Bull's Head Tavern(18BC139)

Site 18BC139 consists of the archaeological remains of multiple 18th- and 19th-century townhouses as well as a 19th-century Bull’s Head Tavern in downtown Baltimore, Maryland. The site area was originally part of the incorporated community of Jones Town, established in 1732. Major development occurred within Jones Town during the later 18th century and by ca. 1800, a small but thriving mixed residential/commercial/industrial area had emerged in the vicinity of the site.

Site 18BC139 incorporated 2 separate parcels that served two functions: one parcel (Lot #18) became a “tavern lot” and another (Lot #19) became a “rowhouse lot”. Domestic development of Lot #18 had taken place by the last quarter of the 18th century. By the early 19th-century, a tavern was in operation, with Baltimore City directories for 1804 listing Clement Macatee as an innkeeper at #18 Jones Street. The 1836 tax list describes the 2 two-story brick dwellings, a “Tavern House”, a “rough-cast” old two-story frame structure, stables, and sheds. George Manley operated the tavern as a tenant. The tavern continued in operation until at least the 1890s. Changes in the former tavern complex shown on Sanborn’s 1914 map foretold of its eventual demise. Three of the five former brick buildings (#419-423) had been combined and converted to an auto repair facility. The southernmost building (#417) had been converted to office space. Within the short space of 25 years, the tavern was claimed by the automobile age. By 1951, the tavern and dependencies had been demolished and replaced by a parking garage.

By the late 18th century, Lot #19 had been subdivided and developed into at least three separate, narrow parcels immediately north of the tavern lot. The 1804 City Directory noted that 3 women (Sarah Armitage, Mrs. Wallace, and the widow Mary Evans) lived in rental dwellings at Lot #19. These two-story structures were occupied continuously by owners or tenants through the mid-19th century. Between 1852 and 1866, the properties formerly existing as numbers 144 and 146 North Front were combined into one large parcel. A new three-story brick house was built, along with a large stable that belonged to veterinarian John Thorne. The stable and rowhouse still stood in 1890.

Site 18BC139 was first archaeologically investigated beginning in 1996 at the site of a new Juvenile Justice Center in Baltimore. Initial work involved the removal of a 20th-century parking garage. Brick features revealed under the concrete slab suggested additional intact remains would be found. The site was sub-divided into two sections based on structures depicted on the 1890 Sanborn Map. The southern portion, which encompassed the Bull’s Head Tavern complex, was designated as the “Tavern Lot”. The complex of rowhouse structures at the northern end of the study area was designated as the “Rowhouse Lot”. The full area was stripped mechanically, using a backhoe. Numerous late 18th- through the early 20th-century structural features and intact surfaces were identified and recorded during the Phase I and II research.

Within the Rowhouse Lot (Lot #19) identified features included chimney bases, foundation remnants, privies, lot boundaries, pavings, builder’s trenches, postholes and postmolds, filled cellars, and circular soil stains associated with the rowhouses, their dependencies, and later structures that were built over the southern portion of the rowhouse complex in the 20th century. Mitigation within the Rowhouse Lot portion of the site involved the excavation of twelve 1 X 1 m test units.

Two distinctive phases of development were evident on the northern and southern halves of the Tavern Lot. Thus, the area was subdivided into “Tavern Lot North” and “Tavern Lot South”. Features and surfaces in the Tavern Lot North included a stone foundation (Feature 5) enclosing a full cellar, a separate timber-framed structure with a large fireplace (Features 1, 2, and 3), a third outbuilding (Feature 11), an intact midden containing materials from the early 19th century and a cobblestone courtyard. Most of these features dated to the middle third of the 19th century, but at least one (Feature 11) appeared to date to the late 18th century. Feature 10 was investigated with two test units because of its L-shaped configuration, which apparently represented the rear ell of the tavern. The contents of Feature 11, a utility trench, were sampled, and the contents of Feature 29 (wood-lined privy) removed.

The features within the Rowhouse Lot displayed complex development. Two frame rowhouses with basements originally occupied this lot. These dwellings were constructed by at least the first decade of the 19th century. Documents suggest these dwellings were occupied by a variety of owners and/or tenants until before the Civil War period. The lots and buildings represented residential occupations. Features associated with this period include brick rowhouse foundations, associated cellars, a hearth/chimney structure, and foundation walls associated with an ell addition to the dwellings, a privy, strata underlying a cobblestone/brick paving and dog burial at the rear of the rowhouse lot. In the second phase of occupation ca. 1850, both dwellings were demolished, a new dwelling constructed on the combined lots. The third phase of occupation, documented by the late 19th/ early 20th- century Sanborn maps, concentrated almost entirely on the southern rowhouse lot. Between 1890 and 1910, the function changed from residential to commercial/light industrial. The contents of a c. 1900 barrel privy at the rear of Thorne’s original residence probably were deposited during this period.

Excavations in the Tavern Lot South revealed two phases of development. The first stage, commencing during the late 18th or early 19th centuries, entailed construction of one or more buildings on stone foundations. These buildings probably supported components of the original Bull’s Head Tavern complex. The deposits in a privy east of the stone foundation features also represent this time frame. Feature 7, a complex of brick foundations towards Front Street, represents the later 20th-century modifications to (or replacement of) the tavern complex. The Feature 7 foundations conform most closely to those depicted on 1902 and 1914 maps of the block.

Archival and archaeological data from Tavern Lot North suggested initial development during the mid-18th century, when William Noon acquired part of Lot #18. This phase was represented by Feature 11 (a small square depressed stone-lined foundation), by stone components of the brick and stone hearth and chimney feature surrounded by the timber-framed structure, and by a mid-18th century occupation surface. The mid-19th-century sheet midden, a shallow remnant stone foundation parallel to the tavern’s north wall, a stone foundation for the tavern’s rear ell, a barrel privy, and a remnant stone wall south of the tavern all represented activity from the late 18th through the first third of the 19th century. The tavern itself may have commenced operation during this period. The period was characterized by three changes in property ownership, each of which probably entailed modifications to the functions and configurations of buildings on the entire tavern lot. Sheet midden across the tavern property and the adjacent rowhouse lots suggest activity on the block was intense. Feature 5 (a deep cellar/basement nearest Front Street), Feature 1 (the timber-framed structure and its associated brick chimney/hearth), and Feature 4 (cobble surfaces between the tavern) were constructed after the mid-19th century. These features and the buildings that they represented apparently continued to function until the early 20th century. The configuration and use of the property changed significantly during the first two decades of 20th century, as the earlier, essentially residential buildings on both portions of the tavern lot either were modified or demolished to accommodate heavier commercial activities.

The excavations at 18BC1359 revealed numerous intact features, many of which were capable of addressing significant research questions related to the history of Baltimore. Though the site was clearly significant, it was largely destroyed following the 1996-1998 fieldwork.

(Edited from the Maryland Historical Trust Synthesis Project)


  • Williams, Martha R., Nora Shennan, and Suzanne Sanders
  • 2000. Archeological Investigations at the Juvenile Justice Center, Baltimore, Maryland. 4 vols. R. Christopher Goodwin and Associates, Inc.

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