Bird-Houston Site (7NC-F-138), U.S. Route 301 Corridor
The Louis Berger Group, Inc., conducted Phase II and III archaeological investigations at the Bird-Houston Site (7NC-F-138), located in St. Georges Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware, in advance of the proposed U.S. Route 301 construction. The Bird-Houston Site is the remains of a small farm occupied between about 1775 and 1920. The site has two distinct parts about 200 feet apart; Locus B was occupied from about 1775 to 1825, and Locus A was occupied from about 1825 to 1920.
Documentary research showed that the site was occupied by a variety of different households. The first occupants at Locus B were unknown tenants of a large landowner. Around 1800 the property passed to the Houston family, landowning farmers. By 1812 the “old wooden house” on the site was occupied by James Houston, one of the sons of family matriarch Mary Houston. Around 1825 a new house was built at Locus A, which was occupied by James’s brother Jacob Houston. By 1849 his family had moved to a new brick house, and the house at Locus A was leased to tenants. The census regularly lists a family of African-American tenants as living adjacent to the Houston family, and these may be the residents of the Bird-Houston Site.
Phase II fieldwork was carried out between April 4 and May 26, 2011; these investigations showed that sub-plowzone features were present at both loci. Phase III fieldwork took place between August 20 and October 4, 2012. The investigations included geophysical mapping of the sites, plowzone test units, mechanical removal of the remaining plowzone, feature mapping, feature excavation, flotation of soil samples, and soil chemistry. All cultural features at the site were excavated.
In all, 3,161 artifacts and animal bones were recovered from Locus B, 2,501 from the features. At Locus B the most important discoveries were two wells. One of the wells, Feature 1, proved to be nearly sterile. The other, Feature 15, contained hundreds of artifacts deposited around 1825. These included many large potsherds such as coarse red earthenware, pearlware, and creamware. At the bottom of the well, 7 to 9 feet below ground surface, the wooden lining of the well was preserved nearly intact. Other cultural features encountered at Locus B were several shallow pits containing numerous artifacts. Fill from the feature deposits dated to around the time the site was abandoned, ca. 1825. No building foundations were found.
Locus A produced many more artifacts, 7,320 artifacts in all, spanning the whole period of occupation. Features encountered in Locus A included a well and several pits, some of which were filled with brick rubble. The well was filled with brick rubble and sterile clay, and the lower parts contained little domestic material. Toward the bottom, 6 to 9 feet below ground surface, remains of the well’s brick lining were preserved. The well was infilled after the site was abandoned, around 1920.
Taken together, these finds add materially to our knowledge of rural Delaware in the 1775-1920 period. Especially interesting is the opportunity to this site provided to make different kinds of comparisons: across time, between landowners and tenants, between whites and African-Americans.
Cite this Record
Bird-Houston Site (7NC-F-138), U.S. Route 301 Corridor. ( tDAR id: 436503) ; doi:10.6067/XCV88C9ZVX
Calendar Date: 1775 to 1920
min long: -75.71; min lat: 39.493 ; max long: -75.677; max lat: 39.525 ;
Individual & Institutional Roles
Contact(s): Heidi Krofft
Contributor(s): Wesley Willoughby
Field Director(s): Jason Shellenhammer; Mary Patton
Principal Investigator(s): John Bedell
Permitting Agency(s): DelDOT
Prepared By(s): The Louis Berger Group
Submitted To(s): DelDOT
Agreement Number(s): 1538
Work Order Number(s): 10
Louis Berger Project Number(s): 2001831.006
Redaction Note: figures and text showing or relating site location information have been redacted
All artifacts and excavation records transferred to Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs Curatorial Facility, Dover, DE. Accession Number 2011.8
Related Comparative Collections
Louis Berger's Archaeological Laboratory maintains comparative collections for artifact and faunal identifications, Kansas City, MO.