Lonaconing (18AG215)

Site 18AG215 is the downtown historic district in the town of Lonaconing in Allegany County. The site (and town) is situated within the George’s Creek valley, which is situated along the western toe of Dan’s Mountain. The landscape has been extensively modified from its natural state by occupation during the historic period.

Lonaconing was developed in the 1830s as a company town for the George's Creek Coal and Iron Company. By 1881, Lonaconing's Main Street had become the commercial core of a thriving town. On September 7, 1881 a fire destroyed most of the commercial district. Soon after the fire, the current downtown streetscape began to develop over the ruins of the burnt town center. The George’s Creek Coal and Iron Company was founded in 1837, with one furnace operating between 1837 and ca. 1855. At its height (1837-1844), the furnace operation employed about 260 people, turned out 60 to 75 tons of pig iron per week, and cast items such as stoves, farm tools, and hardware for the C & O Canal. However, competition from cheaper imported iron and the inaccessibility of the works rendered continued iron production unprofitable. After ceasing furnace operations, the company concentrated entirely on producing coal.

Lonaconing was the company’s principal town and by the mid-1850s, it already had become a complex village that clustered along George’s Creek and its main thoroughfare. The ca. 1839 map depicts significant buildings, including the company’s blast furnace, warehouse, sawmill, and what is likely the superintendent’s house. Smaller structures, likely worker’s housing, occupied steep slopes overlooking the creek valley. Also portrayed on the map was a mill race that provided power for both the blast furnace and sawmill.

The 1880s brought two disasters to Lonaconing, both of which had implications for the site. The first was the fire of 1881. In 1884, a devastating flood also hit the town, reportedly sweeping away small buildings and moving many larger ones. The town’s landscape changed dramatically, with debris being demolished and fill brought in to create buildable surfaces.

Phase I archival background research and archaeological investigations in an area to be affected by streetscape improvements in the late 1990s identified surfaces and deposits as well as architectural features that pre-dated the 1881 fire. Numerous soil matrices and architectural features relating to the development of the west side of Main Street were identified. Soil matrices included ground surfaces, fill deposits, debris from the 1881 fire, and construction and destruction rubble. Architectural features consisted of foundations, municipal drains, and street paving. The data were grouped into 6 phases based on the combined analysis of artifacts, stratigraphy, and historic documentation. Each phase is made up of several strata and/or architectural features related to each other by age or event type.

The prehistoric phase was only identified in Area 2 (the center of the site) and consisted of a paleosol remnant containing 15 Late Archaic artifacts. Phase I represents the pre-fire historic occupation, including street paving, occupation surfaces, municipal drains, and architectural features. Phase II is a thin strata relating to the September 7th, 1881 conflagration and containing 696 artifacts. Phase III contains strata interpreted as destruction debris and fill associated with the razing of the burnt town and yielded over 9,000 artifacts. Phase IV deposits are associated with the rebuilding of Lonaconing and its late-nineteenth century occupations. Many of the features encountered relate to the foundations of the new street front and a cobble sidewalk. Phase V deposits were related to modern architectural and streetscape elements.

Additional work was conducted at 18AG215 in 2010 and 2011 for the replacement of a bridge over Koontz Run on MD 36. The work occurred on property that was in the family of Mary Ann Hadley in the late 19th century, but later occupied by renters. In 1900, the first census year for which information is available, Mary Ann Hadley, her son Harry, and Mary’s mother and father, Thomas and Mary Probert, lived in the single dwelling at #51 East Main Street. Mary’s brother Henry Probert apparently rented one-half (#53) of a duplex owned by his sister, while Adam Thompson, a Scottish preacher, resided in the other (#55). By 1910, Mary Hadley had moved from East Main Street and the three dwellings on Main Street all were rented. It was not possible to ascertain definitively the names of the tenants, some of whom included coal miners by 1920. By the late 1920s, the structures were in disrepair and involved in a lawsuit.

During the 2010 and 2011 Streetscape Improvements project, archaeological work was confined to locations where sidewalks would be replaced. In total, 23 shovel tests and 29 1 X 1 m test units were excavated. This data recovery yielded 7,654 historic cultural materials dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Although there was clear evidence of intact stratigraphic sequences, those sequences reflected 20th century filling of the creek bed of Koontz Run to create the present day landscape. No intact cultural deposits underlay the 20th century fill materials, which lay directly on alluvial sediment or on the natural cobble bed of Koontz Run. The cobble bed yielded a sufficient quantity of historic material to suggest the cobbles were laid down during the mid-late 19th century during a flood event. The house at 53-55 Main Street had been constructed on the cobble bed and had originally included side-entrance doors to access the cellar. This indicated that the original late 19th century grade was at least 1.5 m lower than present day. By the early 1940s, the landscape had been filled up to within 30 cm of its present grade.

Site 18AG215 was determined eligible for listing in the National Register under Criterion d in 1997. Although the result of 2010 work encountered primarily 20th century fill, the earlier Phase I work and data recovery demonstrated that intact late 19th- and early 20th-century deposits are present in other portions of the site. These resources relate to a period of tremendous growth in Lonaconing’s history that included substantial improvements to the town’s infrastructure, as well as the town’s incorporation in 1890. The site should still be considered a significant archaeological resource.

(Edited from the Maryland Historical Trust Synthesis Project)

References

  • Balicki, Joseph, Elizabeth B. O'Brien, and Rebecca Yamin
  • 1999. Main Street in “Coney,” A Study in Landscape Archeology. Data Recovery – Maryland Route 36 Lonaconing, Allegany County, Maryland. SHA Archeological Report No. 195.
  • Child, Kathleen M., and Williams
  • 2011. MD 36 Over Koontz Run; Replacement of Bridge No. 01166 Archeological Data Recovery for Locus A of Site 18AG215, Lonaconing, Allegany County, Maryland. SHA Archeological Report No. 427.

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