Charred animal bone, a doll’s leg, marbles and jewelry are just a few things that have been found at the Houston-LeCompt Archeological Site off of Boyds Corner Road so far.
Below the dirt, archeologists could see the brick walls of a root cellar that sat below a house during the 18th century.
The home, which was owned by James Houston until his death in 1849 and sold to James LeCompt in 1865, is believed to have burnt to the ground around 1930.
“We have found evidence of it, but not enough to prove it ourselves,” said Johnie Sander, an archeologist working on the site.
This particular acre of land in Middletown is part of a 17-mile stretch that the Delaware Department of Transportation plans to use in the construction of the new U.S. Route 301.
Plans for the roadway should be completed by the end of the year, said project manager Mark Tudor.
Before construction can begin though, the National Historic Preservation Act requires that a dig to recover as many pieces of history as possible be done.
The current third phase of the dig began July 4 and will continue until after Labor Day.
In 2010, Dovetail Cultural Research Group and Archaeological & Historical Consultants did an initial survey of the land, finding more than 5,000 artifacts.
Historic maps also showed that there was a house on the property.
“We have found a range of domestic items, plates, glassware, coins and buttons,” said Dr. Kerri Barile, president of Dovetail.
Since the first phase of the dig began in 2010, an additional 40,000 have been found as well as the home’s foundation.
“We’re still early in the excavation,” Barile said. “There are still a lot of unknowns.”
Sander is estimating that they will find more than 100,000 additional artifacts once they excavate the entire root cellar.
The root cellar, which is about five feet deep, would have been used as a cold, dark, sealed in place to store food, since refrigerators didn’t exist yet, Barile said.
“Archeology teaches us about everyday people,” she said.
The home that once sat on the land would not have been a big, upper class, Victorian home, she said. Many of the buildings that still stand from the 18th and 19th centuries belonged to the top five percent of the population. The rest of the dwellings from that time period would have belonged to the working and middle classes, and probably would not have been built as sturdy as what still stands today.
The Houston’s first owned the site, which was named for the two families that owned the site in the 19th and 20th centuries.
“Extensive archival research shows that the area was owned by Mary Houston through the 1700’s before being passed to James,” Barile said.
Page 2 of 2 - Houston, who lived on the site until his death in 1849, also owned several farms.
After his death, the land was divided among his heirs, deeding the particular farm to Richard Mulford.
In 1865, Mulford sold the land to James LeCompt who is believed to have rented the property out to tenant farmers. During LeCompt’s ownership, his tenants lived in the home, which was built by Houston before his death.
LeCompt lived across the road during his ownership, Barile said. “He was an early landlord.”
His tenant farmers would keep the profit they made from the land.
“You can learn a lot about people of different statuses, such as the difference between the Houston’s and the tenants,” Barile said.
Diggers have already found a variety of different animal bones, including teeth that may have once belonged to a horse or mule.
When LeCompt died, the land was sold back to the Houston family but researchers are unsure if the house was still standing at that time.
Evidence of the old farmstead, which include the home and a few smaller dwellings, are still present under the soil.
Archaeologists also suspect a well to be on site.
“It’s our largest project since building Route 1,” said DelDOT archaeologist David Clarke. “This is just one of many sites.”
Archaeologists will continue to work on the site every other week until the day after Labor Day.
The site is open to the public and is located on Boyds Corner Road between U.S. Route 301 and the Cedar Lane Elementary School.