Crescent Lawn (18AG227)

The Crescent Lawn site was investigated in advance of several proposed undertakings for the Canal Place Park project in Allegany County, MD. The project area is at the western terminus of the C&O Canal at Cumberland. Cumberland was Maryland’s second largest city in the second half of the nineteenth century and an important manufacturing and transportation hub. Investigations were conducted for the Maryland State Highway Administration to locate and identify archaeological resources in the project area (Phase I) and evaluate the eligibility of the archaeological resources for the National Register of Historic Places (Phase II).

Investigations ensued with the mechanical excavation of 21 trenches between 10 and 120 ft. in length. Artifacts exposed in the trench profile and a limited number of artifacts from trench backfill were collected. Twenty-two 3 X 3 ft. test units were opened up alongside the trenches and were hand excavated and screened. In addition, archaeological excavations were also undertaken in the vicinity of the former lock keeper’s house. These excavations involved 18 shovel tests at 20 ft. intervals along parallel transects (also 20 ft. apart), staggered to increase coverage. Two 3 X 3 ft. test units were also excavated in this area.

Investigations revealed an archeological landscape consisting of a complex of features related to the period from 1850 to 1892, when the Weld and Sheridan Boatyard and an associated turning basin were in heavy use. The feature complex contains the foundation of a ca. 1860s building, a wooden bulkhead for the canal, a marine railway, a probable wood lined saw pit, buried ground surfaces, activity areas, and artifacts in an undisturbed context. This archaeological landscape contains significant resources relating to the configuration of the canal terminus and the adjacent boat yard that are absent from the historic record.

Five components (a prehistoric occupation, a foundry, the Footer Dye Works employee housing, a lumberyard, a millrace, the sediments of a canal basin for turning boats around, and citywide canal fill) were recommended as not eligible for the NRHP. Four site components (the Weld and Sheridan Boatyard, commercial and residential occupations associated with a turn-of-the-century family of German immigrants, and the remains of two canal boats) were recommended eligible for the NRHP. All of these finds led to the creation of the “Crescent Lawn Archeological District”.

The remnants of 2 canal boats were encountered during the 1999 Phase I and II study. One boat is located near the southern shore of the basin. Only a small section of the boat was exposed. The context of the find indicates that this is an early canal boat. A second boat was encountered against the wooden bulkhead of the canal. This boat may have been used until the basin was filled.

After the basin was filled (1892-1897), a street was extended through the site to the canal. A soap factory and a dwelling were built over the filled basin. The dwelling was occupied by the family of recent German immigrants who also owned the soap factory. The soap factory was encountered and features related to soap making were identified. These features include a large chimney base and a wood-lined pit containing soap. A large refuse midden associated with the occupation was identified in the backyards.

During subsequent monitoring of the installation of sewer pipes by the town of Cumberland, the remains of numerous other canal boats were encountered in the unnamed turning basin. Impacted sections of the boats were noted, removed from the sewer trench, and then reburied adjacent to the sewer line.

In 2000, a second Phase I investigation was conducted in the vicinity of a proposed reconstructed/re-flooded turning basin (an interpretive feature) for the Canal Place Park. This work included the mechanical excavation of 10 trenches and the hand excavation of 2 test units within the area to be impacted. This work was geared towards defining the limits of the aforementioned bulkhead and marine railway. New features were also encountered, including a timber feature of unknown function and a well-preserved boatyard ground surface that retained integrity.

Finally, in 2002 and 2003, Phase III data recovery was undertaken within the Crescent Lawn Archaeological District to excavate components that would be impacted by construction. Excavations near the footprints of the proposed buildings exposed buried boatyard ground surfaces, the foundations of boatyard structures, portions of a previously identified boat (number 11), and the foundations and buried ground surfaces of a turn-of-the-century residence. Construction of the utility duct bank exposed the south end of the aforementioned bulkhead and revealed information on its construction. The duct bank also extended into the former footprint of the canal prism and exposed the remains of three previously unidentified boats. After recordation, the sections of the boats to be impacted were moved and then replaced after the duct bank was constructed. The Phase III work related to the re-watering of the turning basin and canal prism involved the excavation of 41 3 X 3 ft. test units situated atop previously identified complex features. These features were related to the Weld and Sheridan Boat Building and Repair Yard waterfront and six previously identified canal boats. Two new canal boats (16 and 17) were identified and recorded during these data recovery field investigations. Subsequent monitoring during construction of the re-watered interpretive features turned up features related to a more recent boatyard (the Canal Towage Company Boatyard) and another canal boat (the 18th boat encountered).

(Edited from the Maryland Historical Trust Synthesis Project)


  • Balicki, Joseph, and Bryan Corle
  • 2005. On the Waterfront: Cultural Resource Investigations for the Cumberland Flood Mitigation Proposed Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Rewatering Project, C&O Canal National Historic Park, Cumberland, Allegany County, Maryland. John Milner Associates, West Chester, PA.

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