Gateway Circle (18AP80)

Gateway Circle (18AP80) is the archaeological remains associated with a series of 19th- and 20th-century domestic urban rowhomes in what was an African-American neighborhood. Research reveals little about the site area prior to the Civil War, but sometime between 1878 and 1904 several structures had been built within the block where 18AP80 is situated. These rowhouse and duplex structures were largely renter-occupied by working class African-Americans. African-American occupation of the residences located along West Street and Spa Road remained steady until the properties were acquired by the City of Annapolis during the 1990s. Most of the structures on West Street were demolished sometime in the 1980s to make way for a parking lot, while historic rowhouses still exist on Spa Road. Few details are available for the specific lot on which 18AP80 sits prior to 1942.

The site was first investigated archaeologically in 1997 during a combined Phase I and Phase II investigation prior to road improvements. A total of 40 shovel test pits and 8 test units were excavated in the backyard areas of the extant rowhouses of West Street during Phase I testing Investigations revealed intact deposits and intact sub-surface features, including wood-lined privies behind and east of existing rowhouses on Spa Road. The westernmost privy (Feature 3) was fully excavated, with artifacts recovered generally dated to post-1890. A second privy (Feature 5) was excavated to the depth at which two side walls (showing the outline of the wood lining) were discernible, and was then recorded. Feature 8, initially thought to represent another privy, was a rather a buried wooden trunk.

Phase II evaluation consisted of the excavation of two backhoe trenches (Block A and B) and 5 test trenches to verify areas of deep disturbance, and the mechanical removal of fill materials to expose intact surfaces within the backyard areas. Two privies located in this area, were believed to be associated with now demolished rowhouses that fronted on West Street.

The mechanical excavation of Block A revealed extensive disturbance related to the destruction of the West Street rowhouses and no evidence of intact surfaces or features. The excavation of Block B revealed a number of intact sub-surface features. These features included two additional wood-lined privies, a buried wooden trunk, a brick-lined dry well, a trash pit, the remains of a corrugated sheet metal structure, a brick drain/gutter, a number of postmolds and postholes, and two utility pipe trenches. These features represent the range of activities that occurred in this area between the late 1800s, when it was the backyards for the West Street rowhouses, and the 1980s, when it was the location of a parking lot.

Further archaeological investigations were designed to examine and sample features in these backyard areas in Block B and Trenches 4 and 5. Smaller features including postholes and larger features filled with rubble or debris were partially excavated. Substantial and relatively intact features such as privies were fully excavated.

The features recorded in Block B and Trenches 4 and 5 represent the overlapping domestic occupation for five backyards of former rowhouses on West Street. The earliest features, dating to the very late 19th century, were two privies, one of which was completely excavated. Two dry wells may have been constructed around the same time as the privies. Feature 48, a dry well in Trench 5, had been capped with concrete and was not excavated. The dry well in Block B, Feature 44, had been filled in with household trash in the first half of the century. Artifacts from the buried wooden trunk suggest a later date than the privies. Also documented was a corrugated sheet metal structure, two utility trenches, a brick drain and several isolated post features.

The archaeological investigations at Gateway Circle recorded a number of intact sub-surface features related to the various occupations and uses of the site area over a span of 100 years. The Phase I and II research at 18AP80 revealed soil stains, deposits and features related to the late 19th- and early 20th-century domestic occupation of dwellings along West Street. These features reflect activities in five of the six adjoining rear yard lots. Occupants of these dwellings during the period between 1900 and 1960 were working class families, and probably were African American. Since these dwellings appear to have been rentals for most of their existence, this interpretation is based on the socio-economic makeup of the surrounding neighborhood during that time frame.

Archaeological investigations at Site 18AP80 showed that all of the rear yard areas investigated contained some features or deposits. These features included postholes, sheet middens, backfilled privies, and dry wells. Although some of these features and the materials they contained reflected a variety of household activities, most of the features were the result of the use of outbuildings for storage and parking for automobiles. The exceptions were the abandoned privies, later used as trash pits, and dry wells. These larger features contained some artifacts that related to the later occupation of these dwellings. However, the collection of materials was diverse, and in many cases mixed with later, post-abandonment fill or destruction rubble. The majority of material from all of these features was composed of post-occupational destruction debris generated during the demolition of the row houses. Two of the privies were completely excavated as a sample. These contained remnant primary trash deposits that reflect the variety of types and styles of household and domestic goods available to local consumers during the late 19th and early 20th century. The 1997 project did provide useful data concerning domestic activity and occupation in this portion of the City of Annapolis from the turn-of-the 20th century to ca. 1950.

(Edited from the Maryland Historical Trust Synthesis Project)


  • Shennan, Nora B., Katherine E. Grandine, and Elaine K. Kiernan
  • 1998. Phase I Archeological and Architectural Investigations and Phase II Evaluation of site 18AP80, Related to the MD 450-Gateway Circle Project, Annapolis, Maryland. R. Christopher Goodwin and Associates, Inc.

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