In 1984, excavations ceased at the historic Reynolds Tavern in Annapolis. Four years later, I was born.
You could say I solidly missed the opportunity to excavate this site, one of the first of many projects to be undertaken by Archaeology in Annapolis. Reynolds Tavern, built by William Reynolds on Annapolis’ historic Church Circle, has served variably as a home, a tavern, a hat shop, an inn, a bank, a library, and a restaurant since its construction in 1747. Records tell us that Reynolds made hats in his basement, ran a tavern upstairs (though intermittently), and sold slaves from his front porch. The building has had a long history since its original owner, but Reynolds has remained its namesake; today the building operates as a restaurant of the same name, with a small inn upstairs and a popular pub in the basement.
Reynolds Tavern met its first archaeologists in Kenneth and Ronald Orr, who undertook the initial excavations in 1978. Four years later, the project came to Archaeology in Annapolis, and three more seasons of archaeological work took place. Notes were recorded, drawings drawn, pictures taken, artifacts cataloged. Now thirty years later, these were my pathways to the site I would end up re-excavating, step by step, only this time armed with nothing more than post-it notes and a scanner.
When I was first invited to finish the site report for Reynolds Tavern, which had been picked up and picked at only a few times over the years, I was intrigued, but also a bit unsure of whether or not it was a task I would be able to accomplish, so far removed by time from the excavations themselves. Not being able to associate notes with the actual experience of working on a site left me feeling blind, and more than a little lost. However, not even a month later, what I found myself in the middle of was a mental excavation. Peeling back layers of data, trying to associate one item with another of the same paper ‘strata’, making notes on exactly where I was finding what and trying to piece it together later. The artifacts were just codes on a page, the units just sketches on paper, but slowly, I began to see what had happened thirty years ago. Despite my initial trepidation (and some admittedly mind-scattering notes from the 80s), the Reynolds Tavern site report has come together, piece by piece, and proved to be both an adventure and a truly gratifying learning experience. (Though I’ll take the field any day, but wouldn’t we all?)
But this adventure in site-report-writing has not been without its exciting moments. There’s much more to this story: there are the actual finds of the 1980s excavations (the well, the cobblestone road, the African bundles, among others), the exhibit-to-be in the basement of the present day Reynolds Tavern, the discovery of the artifacts (again!) in the secret, cavelike room beneath Woods Hall, and as of today, the hundreds of photographic slides pulled from archives to be digitized for the first time. But these are other blog posts, for other weeks! Until next time.