin, Maryland. Manuscript on file at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory.
Orr, Kenneth G. and Ronald G. Orr
1980     Interim Report of the Catoctin Furnace Archaeological Mitigation Project, Contract F522-152-770. Report prepared for the Maryland State Highway Administration.
1977     An Intensive Archaeological Survey of Alignment 1 Corridor, U.S. Route 15 from Putnam Road to Maryland Route 77 in Frederick County, Maryland. Report prepared for the Maryland Department of Transportation.
Parrington, Michael and Helen Schenck
1980     A Report on the Excavation of an Ancillary Area (Site 18FR320) of the Historic Ironworking Complex at Catoctin Furnace, Frederick County, Maryland. Report prepared for the Maryland State Highway Administration by John Milner Associates, West Chester, PA.

Digital Resources


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Archaeological Report
Field Notes

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An online archive of over 30 archaeological sites in Maryland, produced by the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab with the support of the National Endowment of the Humanities.