Preservacation: Reflecting on Funerary Architecture in Eastern North Carolina

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 #6 in the series.

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By Brad Hatch

What more can I say about gravestones that hasn’t already been said? If you’ve read In Small Things Forgotten (as most of us Mary Wash alumni have) you already know about the seriation of headstones going from death’s heads to cherubs to urns and willows and how that reflects a society’s feelings about death. Rather than trying to understand what long-dead people thought about the headstones in their graveyards I’ll talk about what I know, what I think about them. I don’t want to make this post long, as several of my previous ones have been, so I’ll quickly give you my thoughts then let you come up with your own by showing you some images of the gravestones I’ve encountered in my travels in North Carolina.

I should start by saying that I have a strange fascination with graveyards. I think it must stem from an obsession with things that are not knowable. After all, what is less knowable to us, the living, than death? I know, it’s weird, but if you think about it, as an archaeologist it’s no surprise that I’m taken by these ideas. I deal with the unknowable on a daily basis. I can never know what happened in the past or what things meant to people then, how they felt, what they thought. I only see little glimpses of them in what they’ve left behind and I have to use their little trinkets to come up with interpretations about humanity. While many may think that archaeologists speak about the past in their interpretation it is truly the present that we address. Everything we do is driven by what is happening at this moment in our lives, in society, and in the world. Archaeology, like so many other creative pursuits, is partially a quest to find one’s self, and in my case I use the medium of material culture.

Gravestones are like archaeological artifacts on historic sites. Often they are mass produced, or at least made for mass consumption, which is why they can be seriated. Like artifacts, they carry heavy symbolic meaning, which can be seen in the artwork on them, their shape, or epitaphs. More easily recognized among headstones though is the fact that they are for the living, not the deceased. While some may have chosen their markers, most were likely commissioned after they died. This means that tombstones are often devoid of meaning to the person they commemorate. In actuality, they reflect what others thought of them or what others thought that the deceased held dear or believed.  However, there is always the possibility that the stones represented what the living believed, which is likely the case. This means that the people who placed the stones acted as archaeologists for the deceased. They attempted to know the unknowable, the thoughts of somebody who could no longer tell them. Burying grounds fascinate me because of this.

When I make my way through a cemetery I am effectively doing the archaeology of archaeology. I am interpreting interpretations. It seems quite ridiculous, but I know that one day somebody will be doing the same with my work. In a way I find my “connection with the universe” when I do this. It helps me to realize that even what I do, while it may seem insignificant in the grander scheme, will make an impact on somebody in some way. If I am able to make just one person think about who they are then my job is accomplished.  Now, it’s your turn to think. As you look at the selection of headstones below think about what they mean or what they might have meant. Before you turn away, though, think about why you made the interpretations that you made, what does it say about you? What does it say about the world you live in? It makes no sense to try to understand the past or other societies until we have an idea of the present and our places in it. Enjoy your moments of reflexivity.

Preservacation: Beaufort, NC

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 #5 in the series.

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By Brad Hatch

Bahamian architecture, Blackbeard, a maritime museum, and a painting of Doug Sanford. When Lauren and I went to Beaufort, NC a few months ago we definitely weren’t expecting to find all of these things. The main reason we were drawn to this little seaside town was Blackbeard. Yes, Blackbeard the pirate. Now, I know there are people out there who think pirates are awesome, but I’ve never really given them a second thought. Actually, I think the revived interest in pirates has come from the fact that Johnny Depp played one, and, after all, he is a beautiful man. Back to my story. Blackbeard drew us to Beaufort not only because he had a house there, but because many of the artifacts from his ship reside in the North Carolina Maritime Museum in town.

Lauren was very excited about her trip to Beaufort. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Lauren was very excited about her trip to Beaufort. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

For the past two semesters Lauren has been working with the Queen Anne’s Revenge Shipwreck Project, which excavates and conserves the artifacts from Blackbeard’s flagship, which sunk right off the coast at Beaufort Inlet. Needless to say, they have some cool stuff in the museum. In addition to some of the cannon from the ship, there are pewter plates, a brass bell, and a urethral syringe (which was used to administer mercury to the men aboard the ship in order to treat venereal diseases). The Blackbeard exhibit is only a small part of the museum, however. It covers most of North Carolina’s maritime heritage from Native American dugout canoes to modern vessels. The exhibits pay close attention to the economic impact that the sea and its resources have had on the state, including whaling, oystering, fishing, and waterfowling. One of the most interesting parts of the museum is actually in another building. Across the street from the main museum building is the watercraft center which is staffed by volunteers that demonstrate model ship building and boatbuilding. They even offer classes on boatbuilding to the public that range from constructing sailing vessels to maintaining diesel boat engines.

Carteret Academy, ca. 1842. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Carteret Academy, ca. 1842. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Beaufort isn’t just a museum though. It’s an interesting little historic town. The town was founded in 1709 and quickly became an important port for ships due to its protected inlet, making it a hub of international trade. This international influence is reflected in the architecture of the town, particularly the eighteenth century buildings. The majority of the early structures along the waterfront are built in the Bahamian style. This is what the brochures from Beaufort call it, but I couldn’t find Bahamian architecture in the little bit of research I did, so if no such style exists feel free to let me know. Anyway, the main feature that sets these houses apart from others of the same time period is the porch on the first and second story of the houses. They are pretty unusual features and seem particularly suited to hot climates such as the Caribbean or North Carolina in August. This style likely found its way to Beaufort as a result of the trading vessels and sailors that passed through the town. Building in this fashion allowed the more cosmopolitan residents of the small port of Beaufort to adopt and modify the fashions that their counterparts in the big port cities of the islands indulged in. This style actually became a part of Beaufort and continued for years as houses dating from the eighteenth through late nineteenth centuries have porches on both stories, in the Bahamian fashion.

Masonic Lodge. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Masonic Lodge. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Old Fellows Hall, ca. 1831. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Old Fellows Hall, ca. 1831. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Vaulted burial in the Old Burying Ground. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Vaulted burial in the Old Burying Ground. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

There are several things that you don’t want to miss in Beaufort, including a really cool cemetery with lots of vaulted burials and interesting stories (this will be addressed in an upcoming post). The one thing that really made an impression on me though was in the maritime museum. They have an entire exhibit devoted to piracy, because of Blackbeard’s tie to the area, located in a little room off of the main hall. The exhibit includes pirate smells, clothing, typical meals, and paintings. One of these paintings stands out above the rest because it features Doug Sanford, our beloved professor from UMW.

"Forty Thieves" in the NC Maritime Museum. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

"Forty Thieves" in the NC Maritime Museum. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Close up of painting showing Doug's doppelganger. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Close up of painting showing Doug's doppelganger. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

The painting is titled “Forty Thieves” and shows a pirate ship with all sorts of riff raff aboard and Doug (actually his doppelganger) in the center of it all sporting a pair of yellow and purple tights. As of right now, you can see this painting and other portions of the same exhibit at the NC Museum of History in Raleigh. It is on loan for an exhibit on piracy. However, this shouldn’t deter you from taking a trip to Beaufort, there’s still a ton of cool stuff to see and do. Just make sure to stop by that pirate exhibit in Raleigh on the way back.

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.

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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.

Preservacation: Stratford Hall and the Various Meanings of Historic Sites

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 #3 in the series.

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By Brad Hatch

This posting has taken me a little longer to write than usual because I’ve been busy the past week. In addition to going to Williamsburg for commencement on the 17th, Lauren and I stayed at Stratford Hall that weekend for our anniversary. We met at Stratford 3 years ago and have gone there for every anniversary since. This annual ritual has inspired me to write about this place that has played such a large role in my life. Rather than giving you a review of what to do and critiquing the site, however, I wanted to reflect on what this one place means to me, and by doing so, hopefully get at the deeper and more nuanced meanings of this and other historic sites.

For those of you who don’t know, Stratford Hall is the birthplace of Robert E. Lee as well as the home of brotherly signers of the Declaration of Independence. It is a beautiful H-plan Georgian brick house built in 1738 along the cliffs of the Potomac near Montross, Virginia. At its height the plantation boasted 7,000 acres of land, a landing for ships, a grist mill, and numerous slaves. Like many plantations it was a small, self-contained town of sorts. The Lees lost the home after 1810 and it went through the hands of private owners until 1929. It was in this year that May Lanier created a ladies’ association that raised enough money, $240,000, to purchase the house and 1,100 acres as a memorial to Robert E. Lee. The Robert E. Lee Memorial Association still owns Stratford and it, like many historic houses, stands as an example of the late 19th and early 20th century preservation movement among wealthy women.

That’s enough of facts though. Facts are handy to a point, but we supply the meaning (to paraphrase Second Mate Stubb in Moby Dick). It’s meaning that interests me, though I will only give one of the countless meanings for this place. Stratford has been like a mother to me through these past several years. To start with, it has played a pivotal role in shaping my career as an archaeologist. It was here in the summer of 2005 that I took my first supervisory role in archaeology as the UMW field school assistant. I have worked on this site (the Oval Site) longer than any other, three years. It has become a part of me. I know the site backward and forward, the feel of the soil, the way the breeze cooled us off on hot June days, the sounds of the countryside.  It was as if the place and I could converse, we knew one another so well. Things seemed clearer on that site than any other. It almost had a youthful innocence about it.

In constructing my own meaning of Stratford Hall, however, it is the people that are most important. In the years that I worked there I met several important people in my life. Not least among these was Lauren, whom I found my second summer there. Up until this meeting Stratford was already tied to some important friendships. Actually, most of the people I really continue to keep up with from Mary Washington were at the first field school in 2005, including Andrew, who will be going to the University of Tennessee’s Ph.D. program with me, Irene, and Erin. The four of us continue to keep in touch and it seems that we formed a bond that summer that won’t soon be broken. With the exception of my childhood friend, Patrick, and Lauren, I would say that those three know me the best. We shared so many things on the plantation from evenings spent on the pond fishing, to afternoons spent wandering the beach looking for sharks’ teeth, to nights spent watching fireflies dance on fields beneath a starlit sky. These images are burned into my memory, but not because of their own beauty. It is the people that I spent these times with that made them special. Without the people there is no meaning for me.

Coming back to Stratford now is bittersweet in a way. It’s like going back to a point in my life that I want to capture and put away. Visiting this place allows me to do that. I can savor all of those memories as they come rushing back to me with the taste of a Northern Neck Ginger Ale, the tug of a Bass on my fishing line, or the sight of the mansion with a full field of hay in the foreground. To me Stratford represents a simpler time, a more innocent time (if there ever was such a time). It reminds me to live and to enjoy all things beautiful, for they are fleeting. I know that I can never go back to the same plantation that lives in my mind, but I don’t need to. My experience on my mother’s sandy shores and fertile fields has provided me with more than I could ever repay to her in a thousand lifetimes. This is what Stratford Hall means to me. This is only my interpretation though. As we go to sites like this we should be mindful of the people who have lived and toiled on these places. The entirety of the human experience exists on such small pieces of the planet. Historic sites are places where people have been born and died, thousands of loves have been won and lost, people have literally given their whole beings to these places. And, they’ve lived, oh, how we have lived. Think on this the next time you visit another site and it will change how you experience it.

It's the people, not the place. Photo courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

It's the people, not the place. Photo courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Preservacation: The Aurora Fossil Museum

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 #2 in the series.

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By Brad Hatch

As archaeologists know, we are time and again plagued by several oft repeated questions from the public. Among these are: Have you found any gold? Aren’t you hot out here? Do you dig dinosaurs? Well, I’ve never found any gold, it is hot, especially around late July or early August, and I don’t dig dinosaurs. Actually, come to think of it, I do kind of dig dinosaurs, but not professionally, and they’re not usually dinosaurs. I’ve always had an interest in old things, and often times, the older the better. Like many archaeologists, especially the elderly ones, I’m a collector of old stuff. From antique wooden fishing lures, to coins, to fossils, I have a fascination with things that were around long before I was. Fossil collecting, however, didn’t find me until I started doing archaeology.

Working at Stratford Hall Plantation in the summers as Doug’s field school assistant got me into the habit of doing two things: fishing every evening and combing the beach for fossil shark teeth. Many people don’t realize that much of the tidewater region of Virginia was a shallow sea millions of years ago teeming with ancient marine life. Fewer people realize that the erosion of the cliffs at Stratford above the Potomac River has exposed the geologic formation that is full of the remains of these ancient creatures. As these fossils erode out of the cliff the river brings them to the beach at Stratford where they wait to be found. While there are all kinds of fossils to be recovered there, the main type that people collect are sharks’ teeth, due to their abundance (a shark can lose up to 35,000 teeth in a lifetime), ease of recognition, and natural beauty.

Fossilized whale skeleton. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Fossilized whale skeleton. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Lauren inside the reconstructed Megalodon jaw. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Lauren inside the reconstructed Megalodon jaw. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

This past winter Lauren (another archaeologist turned fossil collector by the Stratford Hall field school) told me about a fossil hunting trip she took to Aurora, North Carolina with some of her friends from Eastern Carolina University. Soon after, she and I were on the road to go visit. Aurora, like most of the rest of eastern North Carolina, is pretty much away from everything. This isolation, coupled with a unique geology that includes a rich phosphate formation, makes it the perfect place for the PCS phosphate mine, one of the largest in the world. The town itself has one street with a few buildings, two of which house the Aurora Fossil Museum. The fossil museum was opened in 1978 as a cooperative effort between the local government, PCS, and area collectors. Since then it has grown to encompass two buildings which house fossils that represent millions of years of life on earth found on most of the continents. Naturally, its exhibits tend to focus on the geologic history of North Carolina, particularly the Pungo River area where Aurora is located.

The PCS phosphate mine. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

The PCS phosphate mine. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Me in the real Megalodon jaw. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Me in the real Megalodon jaw. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

The museum experience starts with an introductory film made by PCS about the geologic formations they mine and some of the ancient history of the area. In general, it’s a pretty good overview of the geology and what the mine does, but it has a propaganda feel to it and looks like it was made prior to 1978. The majority of the exhibits consist of certain fossils and the information about the animals they are from in terms of size, diet, etc. In some ways this makes for dry reading, but there really isn’t too much you can say about 15 million year old bones. Interestingly, they have a whole section in the back of the museum about Native Americans. This sort of exhibit is actually a pet peeve of mine because it lumps Indians in with animals, as if they’re more a part of the natural world. These kinds of exhibits in natural history museums serve to perpetuate the myth that Native Americans were somehow closer to nature and by extension less cultural (or less human?) than Europeans. Having said this, however, they did try to incorporate the fossil theme into this exhibit by showing tools, such as scrapers and axes from the area made out of fossils, which are actually pretty unique artifacts.

A stratigraphy diagram in the Native American section of the museum. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

A stratigraphy diagram in the Native American section of the museum. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Native American artifacts. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Native American artifacts. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Getting down to it though, the real draw of the museum is the pile of mining spoil they have out front for visitors to search through. This spoil contains all kinds of fossils from coral, to bone, to shark teeth, to coprolites (fossilized poo). The chances of finding big fossils, however, are slim since most of the spoil is picked through by the mine workers before it arrives in town. With a little patience, though, and a sharp eye you can find a bunch of cool things, and even if you don’t you can always go to the gift shop and buy some (they also sell Native American artifacts, but I wouldn’t recommend buying them, it’s pretty unethical). While Lauren and I were there we spent about an hour or so combing through the pile out front, and a smaller one behind it, and found two Ziploc bags full of shark teeth, stingray teeth, bone, and a few coprolites. The best find of the day was a piece of a Megalodon tooth, which can be as big as a dinner plate (these sharks could grow larger than a school bus). Afterward, we rode through the PCS mine, which was a very unnerving experience. It’s unbelievable what these large scale pit mines do to the landscape, and one can only imagine the environmental impact. I won’t get into those issues here, but I will say that at least they are trying to give back to the community through the fossil museum, as well as allowing fossil hunts within the mine.

Lauren on top of the spoil pile with her bag of fossils. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Lauren on top of the soil pile with her bag of fossils. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

A sample of shark teeth I found. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

A sample of shark teeth I found. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Fragment of a Megalodon tooth I found. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Fragment of a Megalodon tooth I found. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

So, many of you are probably wondering what this has to do with preservation. To be honest, I’m not completely sure, but I think the museum experience and history raises important preservation-related questions. First of all, it shows how a community can cooperate with industry to at least gain something out of a bad situation. Despite the mine’s affect on the environment, the town of Aurora has taken advantage of it and used it to attract people from near and far (supposedly, it is packed during the summer with fossil hunters) for better or worse. Secondly, it raises questions concerning the environment, how can it not with huge open pit mines all over the place?

Thirdly, it makes me wonder, as an archaeologist, if paleontological collecting is ethically dubious. Archaeologists discourage collecting artifacts, it destroys context, which is crucial to our interpretations. Do paleontologists feel the same way about this? I’ve never heard from any one way or the other and am very interested to know if they have similar views to archaeologists. Finally, and most interesting to me, it raises the question of the design of natural history museums. Specifically, should Native Americans be included in them and what sort of stereotypes does this inclusion perpetuate? These are all important questions we, as preservationists, need to think about and address. The Aurora Fossil Museum, in addition to being a fun place to visit, acts as an important place to get people (especially preservationists) thinking about the role of industrial propaganda, the proliferation of stereotypes, and environmental conservation in a museum setting.

Preservacation: Weaverville, NC

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 #1 in the series.

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By Brad Hatch

About a month ago my girlfriend, Lauren, and I took a trip to Asheville, North Carolina to visit the Biltmore Estate (the subject of a future posting) and stayed at the Dry Ridge Inn, a bed and breakfast in a historic house just outside of the city in a sleepy little town called Weaverville. Weaverville is one of those towns that really only has one street with commercial establishments, aptly named Main Street.  At first, Lauren and I figured there wasn’t going to be much to do in Weaverville, though we didn’t mind since we were there to see Biltmore. But, as is often the case, we had stumbled upon a little gem of a town.

The Dry Ridge Inn in Weaverville, NC. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

The Dry Ridge Inn in Weaverville, NC. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

The first thing we did, after unpacking, was take a walk downtown to grab a bite to eat. We stopped in at Blue Mountain Pizza and had a tasty pie while we listened to live local music, which is a nightly occurrence. This would not be our last pleasant surprise in this town. Later that weekend we got the chance to talk a walk down Main Street and look around in some shops. There were several local art galleries filled with everything from paintings to photographs, to pottery, all made by local North Carolina artists. Interestingly, we learned that many local artists have their workshops in the mountains surrounding the town and twice a year the town and artists put on an Art Safari where people can visit the different workshops. The shop that really caught my eye, however, was Preservation Hall. This little place contains a wide array of salvaged architectural elements from things as small as door knobs and keys all the way up to doors and mantles. As preservationists, Lauren and I were like kids in a candy store gazing over all of the things we learned about in various classes at Mary Wash. It’s definitely worth checking out if you get the chance just for fun or if you are looking for some pieces for a restoration job, they have a huge collection.

Lauren and me in front of the Zebulon Vance House. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Lauren and me in front of the Zebulon Vance House. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

One of the other places we got the chance to visit on this trip was the Zebulon Vance birthplace, about 5 minutes outside of Weaverville. I won’t get into the details of Zeb Vance’s life here, but he served in the Confederate army during the Civil War, was elected governor of North Carolina three times, and did a stint in the U.S. Senate. To put it plainly, he is to North Carolinians what Robert E. Lee might be to Virginians; they love him down there. The birthplace, situated in the Reems Creek Valley, is administered by the state of North Carolina and consists of the reconstructed home of Zebulon Vance, with the original 1795 chimney, and associated reconstructed outbuildings. Zeb’s grandfather purchased the property in 1795, but it is unknown whether the structures were already extant. The main house consists of a two-story log building with a one-story addition. It is furnished to reflect the things that the Vance’s, a wealthy family on the frontier, may have had, which did not amount to much.

Another view of the Zebulon Vance House. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Another view of the Zebulon Vance House. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

The slave quarter at the Zebulon Vance birthplace. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

The slave quarter at the Zebulon Vance birthplace. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

It was a real contrast coming from 18th century Virginia plantations to a small frontier farmstead and seeing the difference in material possessions. All of the possessions in the Vance house would not have been able to fill a single room in a place like Mount Vernon or Stratford Hall. They did, however, have some luxury items that were symbolic of their wealth. Most notably and best explained, was a wall clock. This was a status symbol for the Vances since nobody would have had one and it was virtually useless on the frontier, since it was impossible to set accurately if it ever stopped. In addition to the main house there are also several outbuildings, including a weaving house, a smokehouse, a tool shed, and a slave quarter. However, like most historic sites, these structures were left up to us to explore and were not interpreted. Despite this, the site served as an excellent reminder that the majority of people in the 18th century were not living in manor houses, and most, both east and west, were in even poorer material conditions than the Vance family.

Finally, I want to quickly mention that the Blue Ridge Parkway is only about 15 minutes from Weaverville, and only a couple of miles from the Vance Birthplace. It is a beautiful road and definitely worth driving on if you get the chance. Of course, Lauren and I explored it on a rainy, foggy day, so it felt more like a trip to our doom. About 20 minutes away from the Zeb Vance birthplace along the Blue Ridge Parkway is the Folk Art Center. It is huge and features a museum about folk art, particularly in the southern highlands, as well as a shop where you can purchase items created by local artists. Many of these pieces, including wood carvings, face jugs, and quilts get at the heart of Appalachian life and culture, which is why this is one stop you don’t want to skip.

View from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Courtesy of Brad Hatch

View from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Courtesy of Brad Hatch

Now that I’ve rambled on about Weaverville for far too long I should say that it is a wonderful place if you like preservation. It is a treasure trove of interesting buildings, art, culture, and beautiful scenery to enjoy. You won’t be able to see it all in a weekend, especially with Asheville so close to keep pulling you away. But, if you’re like me, you won’t want to see it all at once because it will spark a love affair with the Appalachians that will keep you wanting to come back for more.