For those of you who follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you have likely seen posts that I have done from the archaeological dig here on the property. We have found and continue to find a lot of fascinating artifacts, but what you may not know is that the impetus for the dig was not to recover these pieces of history, but to learn more about a bathing house that once stood on the property.
In an ad for the sale of the Chancognie House in the January 27, 1813 edition of the Charleston City Gazette, the description notes outbuildings including “Kitchen and Wash-House, with four servants rooms above; a Pantry and Bathing-House, handsomely built of Philadelphia brick.” The bathing house seemed unusual to me, so I mentioned it to my friend Sarah Stroud Clarke, Archaeologist and Curator of Collections at Drayton Hall. She did not know of any bathing houses from that period and suggested that we talk to Martha Zierden, Curator of Archaeology at the Charleston Museum. Martha was intrigued – she was not familiar any bathing houses dating to that time either. Adding to the intrigue were the remains of exterior walls of outbuildings that once stood on the property that had been incorporated into a later wall between the Chancognie House and the property to the north. Could one of these buildings have been the mysterious bathing house?
That, along with the fact that I had found quite an assortment of artifacts on the surface and just below the ground in the rear corner of the property, led us to the conclusion that a professional archaeological dig, as opposed to me poking around with my garden trowel, would be a good idea. So, Martha, Charleston Museum archaeologist Ron Anthony, field school graduates and many volunteers did a week-long dig on-site in March 2016. We learned an incredible amount during that time which will be subject matter for future posts, but for those of you wondering about the bathing house, the short answer is that alas, we did not find conclusive evidence of it. At least not yet.
What we did find was a large area that had been previously dug up – we had heard stories from previous owners about “privy-diggers” who had come around in the early 1970s to dig what they assumed was the privy given the small building outline in the wall. While we will never know what they took, the good news for us is that they left behind a rich collection of artifacts. In another case of bad news/good news, while the privy diggers destroyed the archaeological record in that area, it is the perfect place for me, amateur archaeologist, to do some digging. The professionals will be back for a phase two but until then I will continue digging in the previously dug area, always keeping an eye out for evidence of the mysterious bathing house.