Lee Blacksmith Shop (18BA564)

Site 18BA564 is the archeological remains associated with the early 20th-century Lee's Blacksmith Shop in Cockeysville, Baltimore County. The former Lee's Blacksmith Shop stood essentially abandoned from the 1940s until 2003, when the roof collapsed and demolition became necessary. Documentary and cartographic sources provide no evidence of a blacksmith shop or any other standing structure at the site prior to 1900. The site sits within a parcel purchased by the Green family from the Ridgelys in 1889. The $300 purchase price of this 3 acre lot indicates that no structures were present on this lot at the time of the transfer.

The Green's property went to public sale in 1900 and was acquired by William H. Rinehart. Documents of the sale reveal that a stable, a corn crib and springhouse were outbuildings present on the property at that time. Rinehart sold this property in 1907 to William K. Lee for $1,450. The increase in price suggests that Rinehart may have been responsible for the construction of the blacksmith shop between 1900 and 1907. Although there is no documentation pointing to Rinehart being involved in blacksmithing, if he was responsible for construction of the shop building he may have built it for other purposes or he may have leased it to a blacksmith.

In 1907, William K. Lee purchased two lots (including the site) and their associated outbuildings at the corner of Warren and Bosley Roads from the Rineharts for $1,450. At this time Lee was 35 years old and, with his wife Elizabeth, supporting a growing family by his work as a blacksmith. Lee continued to live on this property until 1942. William K. Lee III, born in 1931, recalled visiting the shop on Warren Road with his father in 1935 or 1936, at which time his grandfather was spending about half of each day shoeing horses and the other half repairing automobiles.

The property owner during the structure's dismantling, Ms. L.S. Lyons, was able to provide a description of the structure to oral historians. The building was divided into two rooms by an east-west interior wall. The northern room was larger, while the smaller southern room contained features from the blacksmith's use (the forge and chimney, an adjacent coal bin, and a work bench) and a storage loft overhead. Both rooms had wooden flooring. The building had two entry doorways. Five windows provided natural light and ventilation for the shop, with two on the west wall and three on the east wall. The smaller southern room had one window on each of the east and west walls, while the larger northern room had two windows on the east wall and one window on the west wall.

The site was first examined archaeologically in 2010 during a Phase I survey of the proposed construction area for improvements to Warren Road. Phase I archaeological work entailed surface examination and the excavation of four shovel test pits (STPs), two placed within the visible stone foundations of the former blacksmith's shop. The two STPs within the foundation revealed humic soils with a high density of metal and other artifacts. The other two STPs (placed south of the foundation) confirmed disturbance of this area by prior grading. Late 20th century widening of Warren Road had disturbed the landscape immediately west of the foundation. Essentially the Phase I work showed that any potentially intact portions of the site lay inside or within a few meters of the stone foundations. Phase II investigations were, thus, focused on this core area of the site.

Phase II work combined the mapping of surface features with excavation of 1 m square controlled test units. The 1.5 ft wide stone shop foundations measured 31 X 18 ft and were situated adjacent to Warren Road. They were pointed with gray, cement-based mortar. Within the southeast corner of the foundation, the base of the former forge was visible. It measured approximately 4.5 ft square.

Five 1 X 1 m units were excavated by natural and/or cultural stratigraphic units. Strata over 10 cm thick were excavated by arbitrary 10 cm levels. Two test units were placed within the foundations, with one south and one north of the interior partition wall. Two more test units were placed along the exterior of the foundation wall, adjacent to the forge base feature in the southeast corner of the foundations. One unit was placed north of the foundations, as this area had not been tested during the Phase I survey.

Excavations within and near the blacksmith shop foundations revealed that during the construction of the shop, the natural topography of the building site was initially leveled. The center of blacksmithing activities would have been the forge. The most intact elements of the feature are large stones joined with sand/lime mortar that form a box, which appears to be filled with rubble and covered with sand. Detailed excavation is needed to clarify the construction of this feature, particularly whether the tue-iron/tuyre is extant and what its positioning was, whether the forge was reconstructed or reconfigured, and whether the forge was built as an integral part of the building or added later.

Excavations within the foundations revealed a series of cultural deposits (between 20 and 40 cm in thickness) overlying natural subsoil. Very high densities of artifacts were found within these cultural deposits, primarily ferrous metal debris from blacksmithing and farriery activities. Interpreting these cultural deposits under wooden floorboards requires recognizing that such subfloor settings have different site formation processes than dirt floors within buildings or outdoor settings adjacent to buildings. Subfloor assemblages are usually attributable to objects falling between floorboards during the use of the site, but other factors (such as maintenance activities, repair of the structure, rodent burrowing, structure dismantling, on-site dumping after abandonment, etc.) can also come into play. Animal burrowing and post-dismantling dumping have had little negative effect at 18BA564, so the subfloor contexts appear to be the result of the accretion during use by the other processes.

A total of 7,570 artifacts were recovered during the course of the Phase I and II research at 18BA564. The vast majority of these (all but two quartz flakes) were historic in nature and many were blacksmith related, including slag, bar stock, metal scraps, hardware, tools, horseshoes and farrier objects. Overall the excavations conducted to date within the core area of 18BA564 have revealed a variety of cultural features and deposits related to the early 20th-century blacksmithing enterprise that is documented to have been undertaken there. These cultural features and deposits display good integrity and, thus, the potential to yield additional useful information about Lee's Blacksmith Shop.

(Edited from the Maryland Historical Trust Synthesis Project)

References

  • Fischler, Benjamin, and Jean W. French
  • 2011. Phase II Archaeological Evaluation of the Lee's Blacksmith Shop Site (18BA564), the Green House Site (18BA565), and the Buckley House Site (18BA566), Proposed Warren Road Upgrade Project, Baltimore County, Maryland.

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