UMD students, town of Bladensburg partner to preserve mansion
One of the first visible steps in restoring an historic house in Bladensburg began last week as a team of students conducted an archeological dig on the property.
The 18th century Bostwick Mansion sits on about seven acres of land near Kenilworth Avenue and Annapolis Road. In March, the University of Maryland, College Park's Historic Preservation Program began a partnership with the town of Bladensburg to use the site as a teaching center for anthropology students. The program will also help the town, which owns the property, to restore the site for historic preservation.
Bostwick was one of the first houses in Bladensburg and dates back to 1746. English-born merchant Christopher Lowndes owned the home and was a slave trader.
Lowndes' son-in-law, Benjamin Stoddert, also lived there and was the first secretary of the U.S. Navy. The house is currently closed to the public.
Five students and a professor will finish the survey this week. Project director David Gadsby said there may be artifacts on the site from the previous owners of the mansion, as well as the slaves who lived there.
"The primary purpose of the survey is to assess the archeological resources on the site," said Don Linebaugh, director of the Historic Preservation Program. "Based on the house that's there, we assume there are archeological resources."
On Friday, students marked off the small holes they dug and placed little blue flags every 25 feet. They spent eight hours a day digging and sifting through the dirt they unearthed, uncovering small pieces of broken pottery, glass, nails and other remnants of an existence centuries old.
Some exciting discoveries during the survey include a large glass kick up, which is the round base to a bottle, Gadsby said.
"It gets so exciting when you find kick ups and it tells you about the people who lived here before," junior anthropology student Ana Reyes said.
Maria Grenchick, a Riverdale resident and junior anthropology student, said the property was an oasis of history surrounded by busy cars and roads.
"It's really surprising to see [the mansion] has its own private little island in Bladensburg," she said.
Gadsby also pointed out other finds, including large pieces of a broken pot, 18th century glassware and floral patterned dinnerware.
"You find things in the field, but most of the knowledge and discovery happens in the lab," he said.
Planners will use findings from the survey to determine where to best build a replacement driveway—the current one is too narrow for emergency vehicles, Linebaugh said. If the best place for the driveway is along an indentified archaeological resource site, another team may come back to uncover whatever is there before the work is done, he added.
Additional work over the next two years includes testing the soil around the house to determine how to best stop the house from gradually sliding down the hill. The roofs will also be replaced. The entire renovation and preservation project may take 10 to 15 years, Linebaugh said.
The town of Bladensburg is paying for the restoration through a series of state and federal grants. The town currently has $450,000 in grants that will help pay for a new driveway but will apply for more because the entire restoration will cost more than $1 million, Town Clerk Pat McAuley said.
"[The restoration] is an integral part of our whole town center vision. It provides an important historic anchor, and it will be a part of the town that will remain, for the most part, green space," she said. "We want people to get interested and hopefully volunteer and get involved. It's part of our history."