Wrap Up of 2022 Dig!

At the beginning of our 2022 dig, we were working with the assumption that a colonial-era building was located at the edge of our excavation site at Ferry Farm, the Boyhood Home of George Washington. At the southeastern edge of the work yard, four post-holes had been found and excavated during previous projects. All were similar in size, shape, and depth, and each one was 10 feet apart from another, forming a single line. 

Figure 1. Location of the 2022 excavations at Ferry Farm.

We presumed these features represented one side of a building and not a fence, mainly because of their size and distance from one another. Our objective was to find the rest of this structure and figure out what kind of building it was.

Figure 2. Four post holes at the beginning of 2022 excavations, prompting us to look towards the south for the other side of the building.

Our first goal was to ascertain if our -hole line extended further towards the east or west. Re-examination of previously excavated units to the west and the excavation of new units to the east revealed no additional posts, which meant our building was confirmed at 30 feet long on one side.

The second objective was to find a parallel wall to our post-hole line, as would be expected if this line represented the remains of a structure. Because previous excavations in this area (2019, 2020, and 2021) showed no relatable line of posts to the north of our four post holes, we opened up new units and reopened previously excavated units to the south.

What we found was not another line of post holes but a large stone pier and what appears to be two robbed stone pier features to the south of our four post-holes. This line of stone pier/robbed piers was located approximately 20 feet south of the post hole line. They were also spaced approximately 10 feet apart, and each corresponded with the placement of three of the four post-holes. 

Figure 3. Alignment of four post-holes and three stone pier features on the site.

We believe we have uncovered the partial remains of an agricultural building that employed a unique combination of wooden posts in the ground and stone piers for the foundation. A corn crib – a building found on every farm or plantation in every century – is such a structure that uses a combination of post in ground beams and stone piers in their construction. Stone piers would be used for the storage portion of the structure, and post in ground supports for the overhanging shed roof that affords protection to wagons offloading corn into the building. The corn crib examples below illustrate the use of two different foundation styles.

Figure 4. An example of an old Corn Crib (North Carolina) using the same foundation system uncovered at Ferry Farm. The foundation features stone piers for the storage portion of the structure, with wooden post in ground beams that make up the protective shed roof that covered wagons being unloaded. (Wikimedia Commons)
Figure 5. Corn Crib in Tennessee that uses post in ground supports for the shed portion of the building as well as stone piers for the storage portion of the structure. (Wikimedia Commons)

The excavation of the entire structure, particularly the southernmost wall of the storage shed, was hindered by the existence of the emergency access road that was installed at Ferry Farm in 2018. So while we have the entire open shed portion of the corn crib, only half of the storage portion has been uncovered – the rest remains below the current entrance road.  

Figure 6. Interpreted location of the corn crib on the site.

Artifacts from this area have not yet been processed in our lab, but their preliminary analysis support the interpretation of this structure dating to the Washington period. 

From historical documents, we know the Washington family was growing corn on their property, thus necessitating at least one, if not more, corn cribs on the farm. For example, in 1750, Mary Washington is paid £10 for selling corn to the Accokeek Furnace, a business originally started by her husband but then overseen by her stepson, Augustine Jr. Also, Washington’s survey of Ferry Farm in 1771 specifically mentions a cornfield on the property.

          Efforts of the last two dig seasons have centered around uncovering this building and determining its function. Having gone as far as we can in the field, our outside work on this structure is done. Work continues inside, processing the artifacts in the lab and refining our interpretation of this exciting new addition to the Washington landscape. 

There will be another dig season this year at Ferry Farm, starting mid-May. Our focus will switch to different areas of the site, so be sure to visit this summer and allow us to tell you about our new projects. 

Judy Jobrack

Archaeology Field Director