Dolfield Summer House Complex (18BA330)

The Dolfield Summer House Complex (18BA330) is a late 19th- to mid-20th century house site located southwest of Owings Mills, in Baltimore County. The site consisted of the remains of a Victorian summer mansion, an outdoor kitchen, a farmer/caretaker’s house (see synopsis report for 18BA330a), a well, an ice house, and the stone foundations of a greenhouse or barn. The summer house was constructed sometime in the 1880s and burned in the 1960s.

In 1859, Frederick Dolfield purchased a 160 acre tract of land. Dolfield, originally a cooper, worked the land as a farmer. The 1876 Tax Assessment shows that structures on the land consisted of a frame dwelling, corn house, stable and a tenant house (probably 18BA331). The McClure family is depicted at this location on maps dated from 1877 to 1915. The Moser family reportedly lived in that house, as estate caretaker’s, during the later part of the Dolfield ownership.

Frederick Dolfield’s son, Alexander, built the Dolfield summer house in the 1880s. The house was a three-story Victorian structure used as a vacation home. Alexander Dolfield died in 1918, and the title was transferred over to Dolfield’s son, Frederick A. Dolfield. The 1923 tax records show that F.A. Dolfield owned 200 acres containing a dwelling, barn, other buildings, three tenant houses, and a corn crib. This is the earliest specific mention of the house at 18BA332, the black tenant house. In 1951, the property was sold to one-time caretaker Raymond Moser. During the Dolfield ownership, several black and white families squatted on the Dolfield property and adjacent properties. These families lived along Dolfield on the western side of the property and were engaged as chrome miners. Several of the structures in which these families lived burned down. The Moser family never lived in the summer house, which was left unoccupied and was eventually destroyed by fire. Finally in 1986, the Dolfield/Moser property was acquired by a private developer based in Owings Mills.

Site 18BA330 was identified and recorded in 1987. Foundations and an open well were encountered in the woods. The files described 3 houses on the property: the Dolfield Summer House, a house determined to be the remains at Site 18BA331 and a third house shown on the map, but which could not be located.

A Phase I/II archaeological testing program was undertaken within the Owings Mills New Town project area in 1989. The Phase I concentrated around the summer house and the farmer/caretaker’s house (ultimately assigned its own site number as 18BA330a). Thirteen shovel test pits were excavated around the main house, ice house, outdoor kitchen, and the backyard. Phase II testing consisted of the excavation of 60 STPs, three test units, and topsoil stripping from 3 transects in the western half of the backyard. The artifact distribution revealed through the STP excavations indicated the artifact pattern within the yard to be of a low frequency and restricted to the west side yard and backyard areas. Test unit excavations encountered the same burned layer identified in the cellar of the summer house during Phase I testing.

A circular rock foundation was encountered and may have been an ornamental structure associated with a backyard garden. Topsoil stripping uncovered the remains of an outdoor kitchen measuring approximately 15 x 45 ft. A stone and brick debris feature that may have been the location of a privy was found. A total of 148 historic artifacts were collected from the Dolfield Summer House site during the 1989 Phase I/II testing at the site.

Following the Phase I/II investigations, it was decided that the farmer/caretaker’s house was the location of the original Dolfield farm house and was given a different site number, 18BA330a. More extensive field investigations were recommended for Site 18BA330. Phase III work at 18PR330 was carried out in late 1989. The field investigations were primarily focused on the west and southwest yard area. Fifteen features were subsequently excavated.

Two of the units were placed on the interior and exterior walls of the preserved portion of a greenhouse foundation (originally thought to be that of an outdoors kitchen). According to a local informant, the outdoor kitchen was actually located at the southwestern end of the summer house, adjacent to a well. Features 2 and 3 appeared to be privies based on their squarish form and location. Feature 6 appears to be a third privy in the same general locale. A local informant related that these were “drawer privies”, which contained receptacles emptied off-site when filled, thus prohibiting study of any artifacts disposed of in the privy. Feature 7 was the rectangular stone foundation of a former greenhouse. Feature 8 was portions of a flagstone walkway located on the west side of the house, beginning at the porch (Feature 8a) and continuing to a parallel rock-lined pathway and gate at the base of the nearby slope. Feature 13 appeared to be the remains of the former outdoor kitchen, based on the large quantities of ceramic food service items recovered. Feature 14 was a drain which ran along the west side of the house. Feature 15 was a rock-lined garden bed.

The artifacts encountered during data recovery operations ranged in date from the late 19th century to the mid-20th-century and span the period of the summer house occupation. Nail analysis indicates that machine-cut and wire nail types were utilized, which correlates with the documented building date of circa 1880s, a period of technological transition. Very little was recovered that touched on the research questions set out at the outset of the Phase III work (related to socioeconomic status, diet, etc.)

Site 18BA330 is the apparent remains of a summer house and associated outbuildings dating to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While the site played a role in verifying the history of the area otherwise documented through oral history and written records, it did not provide a large assemblage for further study or even comparison to similar sites.

(Edited from the Maryland Historical Trust Synthesis Project)

References

  • Payne, Ted, and Martin Reinbold
  • 1991. Phase II & III ArchaeologicaL Investigations Owings Mills New Town, Baltimore County, Maryland. 2 vols. MAAR Associates, Inc., Newark, Delaware.

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