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What’s New at the Dig: The Dynamic Landscape of the Laundry Yard

Our summer excavation in search of the 18th century fence surrounding the Laundry Yard has revealed a great deal about the changing uses of the space over time. The six test units that are currently underway are cut by many modern utilities, but also include more recent features and a few potential 18th century postholes.

To give you an idea of what we’ve encountered in the Laundry Yard, have a look at the photo of excavation unit 156, a 10′ x 10′ just to the west of the Coach House. At least 5 modern (c. 1930-Present) utility features are present, in addition to 6 postholes, a cobble drain, and the remains of a planting trench for a privet hedge. With all of that going on, how can we tell “archaeological time” based on these features? Artifacts provide one way, but when features are cut by utilities, can be tricky. For example, we found a quartz Clagett-type projectile point (see photo) which dates to between 4000 – 3000 BCE next to an old flash bulb and piece of tinfoil – artifacts which were all clearly not in use at the same time! In situations like this, it’s necessary to turn to our powerful arsenal of documents to help flesh out a chronological sequence for our features.

Records and photographs from the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association indicate that between 1858 and 1944, at least 9 structures were within the Laundry Yard, ranging from a dog kennel to a Paint/Machine Shop. A privet hedge once enclosed the space, running from the Lower Garden wall to the Coach House, and in between the outbuildings along the South Lane (see photograph, c. 1916). Maintenance and restoration work in the 1940s removed most of the buildings from the Laundry Yard which would not have been present during George Washington’s occupation, and some of the postholes found in our excavations are probably related to these buildings.

Keep checking back to as we continue or work in the Laundry Yard, and updates on our interpretations. We are in the field Tuesday-Thursday in the coming Fall months.

Luke J. Pecoraro, Staff Archaeologist

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2 Responses to “What’s New at the Dig: The Dynamic Landscape of the Laundry Yard”

  1. Steve Stark Stark Says:

    ‘Twould seem that, if soaps and chemicals (e.g., bleaching) were used in the laundering processes,that the resulting soil condition would provide some clues because artifact condition would be affected.

  2. Mount Vernon Contributor Says:

    Dear Steve,
    Thank you for your observation. One way that we can test whether or not the wash water (which was likely discarded in the Laundry Yard) contained trace chemicals from washing is through soil chemistry analysis. Most of the soil layers we excavate have samples taken, and are sent out fortesting, which can give us a better indication of how spaces on the Estate were used. Some processes (like a fire to burn rubbish) can alter artifacts in shallow deposits, so we’ll have to see if some of our finds and soils may have been affected by discarded laundry water.

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Kids holding George Washington Portrait

Mount Vernon recently invited K-12 schools nationwide to request framed portraits of George Washington to display in a respectful, prominent place.

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