It can be a little disconcerting
to listen to Al Luckenbach
talk about Scott Street. To hear him tell it, it's a bustling
place---the region's main north-south thoroughfare---lined with
houses, shops, warehouses, even a tavern. As he describes its
architectural and geographic traits he tilts his head eastward
or points vaguely with his thumb.
Finally, you have to ask, "Are we talking about a real street
"Oh no, no," he says. "It's not here anymore. I'm talking about
where that little gully is." Scott Street, it turns out, has been
covered by the sands of time for more than a century. But in the
seven years that Luckenbach, the archaeologist for Anne Arundel
County, has been excavating the lost town of London, he's grown
so familiar with the area's long-buried geography that Scott Street
has attained a degree of reality for him.
Such is the lot of the archaeologist. Where the rest of us see
broken pottery and rusty nails, he sees the remnants of a tavern.
Where we see a block of discolored soil, he sees the foundation
of a house long-demolished.
And at London Town, what appears to most of us to be some piles
of dirt, a few roped-off holes, and several wooden planks, looks
like a thriving colonial seaport to Luckenbach.
London Town was established in 1683. At its height (in the 1720s
and 1730s) it was an active port town with 40 to 50 developed
lots, a number of planned streets, ferry landings and wharves.
The town supported shipwrights, rope makers, carpenters and joiners,
a tailor, a staymaker and a wigmaker. Its decline began in the
1750s, and by the end of the American Revolution was little more
than a small cluster of buildings around a ferry landing.
By the early 19th century it was just three or four farms, one
of which included the imposing brick William Brown House that
still stands on the banks of the South River. Built between 1758
and 1764, it served as the Anne Arundel County almshouse from
1828 to 1965.
Today, the town of London is part of Historic London Town and
Gardens, a 23-acre park in Edgewater owned by Anne Arundel County
and managed by the non-profit London Town Foundation. Luckenbach,
director of the Lost Towns Project that explores colonial sites
in the county, leads teams of professionals, interns, volunteers
and schoolchildren in excavating and archiving the site's wealth
of artifacts and archaeological evidence of life in early America.
Among London Town's current projects is the reconstruction of
the Lord Mayor's Tenement, a 20- by 20-foot wooden dwelling with
an adjacent garden and yard. Drawings for the building were made
by Willie Graham, architectural historian with the Colonial Williams-burg
Foundation. Graham designed the two-story, two-room tenement structure
with the assistance of an archaeological grid map and a wealth
of data provided by the Lost Towns Project. The building features
a clapboard roof, siding and covering around the chimney. Housewright
Russell Steele heads the construction using period materials,
tools and methods, including post-in-ground architecture, traditional
wood framing members and handcrafted finishing work.
As the tenement rises, Luckenbach continues to run educational
programs every Wednesday at London Town. More than 8,000 students
visit the site each year to experience history first-hand. "It's
not just a tour or a chance to let them watch the excavation.
It's not a dig of a reproduced site. We put them to work," explains
Luckenbach. "They dig, screen the soil, pick out artifacts. They
help with the real archaeological data. You'd be surprised how
excited a young kid can get digging up broken glass, pieces of
pottery, rusty nails."
Luckenbach is particularly attuned to that excitement. His own
interest in archaeology dates back to his childhood. "You know
how every second- and third-grader likes Indians and dinosaurs?
Well, I liked them then and I've liked them ever since. Quite
clearly, I've never grown up," he says.
Grown up or not, as Luckenbach has gotten older he's learned that
the desire to investigate the exotic can be fulfilled right here
in Maryland. "I found out that you don't have to go to the Yucatan
to dig up lost towns," he says. "The Indians first came to Anne
Arundel County 13,000 years ago. We have more known archaeological
sites in this county than any other place in Maryland."
Luckenbach majored in anthropology at the University of Virginia.
For his senior project, he studied Indian soap stone bowls, using
radio chemistry, a neutron activation analysis, to determine what
quarries the bowls came from. He went to graduate school at the
University of Kentucky and wrote his master's thesis on Aztec
lexical statistics. For his doctoral degree., he studied ancient
Greek coin hordes in the Mediterranean basin.
"If you had an hour I could explain how all those are connected,"
he says of his educational endeavors, but it takes surprisingly
little time for him to draw them all together. The basic thread
running through his studies: the analysis of cultural clues, whether
physical or linguistic, to trace the movement, and therefore the
history, of peoples. His work at London Town reflects this ongoing
interest in historical movement; his exploration of the site is
not limited to its heyday but is equally attentive to signs of
its growth and decline.
Today, the rise and fall of London Town includes a new chapter.
In addition to the ongoing historic and archaeological work at
the site, the park's horticulture program includes a winter garden,
wildflower walk and azalea glade, as well as vegetables and herbs
grown from heirloom seeds. The London Town Foundation sponsors
a number of events, including concerts, afternoon teas, plant
sales and lectures on the history of Maryland. And a visitor's
center and museum is in the works.
Overseeing all these projects is Donna Ware, who took over as
interim director of Historic London Town and Gardens after Greg
Stiverson resigned to lead the Historic Annapolis Foundation.
Ware has published a book, Anne Arundel's Legacy, on the historic
buildings of Anne Arundel County, and served as chair of the Annapolis
Historical Preservation Commission for eight years. She is currently
the county's historic sites planner, working to record and protect
the area's historic buildings. And, since 1990, she's been married
to Luckenbach, who explains the division of labor in their professional
lives: "When a building is standing, it's her job. When it falls,
London Town is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays
from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. The public
is invited to join Luckenbach and his team on six Archaeology
Dig Days: April 5, May 10, June 14, July 12, Aug. 9, and Sept.
6. For more information, call 410-222-1919.