Friday, June 3, 2011

Old Building Caught Up In Discussion About Demoliton by Elkton Officials Yields Up Some Interesting Archeaological Features From Earlier Era

You never know what kind of buried treasures might turn upwhen someone starts digging around older parts of Elkton. Many parking areas, streets, and buildings lots have yielded relics that were tossed aside and buried long ago. It’s been that way for centuries as people are  often astonished after unearthing Revolutionary War and War of 1812 artifacts. Beyond projectiles of war, the soil yields up relics of everyday living including old building foundations, architectural elements, bottles, coins, ceramics, buttons, and arrow-heads. One bona-fide archaeological dig produced Spanish coins, stoneware from prehistoric peoples, and human bones from an aboriginal burial ground.

These archaeological discoveries put the spotlight on a dimly illuminated part of Cecil County’s history as our written record here is strong so we know lots about that extended period. But in earlier times, as the manuscripts grow  weaker, we have to depend on archeology to help puzzle out the past. So whenever a contractor starts digging deep into the earth in some of the oldest parts of the county seat, one has to wonder what’s being unearthed. Some of  those discarded materials would help us solve historical mysteries since our  soil is crammed with lots of artifacts that have been buried for centuries.

The exposure of some fascinating architectural elements of a building being demolished this past week at 124 and 124 ½ E. Main Street is what brought this subject up. The frame commercial, vernacular structure that stood on the property circa 1880, replaced a much earlier building. Once it was torn
down, some below Main Street elements became visible from Howard Street. On the west side of the frontage lot was an attractive arched brick structure, which probably supported something heavy such as a multistory fireplace, from an earlier period (see photo). On the east side was another
opening under Main Street.

A few weeks ago, unidentified town officials decided to rush through the governmental bureaucracy a request to tear down the late 19th century vernacular structure, bypassing the town’s procedural requirements. As it turned out in this instance, just as it has in other cases, the decision to ignore municipal regulations simply made it far more complicated than necessary. Officials
had to stop the contractor’s work so everyone could back up and go through the regulatory steps enumerated by Elkton ordinances. When they stepped back to address the requirements, the historic district board approved the demolition in a split vote, only requiring that an “attractive fence” be installed on Main Street as it was unclear what the future held for the parcel.

Main Street area in 1858

This is a property that is connected with some of the municipality’s earliest development so one never knows what types of surprising artifacts are waiting to be found and how they will yield insight to the past. Whenever an archaeological study is done around Elkton, the investigators frequently find historical secrets in the ground. The key is there is a lot of stuff we don’t know about that’s buried under Elkton soil. Hopefully officials, in their rush to restore the downtown, will think about archeology as a minimum, though we also suggest they require some minimal examination of properties being considered for demolition. Presentation of data concerning a site will help everyone make an informed decision and document the basics on the parcel's history, as a minimum.

1 comment:

  1. If Main Street is an important and old roadway, and Elkton a colonial era town, then it would behoove the town to require at least minimal documentation of condemned buildings through simple drawings (floor plans), and ample photographs. Also, elementary archaeological investigation is be warranted. If some of these costs were taken into consideration perhaps the building owners and the town would take a more progressive look at preservation and reuse. The wholesale destruction of Elkton’s historic fabric, headed up by Union Hospital and the expanding medical services field, will lead to a greater feeling of hodgepodge than already exists. We can never undo the travesty of the new courthouse and the federal building, or get past the flashing bail bond neon sign, but at least we can be sensitive to the importance of streetscape and the fact that the sum of the whole is greater than the individual parts. That is, each demolition lessens Elkton’s charm and increases a faceless personality such as a strip mall. Look at Chesapeake City: that town owes its existence to the accidental preservation of many, simple, balloon frame buildings, some of which were about to fall down, but the cumulation of the historic fabric and its careful renovation has made the city a gem in the County. Unfortunately, many elected officials, bureaucrats. and developers only understand historic preservation in terms of: “Did Washington sleep here?” That mindset gives permission to demolish whatever else lies in the path of their temporary mercantile schemes, but leaves the town, and our historic heritage, the poorer for it.