Dolfield Farmstead (18BA330A)

Dolfield Farmstead (18BA330a), also known as the Caretaker’s House, is the location of a late 19th- to 20th-century farmstead and tenant house located southwest of Owings Mills, in Baltimore County, Maryland. It overlooks the Dolfield summer house (18BA330) located approximately 70 meters to the north. Besides the house, the site also consists of a barn and pen area marked in part by split rail fence sections. The barn has experienced intensive destruction and consists of rock and concrete elements as the only above-ground evidence of its presence.

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.

A Phase I/II archaeological testing program was undertaken within the Owings Mills New Town project area in 989. During the planning stages for the 1989 Phase I/II work, it was decided to assign a separate site number to the “caretaker’s house” and, thus, 18BA330a was excavated as a separate site. Five STPs were excavated around the structure during the Phase I portion of the 1989 testing. The Phase II testing that immediately followed consisted of the excavation of 22 STPs and two test units. As surface scatters were more evident in the rear and side yards of the property, testing focused there. One test unit was placed straddling the house foundation and a second was placed in the backyard where surface artifacts and food refuse was observed in quantity. Excavation at the house foundation revealed that a cellar hole. Three trenches were also mechanically stripped of their topsoil behind the house. The most southerly trench uncovered a semi-circular soil stain in association with several boulders. Ten STPs were excavated immediately east of the barn and in the area of the barn yard and pen. Few artifacts were recovered and those that were consisted mainly of architectural and domestic types. In all, 47 historic artifacts were collected from 18BA330a during combined Phase I/II work.

Results of the Phase I/II testing indicated primarily a late 19th and early 20th-century occupation at the site. Although the domestic materials recovered from 18BA330a were similar to those from 18BA330, the artifact assemblage from the Summer House site contained a greater frequency of high economic status ceramic types. Also unlike the summer house, refuse was evident in the rear yard of the structure. There was also some artifactual evidence to suggest the pattern of disposal dated as early as the mid-19th century. It was suggested that the house site may actually have been the location of the Dolfield homestead from ca. 1859, the oldest known structure on the property, which may have served later as a “caretaker’s house.”

Late in 1989 a combined testing and data recovery was conducted at several sites in the development area including 18BA330a. Prior to the stripping of topsoil to locate subsurface shaft and trash features, six 1 meter units were dug to examine the house exterior and interior as well as to obtain a stratigraphic record of the yard deposits. One privy-like deposit and three buried trash deposits were located and excavated. The house foundation and possible cellar (or cistern) feature from the Phase II study were also located, as well as the remains of a smokehouse. The Phase III field investigations identified 20 architectural features and an artifact yard scatter related to domestic and agricultural practices. These consisted of the house foundation, an outbuilding with plastered cellar, a smoke house, a privy (drawer –type), trash pits, post holes, and buried soil stains of uncertain function (some of which were determined to likely be tree roots). The immediate yard area was designated as the location of activities closely related to daily domestic household practices carried out by all members of the tenant family in residence.

As with Site 18BA330, the artifacts recovered from Site 18BA330a ranged in date from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, spanning the period of occupation as the caretaker’s house for the Dolfield family’s summer residence. No earlier deposits were identified to support the hypothesis that the caretaker’s house may have been the original Dolfield farmhouse, erected after 1859. The full Phase III assemblage consisted of 85 activity items, 1,035 architectural, 11 clothing items, 7 furniture objects, 701 kitchen-related artifacts, 13 personal items, 15 arms objects, and 457 miscellaneous objects.

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.). Site18BA330a is the apparent remains of the tenant house occupied by black caretakers for the nearby Dolfield Summer House (18BA330) 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. Several features were identified and the site did exhibit good integrity.

(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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