Unusual USA

Amazing and Unusual USA by Jeff Bahr

Amazing and Unusual USA by Jeff Bahr

If you have never seen or read Amazing and Unusual USA by Jeff Bahr (Publication International, Ltd. 2009), and you love roadside America at its finest and oddest, you should check out this book.  The hundreds of unique roadside attractions are arranged by regions (New England, Mid-Atlantic, The South, The Midwest, The Southwest, The Rocky Mountains, and The Pacific).  The book is the perfect coffee table, road trip inspiration book with full color pages, and interesting facts about each attraction. It certainly is a conversation piece and another great collection of the entertainment along the American roads.

First Friday, et al.

A few quick notes on this Friday in June:

1. Since it is the “first” Friday in June, it’s possible that your town has a “First Friday” event. Sometimes it’s an art events, sometimes it’s more like a block party. The event depends on your town. In Southern Pines, First Friday is a fun town gathering with food, kids’ games, and a band playing. Today there is a band and a storyteller.  These events are held May-October (5pm – 8pm) and serve as a way to get the community out and together and interacting with local businesses.

To quote the website, “The “First Friday” series is designed as such to invigorate and augment the many things about Southern Pines that make it such a wonderful place to live and do business. The goal of this event is to increase awareness of these points and foster relationships within the community in a setting of relaxation, fun and togetherness.”

Sounds good, right? To find out if your town has a First Friday, check your local newspaper or just search on the web for “first friday” and your town’s name. 

2. Preservation in Pink, June 2009 will be published next week! 

3. If you haven’t been reading the Tuesday/Thursday post series by Brad Hatch and Lauren McMillan, be sure to do so. Brad and Lauren offer great stories, insights, and thoughts tied deep to archaeology and preservation. Brad’s posts are about trips that he and Lauren take, hence “Preservacation” and Lauren is writing about her field school experience this summer.  If they inspire you to start a blogging series, let me know!

4. I love flamingos, whatever their shade of pink.

African Lesser Flamingo in Honolulu, Hawaii. Photograph courtesy of Ellen Detlefsen.

African Lesser Flamingo in Honolulu, Hawaii, March 2009. Photograph courtesy of Ellen Detlefsen.

Adventures in the Field: Week 2

Adventures in the Field: Archaeology at Historic Bath, NC is a series of posts about Lauren’s experiences as a TA at East Carolina University’s summer 2009 archaeology field school in Bath, NC.  This is post #2.


By Lauren McMillan

Week 2: 5/25 – 5/29/2009

We had yet another short week because of Memorial Day, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t accomplish a lot and learn new and exciting things about our site.  As I have previously stated, we found the third corner to the mid 18th century merchant’s warehouse cellar last week telling us the building was 15’x15’.  We cleaned it up for photographs on Tuesday and when we did this, part of the builder’s trench was revealed along the west wall; and later that day, in another unit, more of the builder’s trench appeared beside the north wall.  A builder’s trench can help date the construction of a building, because it is where the builders stood to lay in the foundation, brick in this case, and would be immediately filled in once the foundation was complete; if the archaeology gods are on our side, maybe the builders left a temporally diagnostic artifact in there like a coin (yeah right), a ceramic sherd or a pipe stem.  We will be excavating the trench separately in the future.

Ash cleaning up the unit around the southwest corner. Photograph courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Ash cleaning up the unit around the southwest corner. Photograph courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

The most exciting discovery of the week peeked out at us late Tuesday afternoon.  Two students were flattening an old unit down 0.25’ as an arbitrary cleaning layer, because we thought this unit was almost done, and came upon an in situ brick on the outside of the western wall, near the northwest corner of the cellar.  I became overly excited, and kicked one of them out and started digging myself, (of course I said it was because this was a very delicate process, which, it was) and soon a corner revealed itself.  Now, we were down deep enough, on the 18th century ground level, and beneath the disturbance from the late 19th/early 20th century building that used to stand there, to know that this wasn’t an intrusive.  After I did my little happy dance, I hypothesized that this was the bulkhead entrance to the cellar (Thanks again to Ferry Farm for showing me what one looks like archaeologically).  While Dr. Ewen would not outright agree with me, he didn’t dismiss me either.  I told him the dirt was talking to us, telling us we had found the entrance, which would give us more confidence in our interpretation of a merchant’s warehouse, since this would mean the building was facing Main St. and would have easy access to the town’s port; he told me it was just murmuring right now.

Jen and Dee find the possible entrance on Tuesday. Photograph courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Jen and Dee find the possible entrance on Tuesday. Photograph courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Dawn, my fellow TA, and I actually got down and dirty this week. Photograph courtesy of Jennifer Taylor.

Dawn, my fellow TA, and I actually got down and dirty this week. Photograph courtesy of Jennifer Taylor.

Well, by the end of the week, the dirt was screaming at us.  We found both corners of the feature, which is about 6’ in length and about 4’ from the cellar’s west wall.  We cleaned the feature up, defined its upper most limits, and could see there are more bricks below into the next layer. On Friday, the whole feature, builder’s trench and all, was mapped in, and let me tell you, that is a very complicated map.  We also probed the interior of the feature (between the western limits of it and the wall), and it hit something a few inches below the surface on the western side of it, and it went down a few more inches in the middle and then even deeper near the wall, suggesting stairs going down!  We will be bisecting the feature next week, but I am very confident at this point it is an entrance into the cellar.

In other parts of the site, we opened up two new units, the first this season.  These two units will come down right inside the cellar, and should be chocked full of neat artifacts, but for now, we’re still in the upper layers.  We did find a feature associated with the late 19th/early 20th century house that once stood there.  We’re not sure what it is yet.  At first, we assumed it was a pier to the house, because it lined up with one found last season, but our brick feature is larger, not completely square, is “hollow” and has some charcoal in it, so another idea floating around is a chimney hearth, or a planter (to put plants in…).  That’s something that we will figure out later; for now, we recorded it and took it out.

ECU Field School - Lauren 6

19th/20th century brick feature and auger hole from ECU field school. Photograph courtesy of Jennifer Taylor.

On a side note, have any of you other archaeologists ever noticed that there is one person who is lucky in the field?  I ask because we have one student, Jen, who has found something within minutes to hours of being in there.  She was in the unit that found the third corner, we moved her to clean up an old unit, she found the entrance corner, we moved her to help excavate one of the new units, she found an intact bottle neck, moved her again, she found the 20th century feature in the other new unit.  And another side note, isn’t it an awesome feeling when you know someone has learned something from you?  I did a presentation last semester on stratigraphy and the Harris Matrix, and showed how an STP that cuts a layer postdates that layer.  Well, we came down on an old auger hole this week, and one of the people who was in that class with me, turns and says “hey, it’s just like in your presentation, so we know that hole is younger than this layer.”  At least I know one person listened to that boring lecture…

Anyway, that about wraps it up for this week, catch ya later!

Road Trip Planning

Road trips are often associated with spontaneity and freedom and well, no planning at all – just driving and stopping when something strikes the travelers. Often I exclaim a new road trip idea of mine, and follow up the idea with “Let’s go! Now!” Practicality and responsibility dictate that I do otherwise; but I don’t mind too much because I enjoy plotting routes and determining destinations and a day by day itinerary (give or take some miles).

On our first big road trip in 2006, Vinny and I found ourselves, all too often, without a place to stay for the night. You see, I had planned the location for stopping, but not where exactly (i.e. which hotel, campground reservations).  On our tight budget, we couldn’t afford just any hotel on the road.  And for many reasons (a lost map, maybe), we couldn’t find a few of the campgrounds.  So we’d keep driving. These all deserve separate stories, but one night we were lost in southwestern Missouri, two kids accustom to suburban highways glowing with streetlights, not pitch black winding roads. We ended up at a hotel in Neosho, MO. Another night the campground we wanted was full. Again, we continued driving figuring we had to find something. Ha. We were in the middle of Oklahoma and by some crazy turn of events, every hotel from Oklahoma City to Guthrie was booked. By the time we stopped at a scary motel in Stillwater, we were beyond exhausted.

On those particular nights, it would have been much better if I had made reservations. Of course, I now love these stories and wouldn’t trade them for reservations.  However, I bring up this as I begin to plan another one of our road trips. I don’t mind not having a place to stay if you have an unlimited budget, but when you’re desparate for a room, hotels can see it in your eyes. And suddenly your campground budget is shot by one hotel night stay. So, I will be a much better planner this time around.

As I’m searching the web for road trips resources, I found RoadTrip America, an excellent website for road trip planning, route ideas, gear reviews, tips, day trips, images, road food, and much more, including a collection of funny road signs. Many of them are hysterical, or at least rather amusing. The next time you’re looking for some road trip help, check out that site. Whether you’re in New York City looking for a day trip, or wanting to go the wild wild west, or needing to calculate the fuel cost, you’ll find something useful.

Preservacation: Religious and Secular Symbols in Early Colonial Churches

Preservacation is a series of essays by Brad Hatch about the preservation related adventures, issues, and sites that he and Lauren have encountered on their travels.  This is #4 in the series.


By Brad Hatch

I have a fascination with early colonial architecture. This likely stems from my work in archaeology since so much of the earliest colonial architecture only exists in archaeological contexts. In Virginia, there are only a handful of standing structures that date before 1700, however I can think of numerous archaeological sites pre-dating the eighteenth century. This lack of seventeenth century buildings can be explained by the fact that most structures of that period were somewhat impermanent, i.e. they were wood and often of post-in-ground construction.

This should not be taken to mean that most Virginians were unable to afford masonry buildings, actually many planters were quite wealthy through the 1600s. Brick or stone construction simply was not in vogue at the time. There could have been several reasons for this, often the most cited is that Virginia planters wanted a quickly and cheaply constructed house so that they could get right to growing tobacco, and thus, making more money. These post-in-ground buildings, dubbed Virginia houses, remained popular up until the nineteenth century. However, by the mid eighteenth century, many large plantation holders began moving toward masonry construction for their houses in keeping with the new Georgian movement. Examples of these buildings include Stratford Hall, Kenmore, Salubria, and Mt. Airy.

If you want to see buildings earlier than these you have to look at places other than private residences. Government buildings fit this bill, but there are few of those that are original. Churches are what I am talking about. These were often the first and only buildings in a given area that were made of either stone or brick, mainly because the church was the only entity with enough money (that they didn’t want to invest in agriculture) and time to build in these materials.  Churches in colonial America not only fulfilled the spiritual needs of their parishioners, but acted as places for important business dealings, political meetings, and social interactions. They are deeply symbolic structures that carried many meanings for the people who used them in the colonial period. Over the past year I have had the opportunity to visit a few of these early colonial churches in Virginia and North Carolina and have been impressed by their degree of preservation and assorted layers of meaning.

Yeocomico Church in Westmoreland County, VA. Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Yeocomico Church in Westmoreland County, VA. Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

While Lauren and I were at Stratford Hall a few weeks ago I suggested we go see Yeocomico Church, the oldest in Westmoreland County. Yeocomico is located near Hague, which is actually quite a haul from Stratford through acres of farmland. The brick building that stands now was constructed in 1706, but it took the place of a wooden structure that, according to folklore, stood on the same spot and was built in 1655. Interestingly, a piece of this original church survives in the wicket door (a door within a door) at the entrance of the church, which is the only functioning original wicket door in North America.

Lauren in front of the wicket door at Yeocomico Church. Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Lauren in front of the wicket door at Yeocomico Church. Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

There are several interesting architectural details on this church, but to address them all would take up way more space than anybody is willing to read. (You should definitely visit if you get the chance. Oh, and did I mention that Mary Ball, the mother of George Washington, attended this church in her youth?) The thing that struck me about this church, however, was the design on the brick porch above the entrance. The shape of a diamond, set off by glazed headers, stands out as you approach the entrance. I had seen this a few months before at St. Thomas Church in Bath, NC, built in 1734, and began to wonder about what it meant since it was seemingly not coincidental.

Yeocomico Church showing the boundary wall for the original churchyard.  Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Yeocomico Church showing the boundary wall for the original churchyard. Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

The entrance to Yeocomico Church showing the diamond design over the porch and a triple arch in the bricks, possibly representative of the Holy Trinity.  Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

The entrance to Yeocomico Church showing the diamond design over the porch and a triple arch in the bricks, possibly representative of the Holy Trinity. Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

St. Thomas Church in Bath, NC. Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

St. Thomas Church in Bath, NC. Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

The entrance of St. Thomas Church showing the diamond design over the door, which bears a strong resemblance to a crucifix.  Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

The entrance of St. Thomas Church showing the diamond design over the door, which bears a strong resemblance to a crucifix. Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

I did a little research into Anglican and Episcopal symbols and came up with a few ideas. The first thing that came to me without even researching was the symbol of a cross; even though it’s a diamond it bears a resemblance. With a little research I then came to the possibility of it representing the star of Bethlehem, which is similar in shape to the diamond and sits above the entry as the star shone above the manger, calling the faithful. The final meaning I could pull out of this symbol was its similarity to a vesica piscis, or fish bladder. This is a common symbol in the Episcopal faith and represents a fish, which is associated with Jesus. This one design that confronts you as you enter the church has many layered meanings and as I thought about it I tried to find meaning in the rest of the architecture and was astounded by what I saw (which is too much to list here), illustrating the thought that went in to constructing a church in the colonial period and the nuances of early American architecture.

As I mentioned above, churches also served as important places for social interaction. Part of this interaction comes from displaying power amongst peer groups. This was done in many ways, including wearing certain clothes to display wealth as well as having assigned seating. Often the more powerful members of the community had reserved pews that were closer to the pulpit, and symbolically closer to God, than the poorer members. Even though the Anglican Church did not participate in the practice of granting or selling indulgences many of the planter elite still sought to buy their way into heaven. Perhaps the best example of this is Christ Church Lancaster County, VA, which I had the opportunity to visit last summer.

Robert “King” Carter financed and oversaw the construction of this Georgian brick church in 1730. The symbolism in this building is very clear. While it does have a good deal of religious meaning, the aspects that display the power and wealth of Carter are overwhelming. First of all, it took an insane amount of money to build a brick structure in 1730. The fact that Carter built a church for the community showed that he had money to burn. The interior arrangement also speaks to his power and quest for control. His family’s personal pew is the closest to the pulpit and has a raised back. Not only does this represent his attempt to be closer to God (and possibly on a similar plane of power), but also shows how he wished to separate himself from people below his status. The history of this building and its design stands as a perfect example of how the social behaviors and relationships of colonial parishioners can be expressed in religious architecture and displayed by the people who use the buildings.

These are but two brief examples of the importance of churches in colonial Virginia. They interest me so much because they are such public places, and as such carry so many symbols and meanings, both religious and secular, that can still be interpreted by paying close attention. It is especially fun for me as an archaeologist to look at these structures because I am able to view large symbols on the landscape rather than small symbols in the earth like bits of broken pots. The age and unique architecture at these sites draws me in with promises of a glimpse at rare North American architectural styles, but the rich meaning behind all of the brick, glass, and wood keeps me coming back for more.

Post Script:

If anybody has any ideas or input on Anglican symbolism, particularly the meaning of the diamond design, please feel free to let me know. Especially if you have a different perspective on the meaning of the symbol I’m interested, since this has fascinated me for the past couple weeks.

Save Money, Live Better.

I have a new Wal-Mart pet peeve that I’ve been meaning to mention for a while: the new commercials. I am referring to the commericals that tout “Save Money, Live Better” and no longer feature the annoying smiley face kicking down price signs. Now it has a pretty yellow flower on a softer blue background. (Granted, this is also because Wal-Mart failed to trademark the smiley face).  Instead, customers are talking about how Wal-Mart helps them save money and time, which then equates to more family time and a better quality of life.  There is even a Save Money, Live Better website. Apparently, this has been a campaign for a while now and I’ve somehow missed all of the commercials. But, blogs and news articles are talking about this campaign as Wal-Mart’s mid-life crisis and Wal-Marts attempt to change its image (which is quite often associated with the closing of local businesses).

Wal-Mart's infamous smiley face.

Wal-Mart's infamous smiley face.


The new Wal-Mart logo and catch phrase. Note that it is also now "Walmart" not "Wal-Mart".

These commercials are a brilliant ad campaign that drive me mad!  I can’t even watch the commercials without snarling at the television. Wal-Mart is still Wal-Mart, and everyone knows that. But, advertising is a powerful business and that is why the commercials make me so mad. I’m afraid that more people will shop at Wal-Mart because of these commercials, or they will no longer feel bad about shopping at Wal-Mart. Maybe someday Wal-Mart will change, but I wouldn’t bet anything on it. For now, they are changing their image. But, an image is only a facade.  I have a feeling I’ll despise these commercials for a long time.

Is anyone else bothered by this campaign?

“Save money. Live better”? Or not.