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Naval Maneuvers 1997
by Eric Adams

[image]The United States Naval Academy and City Dock: aerial view of Hell Point area in 1939, two years before it was demolished (Maryland State Archives) [LARGER IMAGE]

When archaeologists came to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1992 to see what might lie beneath its parking lots and lawns, they had little hope of finding anything of historical significance. Because the academy has undergone construction, demolition, and rebuilding almost continuously since its founding in 1845, it was assumed that any remnants of the eighteenth-century town of Annapolis or the original nineteenth-century academy had long ago been destroyed.

The Navy had hired University of Maryland anthropologist Mark Leone to investigate areas of the campus to be affected by new development projects, in compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act. Using digital mapping to predict the location of historic remains, Leone and his team found, to everyone's surprise, a rich storehouse of remains, including foundations of the state's eighteenth-century governor's mansion, which was used as the academy's library for much of the nineteenth century, and remains of two neighborhoods, Hell Point and Lockwoodville, demolished before World War II to make room for the expanding academy.

The academy opened in 1845 on fewer than ten acres of land on the site of old Fort Severn, built during the revolutionary era to protect Annapolis' waterfront. It began encroaching on Annapolis almost immediately, starting in 1847 with the purchase of three properties totaling six acres between Fort Severn and the original shoreline now several hundred feet inland. The Naval School at Annapolis, as it was called, then had only a handful of buildings with names like Rowdy Row, Brandywine Cottage, Apollo Row, and the Gas House, which it used for teaching and student housing. As the academy grew, many of these buildings were razed to make way for more modern facilities, with much of that work happening during a 1906 reconstruction. Today the campus encompasses 336 acres.

The assessment of archaeological and cultural resources at the Naval Academy, cosponsored by the Historic Annapolis Foundation and funded by the Department of Defense's Legacy Program, included a conventional program of test pits, an innovative combination of archival research and computerized mapping techniques developed by University of Maryland anthropologist John Seidel, and an oral history project. The search for archaeological remains began with digging 100 one-foot-square shovel test pits in front of the academy's chapel and Pebble Hall, along Porter Road, and in a parking lot next to Halsey Field House, where the Hell Point neighborhood once stood. As this area was slated for construction, we dug test pits at several locations, which according to the old maps indicated earlier buildings. The test units yielded few remains.

Archival research was more fruitful, yielding property deeds and dozens of historic maps. Most of the latter were Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, found in the Library of Congress, which are known for their accuracy and the information they contain about street layouts and widths and the physical characteristics of individual buildings. Using a computer-aided design (CAD) program, historic and modern maps can be superimposed and aligned as long as they share two or more points or landmarks. Various nineteenth-century gateposts and monuments at the academy showed up on several of the maps, allowing the archaeologists to overlay modern maps of the academy with historic maps of the city and the school at its inception and during its 1906 rebuilding. This created a single map showing the precise locations of old city and academy structures in relation to existing landmarks, Fort Severn, and the 1845 and modern shorelines.

The map indicated that the location of the mid-eighteenth-century governor's mansion was a now a grassy area between two sidewalks in front of Dahlgren Hall. Using measurements from the map overlay, archaeologist Thomas Bodor measured the distance from the two landmarks (a tree and the corner of a nearby building) and pinpointed where the foundation of the governor's mansion should be. A trench dug there uncovered the foundation almost immediately. "We had never done this kind of search before, so it was quite a thrill to find the governor's mansion sitting out there where the computer said it would be," Bodor says. This technique was used in ten different locations around the academy to search for remains of Scott Street, an eighteenth-century road; old officers' quarters along Porter Road; a temporary barracks in the middle of the Ellipse; and a canal dug in the early twentieth century to move building supplies into the campus. In eight of the ten tests, they hit the features they were looking for. Attempts to locate remains of temporary barracks, based on a map less reliable than the Sanborn maps, were unsuccessful.

Investigation of Hell Point, now buried beneath Halsey Field House and its parking lot, gave the most insight into the impact of the academy's growth on an Annapolis neighborhood. Hell Point's vibrancy and diversity became apparent through the project's oral history research by Hannah Jopling, a doctoral candidate at City University Graduate Center in New York, and Hell Point Association, a local citizens' group of former residents. Doris DeLucia interviewed 23 former residents about life in Hell Point. The residents, now elderly, described the predominantly working-class neighborhood as active and ethnically heterogenous, with blacks, whites, Jews, Filipinos, Italians, and Greeks. The Hell Pointers defined themselves as hard-working, with a strong sense of community, contradicting the neighborhood's rough and tough reputation among other residents of Annapolis. "My belief is this community prepared you for life," says Leonard Berman who grew up there. "Some things you can learn through books and all, but living in Hell Point was an education because it was different than other sections of Annapolis."

Many Hell Pointers interviewed, including Alfred Hopkins, the current mayor of Annapolis, spoke of being visited by midshipmen, spending time on the campus, and enjoying life in close proximity to the school and the waterfront. But they also spoke about living in a rather poor working class neighborhood and the unfair stigma they bore as a result. The origin of the community's name, a primary question in the interviews, remains a mystery. "Some residents thought that maybe it was a rough neighborhood, but they were by and large not that way," says Jopling. "It's possible that it came from the name of the original owner, and was once called Hill's Point. Another theory is that the name may have referred to an area farther along toward the Naval Academy where it was difficult to navigate ships."

Many residents of Hell Point worked at the academy, and the school was also a source of income for the children, who would sell programs or park cars at ball games. Residents would watch the midshipmen on parade, stroll through the campus, attend athletic events, and socialize with members of the academy community. "We used to sneak aboard ships because they showed movies there," says Robert Campbell, who also remembered the academy's generosity toward children. "Me and the other kids from town, we'd also get dinner there on Sunday afternoon. They always had great, great amounts of leftovers."

[image]Prince George Street in the Hell Point neighborhood, when it was flooded by a hurricane in 1915 (Maryland State Archives) [LARGER IMAGE]

Hell Point was acquired and dozens of houses were demolished by the school in 1941. Part of the justification for this action, in addition to the need for the property, was a Navy report stating that Hell Point was an unsuitable environment for academy personnel and students. The Navy did nothing with the property until the 1950s, when Halsey Field House was built on it. Jopling says residents' reactions to the loss of their homes were mixed. Many protested by petition, some had no place to go, and others felt they had been cheated financially by the academy. Others had been planning to leave anyway and moved to other parts of town.

The academy project was the first professional archaeological work ever undertaken on the campus. Those familiar with the school say this is not surprising. "Archaeology has been an area largely neglected by the academy for many years," says Beth Cole of the Maryland State Historic Preservation Office, who is in charge of compliance with the Historic Preservation Act. "When they think of historic preservation, they think of historic buildings and forget about the unseen resources."

"We had to negotiate our way in to get this work done," says Leone. "We knew about the Legacy funds for use by archaeologists before the academy did. We secured the funds and convinced the academy to let us spend them on their property." As it was, an alarming amount of development had already taken place about which the Historic Preservation Office had never been notified. In 1993, for example, the academy was building a playing field beneath a radio tower when it cut into a 350-year-old cellar of a wooden house. Marie Price, director of the engineering division of the academy's public works department, acknowledges the mishap but says the school acted promptly when it realized what had happened. "A piece of equipment was used to level some earth, and in the process a corner of a building was hit. When that happened, they stopped excavating," Price explains. "We called in the county and the state, they did some more excavations, a report was made, and we eventually covered the site to protect it. We now have no construction plans for that area."

But Leone and his team believe that much more damage was done to the site than the school admits, claiming that in other situations the school ignored the law entirely because it considered the work too constraining. "The school has established a long-term habit of ignoring federal obligations regarding archaeology," he says, noting another recent case in which an area near the Halsey Field House was excavated to make room for the new $7 million Armel-Leftwich Visitors' Center without any archaeological consideration. Though Leone concedes that the school is beginning, however gradually, to understanding its federal obligations, he remains unconvinced of their understanding of the work's real value. "The Navy does not understand, nor does it appear willing to learn, how its belowground resources can be incorporated into the identity of the academy itself," he says. "If you go into the school's museum, all you see are ships and naval battles--you'd think the academy floated! But in a day like today, with no real enemy, yet still a need for the Navy, it may be able to explain its current place in American history a lot more successfully by showing how the academy functioned in the community."

Historic preservation laws make federal institutions responsible for the preserving and analyzing archaeological and historic remains on their properties. The Department of Defense's Legacy program, established in 1991, provides funds for institutions within each department to investigate and preserve such assets, thus removing the financial burden from the institutions themselves.

The locations of such remains, once determined as at the Naval Academy, must be taken into account in planning efforts. Sites can be avoided in future construction projects or investigated selectively. This does not necessarily have to cause great headaches for those involved. The digital-mapping method tested at the Academy was significantly less expensive and much cleaner than standard archaeological techniques. Once the work was done, the test pits were back filled and the grounds restored. This, Leone says, was no small matter, especially at the academy. "A large pit looks impressive, but it's very expensive. A small pit is very cheap, and, with educated eyes, you can find out immediately if there's anything there," Leone says. "They didn't want a big archaeological mess, and we didn't want to make one."

For historical archaeologists working in urban areas with detailed and accurate maps, the digital mapping procedure used at Annapolis offers a cost- and time-efficient method of locating remains of historic structures and recording data. Although CAD programs require the same amount of initial effort as drawing a map by hand, digitized maps can be edited, enlarged, or reduced, making comparison of maps easier and eliminating the need for re-drafting if changes become necessary. Because planners and engineers often do much of their mapping by CAD, archaeological information can be seamlessly integrated into engineering maps, making the data much more useful to planners and increasing the likelihood that historic resources will be avoided by construction. At the Naval Academy the Public Works Department had already mapped the entire campus including the locations of buildings, utility lines, and landscaping. The technique is not a replacement for standard archaeological methods, however, since not everything that existed at a particular site will be depicted on a given map and not all historical maps are sufficiently accurate.

The final report to the school, submitted in 1994, includes a comprehensive description and analysis of the archaeological discoveries and the oral-history interviews. Perhaps most importantly, though, archaeologists have condensed their findings into a small, easily read map that outlines areas where ruins were actually found and areas where the maps suggest others exist. Leone has recommended that more work be done on the campus, emphasizing that the grounds contain evidence of two distinct, yet related, histories: that of the neighborhoods, about which they have learned a great deal, and that of the academy, of which little has been investigated. The discoveries made during the reconnaissance help clarify the relationship between the two and provide the academy with a better understanding of its own physical evolution and how that growth affected the city. And, at least now, says Leone, the school knows what it has to protect. According to Price, information from the archaeological reconnaissance will be used by the academy for planning further development. The artifacts, she says, may be displayed in the academy's museum along with mementos of victorious battles. As of June 1997, the artifacts remain in storage.

Eric Adams is an editor for the American Institute of Architects in Washington, D.C., and a freelance writer.

© 1997 by the Archaeological Institute of America