Bond Street Site (18BC57)

The Bond Street Site (18BC57), also known as the “London Coffee House” or the “Captain Wells' House,” is a complex of late 18th-century brick rowhouses and taverns, as well as an early 19th-century brewery and mid-19th century warehouse in downtown Baltimore. The site is situated at 854-856 South Bond Street and 1532-1534 Thames Street (the northwest corner of South Bond and Thames Streets) within the Fells Point section of Baltimore. It lies near the waterfront of the northwest branch of the Patapsco River, just across Thames Street from the wharves that have existed there since the early 18th century.

Historic documents indicate the lot at the corner of South Bond and Thames Streets was first improved in the late 18th century. There are two extant buildings on the site today. One fronts on Thames Street (1532-1534 Thames/Lot 18) and dates to the late 18th century. This building has been erroneously called the George Wells House. The building was actually used as a lumberyard in the late 18th century, and a later building on the site may have been used as an inn in the early 19th century.

The other extant building is located at 854 South Bond Street and is the London Coffeehouse, which was owned and occupied by George Wells in the late 18th century. In 1771, John Cattell, a mariner, purchased the lease on Lots 17 and 18. Cattell subdivided the property and sold the 854 South Bond Street lot to a John Stevenson in July of 1774. The deed mentioned a house that he had recently built on the lot. It also mentions that the lot and “house” constructed upon it had been operated as the “London Coffee House” under a lease to Thomas Elliot.

A coffeehouse of the early colonies was modeled after the famed coffeehouses of London. Early American coffee houses sold beer, ale, wine, liquor, lemonade, and chocolate in addition to coffee. Some of these institutions were coffeehouses in name only and functioned as taverns, offering lodging and meals as well as beverages. Typically they were located near the harbor of port cities. Even after the coffeehouse in Fells Point had probably ceased operation, 854 Bond Street was still described as a coffeehouse in subsequent deeds.

In 1779, Stephenson sold the London Coffee House to Captain George Wells (a Baltimore shipwright). Wells constructed a new house at 856 Bond Street circa 1779. This structure was situated between the two standing structures (854 Bond and 1532-1534 Thames) and was attached to both. He did not live in the structure, but rented it out as an investment. His son, also named George Wells, lived in the London Coffee House. After Captain Wells’ death, the properties were leased out to various commercial and residential tenants by his heirs. The area has been mixed residential and commercial use since the late 18th century. By the middle of the 19th century, a number of additions to buildings and outbuildings were located in the yard to the west of the standing structures.

The site was subjected to archaeological work in 1984 as part of a Fells Point survey project. No formal report was written detailing this archaeological work, but a 2001 study went back and attempted to reconstruct the fieldwork from written field records, drawings, and photographs.

The archaeological investigation, conducted in 1984, concentrated on the use of the rear yard west of the standing structures. One backhoe trench and 13 Gradall trenches were excavated. The backhoe trench, running north-south across the site, was used to identify the stratigraphic sequence and to determine the depth of the 18th and early 19th century deposits. The Gradall removed fill from the cellar of 856 South Bond Street and cleared from 2-5 ft of overburden from the yard area. After the yard was graded, six test units were excavated.

The backhoe trench revealed the brick walls and brick-paved floor of an early building directly west of 1532-1534 Thames Street. This early building appears on historic maps as a brewery and dwelling. It was built before 1852 and was destroyed between 1880 and 1890. Later, a Gradall trench uncovered about three quarters of the building, including a large hearth. The hearth was excavated and a plan drawing was made.

The subsurface remains of the foundation and cellar of a wing that extended west from the rear of 854 Bond Street were also uncovered in a Gradall trench. A large hearth with a pintle for a crane and a brick oven were discovered along west wall of the cellar. The cellar floor was paved in stone.

Foundations of the house at 856 Bond Street and foundations of rear additions to the house were also uncovered. In the cellar of 856 Bond, two sets of fireplace footers were located, and a midden covered the dirt floor. West of the main house cellar were the foundations of additions to the house. One of these additions may have been the kitchen mentioned in a 1787 deed transferring the property from Captain Wells’ son George (Jr.) to a Joseph Harrison.

Two other features that were not architectural in nature were found in the site. These were a mid-19th-century trash pit and a brick-lined well or cistern containing early 20th-century fill. Both of these were located west of 856 Bond Street. The location of the mid-19th-century trash pit is uncertain. The feature described as a well or cistern may have actually been a privy mentioned in late 19th and early 20th century deeds. The artifacts near the privy top were late 19th- to early 20th-century and included canning jar glass and a crown bottle cap. Artifacts from a layer approximately 150-165 cm below their elevation point included whiteware, yellowware, blue shell-edged pearlware, and kaolin pipe stem fragments, which suggest a slightly earlier date for the lower layers of fill.

A test unit excavated west of the backhoe trench and about 21.3 m (70 ft) directly west of the northwest corner of 854 Bond Street. This unit contained large stones, a wood plank, nails and plaster fragments, and faunal material. Dateable artifacts included creamware and pearlware, dating the deposit after 1780. This deposit may be associated with an early bulkhead or wharf, as it is located very close to the original shoreline of the Patapsco in a layer of very dark soil similar to harbor bottom soil.

Earlier shorelines were identified in trench profiles. The lots on Bond Street did not extend as far west in the 18th century as they currently do. They shoreline was altered to create more land by introducing fill in later decades. Intact features and diagnostic historic artifacts were recovered during the course of the 1984 excavations. While most of the site had been excavated and recorded following the 1984 project, portions of it remained intact and un-investigated. Historic documentation shows that this site has been used for both domestic and commercial purposes. The kinds of archaeological resources that might be found include evidence of such commercial ventures as a ship chandlery, and inn/hotel, and a machinery and iron works.

(Edited from the Maryland Historical Trust Synthesis Project)

References

  • Farnham, Katherine, and Lynn D. Jones
  • 2002. Documentary Research for the Fell's Point Properties, Baltimore, Maryland. John Milner and Associates, Alexandria, VA.

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