Coopers, Peddlers, and Bricklayers: Telling the Story of a Working-Class Property through Public Archaeology in Washington, DC

Authors: Julianna Jackson, District Leadership Intern in the DC Historic Preservation Office; and Chardé Reid, DC Historic Preservation Office

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The DC HPO Archaeology Team will be hosting a “Public Archaeology Day” at the Shotgun House Public Archaeology Project (1229 E St., SE) on Saturday, March 11th from 9am to 3pm (weather permitting). Please come by for a site tour!

When German-born carpenter John Biegler (or Briegler) first bought Lots 4 and 7, in Square 1019 in 1850, the landscape southeast of the Capitol was relatively remote and probably resembled more of a pastoral setting than a city. The Capitol Hill neighborhood was described as “pre-urban” and was sparsely populated with large swaths of land available for development (HPRB Staff Report 2016). By the 1850s the neighborhood was slowly developing and a small one-story, two-room frame structure was constructed on Lot 7 – possibly by Biegler himself. Biegler lived at a 1223 E Street and likely used the Shotgun House as an investment property. In 1853, German-born peddler Ernst Tungel bought the Shotgun House. Sometime before 1887, Tungel added a rear frame addition to the house, possibly indicating that the family’s financial situation had improved. Tungel and his wife lived at the property until their deaths in 1890. The property was eventually willed to Tungel’s wife’s niece, Luise, and her husband, Cotter Bride, an Irish immigrant. From 1890 until 1905, the Brides rented out the property to a series of tenets including John Herke, a German-immigrant cooper, and his family, and the D’Andelets, a father and son who were local musicians.

Left: 1883 “Bird’s-eye view of The national capital, Washington, D.C.” Sketched from nature by Adolph Sachse, 1883-1884 (LOC). Right: Front façade of the Shotgun House prior to deconstruction, looking south. September 2016 (DC HPO).

In 1905, Daniel C. Hartley, a blacksmith and horseshoer, according to the Washington City Directories, purchased the property and immediately transferred it to his son- the same day. Hartley’s son, Daniel C. Hartley, Jr. was a bricklayer who lived in the Shotgun House along with his wife Mabel and their children. It was Hartley Jr. who built a garage at the rear of the lot in 1917 and added a brick kitchen onto the back of the Shotgun House in 1938. The Hartley’s daughter, Edna Switzer (née Hartley), and her husband Wilson, purchased the property in 1941 and lived there with her mother until at least 1948. According to documentation, in 1948, Wilson Switzer and Edna were listed as representatives for Continental Radio. In 1954, Mabel Hartley was still listed in the directories as living at 1229 E Street, SE. The Switzers owned the property until 1985, and are also the last known occupants of the property.

Left: Julianna Jackson, District Leadership Program Intern, excavating a Shovel Test Pit, looking north. Right: DC HPO archaeologists and volunteers sifting excavated soil and collecting artifacts to be processed and sorted in the field lab, looking northwest.

Project Background and Fieldwork

During the late 20th century, the house at 1229 E Street, SE (today Square 1019, Lot 816) fell into disrepair, was vacant, and no longer structurally sound. Despite countless efforts by DC Historic Preservation Office (DC HPO) staff to enforce compliance with established building code standards as well as the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB)’s multiple recommendations for rehabilitation, the Shotgun House was never stabilized or repaired. In 2016, the property was sold to SGA companies, Inc., and their redevelopment concept was presented and accepted by the HPRB and DC HPO with the stipulation that they reconstruct and incorporate the original structure (to the best of their ability) into their redesign and allow the DC HPO Archaeologist to conduct a pro bono archaeological investigation of the lot prior to construction.  Given that the Shotgun House was one of only two remaining houses of this vernacular style, in Capitol Hill, DC HPO staff and the HPRB recognized this rare and exciting opportunity  to explore the lives of DC residents that have often been underrepresented in the historical record, that of working-class and immigrant households.

Left: American University and Howard University student volunteers sifting, looking west. Center: Archaeologist excavating test units in the rear of the property, looking south. Right: Historic trash midden uncovered in one of the test units in the rear of the property, looking north.

In August 2016, DC HPO archaeologists and volunteers began a systematic investigation of the Shotgun House property. Initial shovel test pits revealed a high density of historic artifacts in the rear of the lot. Subsequently, a block of four test units were opened, in the location of the former1917 garage (torn down in the early-2000s). We believe this area was used as the household’s refuse deposit, prior to the construction of the garage. Preliminary dating of some of the diagnostic artifacts suggests a timeframe as early as the mid-19th century.

Left: Archaeologists and volunteers working within the footprint of the Shotgun House after it was dismantled in December 2016, looking southwest. Center: Volunteer Johnny Hyche, anthropology MA student at the University of Maryland, displaying a glass bottle he excavated within the potential cellar feature, looking west. Right: The potential cellar feature uncovered within the footprint of the house, looking west.

In late December 2016, the house was dismantled, offering archaeologists access to the footprint. Currently, three active test units are being excavated in the general area of the 1880s and 1938 house additions, after STPs in the general location yielded a high volume of artifacts and the most undisturbed natural strata within the footprint of the former house. Interestingly, three walls of a probable cellar have been uncovered in this location, measuring three and a half feet wide by five feet long. The sub-surface structure was filled in with trash, likely when it was no longer needed, and the artifacts are currently being analyzed to determine when that was. The feature is still yielding artifacts and is the focus of current efforts.

Left: Dr. Ruth Trocolli, District Archaeologist, talking to a DC school group about the excavations, looking. Right: Chardé Reid, Assistant District Archaeologist, showing a DC school group some of the artifacts collected during the archaeological investigation, looking east.

Public Archaeology and Outreach

The site was officially opened to the public in February of 2017 and over the course of the project hands-on learning, site tours, fence talks, local news media, and Facebook posts have kept residents and stakeholders informed and involved in local history. The DC SHPO archaeology team has approached the project as an opportunity to learn in manifold ways, using public outreach and education to engage the public with the past. Visitors have the opportunity to experience an active archaeological site, explore the landscape that past inhabitants modified, and interact with artifacts that previous occupants left behind. To date, over 150 people have visited the Shotgun House, including: neighbors, District residents, and school groups. There has been an outpouring of support from the community which is economically, socially, and racially diverse – a microcosm of the city as a whole, which reinforces the need for engaging public programs that highlight the District’s rich history.

Left: Dr. Ruth Trocolli showing visitors some of the artifacts collected during the archaeological investigation, looking southeast. Right: Chardé Reid leading a site tour to a group of visitors.

Moving forward the DC HPO Archaeology Team will continue field investigations, but will likely wrap up by late March. Following fieldwork, artifacts will be processed and analyzed and a management summary detailing the results and findings of the excavation will be written. DC HPO archaeologists and staff will continue to share and preserve the story of the Shotgun House’s working-class immigrant occupants through lectures, public events, and outreach activities.

Keep up with the progress of the project and learn more about DC archaeology on our Facebook page:

Left: Volunteer Claire showing a glass beer or ale bottle she excavated, looking west. Center: DC HPO architectural historian Gabriela Gutowski washing Shotgun House artifacts. Right: Christine Ames, Capital City Fellow, photographing the stratigraphy of a rear test unit.