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Foundation Matters

Small Spaces Yield Big Finds at the Nathaniel Russell House

Posted: July 3, 2018

Due to her diminutive size – errrr, we mean her passion for exploration –  HCF summer intern Rucha Kamath, a graduate student in the joint Clemson University and College of Charleston historic preservation program, was asked to explore the areas around the kitchen house fireplace as the space often contains archaeological artifacts.  In her words…

“Before me was a tunnel. The only light at the end of it was from my own flashlight, but I was prepared. I suited up with a mask, safety glasses, gloves and a brave heart!!!  Poking and wriggling my arms and head into tunnels was not in the internship job description, but, hey! Can a historic rat’s nest be anything but exciting?

I stood on a rolling scaffolding “only” 4 feet off the floor and wriggled my head into a small opening in the ceiling, beside the giant fireplace. The fireplace in the kitchen house is wider on the first floor than the second floor. To achieve this, the masonry is constructed at an angle, creating spaces within the ceiling framework on either side of the fireplace. Historic building experts Ed Chappell and David Hoffman speculated that these spaces were potential treasure pockets.

I had to carefully extract the layers of undisturbed dirt with the help of a trowel and a pointing tool sifting and searching for hidden objects. At times I had to put my entire arm in just to pull out pieces of brick to make my way further behind, hoping my hand would re-emerge relatively in the same condition. Little did I know that every time my trowel made a clink, it had hit a dusty piece of treasure. But this isn’t your normal idea of treasure!

Among dirt, oyster shells, animal bones and more dirt was an amazing collection of artifacts ranging in all shapes and sizes. From thin straight pin and shards of blown glass to smaller fragments of bigger objects like pieces of a leather shoe and fabric with geometric patterns, this treasure pocket seemed endless! Among the objects that were perfectly intact were an iron pot handle and swing arm used for cooking and what appears to be a frame with intricate carving in metal. There is so much more to be discovered.

While I was happy to have slender arms that could easily fit and work in a 13-inch-wide space, I only wish that they were longer!  Can’t have it all!”

Editor’s Note: It’s always rewarding for the staff to work with the interns and experience their unbridled enthusiasm for the field of historic preservation. Rucha’s project was particularly fun to watch as every time she made a discovery, her face would light up and her excitement became contagious. When she made a discovery and a staff member was not around, she would quite literally pray for someone to come by so that she could share her most recent finds. The Foundation’s plan is to remove all of the 20th-century fabric from the kitchen house to reveal the original plaster walls and to display the artifacts discovered by Rucha and others to the public.  Stay tuned!

One response to “Small Spaces Yield Big Finds at the Nathaniel Russell House”

  1. Pam Blackburn says:

    My dad grew up in this house. My granny was Mary maybank What a great find. Please keep me posted. Thanks Pam

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