Tenant House Site (18BA332)

The Tenant House Site (18BA332), also known as the “Dolfield Black Tenant House Site” and the “Mack Tenant House Site,” southwest of Owings Mills, in Baltimore County, Maryland, was occupied from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. During the first half of the 20th century, the tenants were African American. The site consists of a house foundation and the remains of two outbuildings. It is located about 750 meters south of the Dolfield summer house complex (18BA330). An old roadway runs north-south on the west side of the house foundation.

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. The family who lived at the site was identified as Wesley and Mary Mack (a gardener and a housekeeper) in the court files. They reportedly moved onto the Dolfield farm from a nearby log cabin in the early part of the 20th century and lived there until the 1950s or 1960s. 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. Finally in 1986, the Dolfield/Moser property was acquired by a private developer based in Owings Mills.

Site 18BA332 was recorded during a Phase I survey in 1987, when twelve shovel test pits were dug around the visible house foundations. Phase II work was done in 1989 with the excavation of 55 shovel tests and two test units. It was determined that the house had burned intact with all or most of the occupant’s possessions inside. The stone house foundation measured 13.5 x 4.5 meters and was constructed with sand mortar. Each end of the structure appeared to have had a brick fireplace. A concrete and cement capped stone addition on the east side of the house was probably at one time a front porch. Other additions that were apparently made to the structure were represented by a stone foundation that adjoined to the grid-south end of the original structure, and a concrete slab floor attached to the grid-west side of the original structure. A collapsed frame building to the grid-west of the foundation is a demolished privy enclosure.

The 1989 Phase I work related to Site 18BA332 consisted of a site visit and a review of the earlier work done at the site. Additional background research was also required by MHT. Phase II fieldwork included the excavation of an additional 55 STPs and of two 1.5 m² test units. Grid north was used at the site, which was almost precisely magnetic south. Excavation on the interior of the foundation revealed an intense concentration of artifact material. Due to the high frequency of materials, artifact recovery was restricted basically to temporal, functional, and socioeconomic diagnostic types. The foundation extended to nearly 1 meter below the ground surface, which suggested that the building was either 1.5 or two-stories tall.

Phase III data recovery in late 1989 entailed topsoil stripping followed by the excavation of 1 X 1 m test units and features. Topsoil stripping was mainly concentrated in the rear of the house, and 14 excavation units were dug. A total of seven features were identified during the course of the data recovery project. Feature 1, at the northern end of the house interior, appeared to be remains from a cabinet felled by the fire that destroyed the house. Feature 2 was a shallow possibly wood-lined basin approximately 1 m in diameter. Feature 3 was a privy containing a wide array of artifacts types. Features 4, 5 and 7 were trash deposits. Feature 6 was a rodent burrow. The Phase III assemblage yielded 5,777 artifacts dating from the 19th to the mid-20th-centuries.

Refuse disposal from the daily occupation of the house was basically over-the-bank discard, which resulted in the build-up of waste materials in the outer part of the rear yard. There were no trash “pits” present. A substantial frequency of refuse was also found in all yard areas around the house, which indicates that value was not placed on keeping such areas free from refuse materials. All forms of waste material were found, including food remains. Poultry were also kept in the yard areas. This was the only site on the property where inhabitants utilized a shaft privy rather than drawer-type privies, suggesting there was less concern with removing odorous waste from the living space. These patterns were only observed at 18BA332, and not at the other sites. Again, they have been interpreted to reflect a low economic attribute.

The assemblage of materials from within the structure actually included a large number of high-status ceramic and glass items. The items were present in quantities not sufficiently different from those observed at the other Dolfield sites. The assemblages outside the residence were more utilitarian in nature, suggesting that cheap pieces were not highly valued and were discarded, while porcelain, crystal ware, etc. were curated by the residents. The distribution would be puzzling if not for the documented account of local informants, who stated that Mrs. Mack was often gifted second-hand pieces from the wealthy property owners, the Dolfields.

The Dolfield Black Tenant House Site (18BA332) was apparently occupied from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. Little was documented concerning the earlier phase of its occupation, but some evidence was recovered (both archival and archaeological) that the tenants of the first half of the 20th century were African Americans of relatively low socioeconomic status.

(Edited from the Maryland Historical Trust Synthesis Project)


  • 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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