Historic Site #1 / Hoff/Dorsey Site (18BA409)

Historic Site #1 (18BA409), also known as the Hoff Site or Dorsey Site, is a multicomponent site with a Middle Woodland camp occupation and a late 18th- to early 19th-century occupation, located west of Owings Mills in Baltimore County, Maryland.

The site was located within the Upper Patapsco HundredBetween 1747 and 1781 four large tracts of land were acquired by Samuel Owings (d. 1775) and his son Thomas. In 1795, Thomas Owings conveyed the four properties to Thomas B. Dorsey. The Dorsey Farm remained intact until 1859 when it was broken up into several different tracts. Site 18BA409 was associated with the 42 acre tract that Thomas Owings purchased in 1781 and with the period of occupation by Thomas B. Dorsey which began in 1795 and ended before 1820. At the time of Dorsey’s death in 1827, the property was abandoned, marginally occupied by tenants, or used for activities other than domestic occupation. The property exchanged hands until in 1866 it was purchased by Henry Hoff. Hoff’s residence was located on a different part of the property and was not associated with the earlier domestic component identified at the site.

Site 18BA409 was identified during a Phase I survey in 1991, with shovel test pits yielding 71 artifacts. In 1995, additional Phase I and II investigations were undertaken. Field methods included surface examination of 100% of the site area, the excavation of 61 shovel tests and the excavation of seven 5 ft² test units in areas with artifact concentrations and/or features.

The Phase II evaluation of the Hoff Site resulted in discovery of several features: a small mid-late 18th century trash pit or midden and two corners of a stone foundation associated with mid-18th- to mid-19th-century ceramics, glass, and nails. The sunken road was just east of the foundation. A large oval depression with 18th-century materials may be of recent age or may represent the remains of a partial basement or cellar originally situated under an outbuilding. Prehistoric artifacts clustered near the site center and in the southwest portion of the core of the site. Along with debitage, a Middle Woodland Fox Creek point was found. The prehistoric assemblage was interpreted to reflect a small hunting camp, exhibiting a narrow range of activities.

Data recovery was conducted at 18BA409 in 1996. A total of 37 in-situ features were found, including at least one structure. The features were grouped into two activity areas, divided by the historic roadbed. “Area A” (the westernmost part) contained foundation walls of a primary structure (Feature 1), as well as eight other cultural features related to the structure, including a brick chimney pier, 4 postholes, and architectural rubble. Area B, on the east side of the road, was interpreted to be an activity area with an oval depression. A remnant of a structural wall was found. Sixteen features were found within, or adjacent to, the depression. The features included one prehistoric hearth remnant on the southwest corner of the depression. An additional six features, including numerous historic middens, were located within Area B. In, there was the historic road, a rock concentration, and a stone road marker. This stone marker showed a relation between 18BA409 and the transportation context of Old Reisterstown Turnpike, which ran through the area.

The assemblage produced during data recovery included 15,101 historic artifacts and 183 prehistoric artifacts. The artifact data recovered during Phase III work indicates a somewhat anomalous assemblage in terms of domestic and/or residential use and does not support the use of the site as a full-time residence or farmstead. The layout of the site indicates it was oriented to the historic road and suggests that the structures and/or their functions may have been related to that road. There are two possible interpretations, including the possibility that the site may have represented some sort of way station or inn/tavern, and/or the possibility that the site was in-fact a toll house directly associated with the historic road. The mix of artifacts indicates an occupation which could potentially have encompassed the whole of the 18th century and the first quarter of the 19th century. However, the preponderance of the data suggests a tighter period of occupation starting no earlier than ca. 1780 and ending no later than ca. 1810.

The occupation layers at the Dorsey Site were relatively shallow, and the features were poorly defined, suggesting that spatial use was unorganized. The absence of certain types of artifact evidence such as vessels associated with the preparation and storage of food as well as the absence of faunal remains strongly suggests that the site was not occupied by a household or any other establishment where meals were regularly prepared and consumed. However, the presence of artifacts such as teaware, glassware, and bottles associated with the storage and consumption of various beverages suggests that the site may have served as a place of public accommodation. These characteristics of 18BA409 are compatible with the occupation of the premises as a toll house associated with the original Reisterstown Turnpike, ca. 1787-1800.

A minor prehistoric component on the site was evidenced by stone tools and a remnant hearth. A total of 183 prehistoric artifacts were recovered: flaked lithics and fire-cracked rock. Artifacts indicate that specialized transient use of the area may have occurred as early as 3000 BC as evidenced by three Brewerton Eared points of rhyolite and quartz, on up into the Middle Woodland Period (ca. AD 200) as evidenced by the presence of Fox Creek points.

Based on the data recovery at 18BA409, the site primarily represents historic roadside commercial activities. It may represent the remains of two subsequent tollhouses associated with the Old Reisterstown Turnpike. The major use of the site area occurred during the fourth quarter of the 18th century and into the first decade of the 19th century. No evidence was found to indicate later use of the site. The exposure of 37 intact features speaks to the integrity of the site at the time of its mitigation.

(Edited from the Maryland Historical Trust Synthesis Project)

References

  • Zebooker, Betty C., Robert Hoffman, and Judith Rosentel
  • 1997. Phase III Archaeological Data Recovery at the Dorsey Site (18BA409), a Late 18th & early 19th Century Historic Archaeological Site Located Near Owings Mills in Baltimore County, Maryland. MAAR Associates, Inc., Newark, Delaware.

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