Dig could unearth mysteries buried in and around Catasauqua’s George Taylor House – Morning Call

By Kevin Duffy
Special to The Morning Call

CATASAUQUA — An archaeological undertaking at the George Taylor House, now in its third year, soon will progress outside its walls, where ground-penetrating radar equipment has revealed evidence of building foundations, pathways and metal objects waiting to be uncovered after nearly 300 years.

A barn dating to 1760 that was taken down shortly before World War I once stood on the property along with other structures, said Thomas Jones, a historic preservation planner and project consultant to Catasauqua.

All were gone when the George Taylor House property was acquired in 1946 by the Lehigh County Historical Society. It was purchased by the borough in 2009.

Longtime residents remember the barn, along with a wagon shed, Jones said.

He will begin probing the ground there later this month along with students from Northampton Community College as part of a continuing effort to unravel unanswered questions surrounding the history of the property from before the time Taylor purchased it from Thomas and Susannah Armstrong in 1767.

“Nobody’s been doing this at any national historic site in Pennsylvania,” Jones said.

The goal, he said, is twofold — restore the property, including the grounds and the attached kitchen wing, which Jones has been excavating since 2013; and allow the public to witness the work as it takes place.

Jones’ effort is “very important not just locally but nationally,” said Jessica Kroope, borough council vice president and a former activities director at George Taylor House.

“It really does put Catasauqua on the map,” she said. “There’s a lot of rich history that people don’t realize.”

People will have a chance to peek at that history. The exterior excavation will take place as a public archaeological site, Jones said, where people may witness the discovery of the past in a more personal way than watching a documentary.

“Archaeology is an unviolated record of history; this is a time capsule,” Jones said.

Funded through annual grants from The Harry C. Trexler Trust, Jones began the excavation beneath the floor of the attached kitchen wing only after renovation materials installed in 1968 when it was converted into a caretaker’s home were carefully and painstakingly removed.

“Everything has been done with the highest degree of scientific control,” said Jones, who has a master’s degree in historic preservation from Columbia University.

More than 10 tons of sheetrock and other nonhistoric construction materials installed in 1968 over the ceiling and floor of the two-story kitchen wing were gradually removed, and electric, water and plumbing lines and radiators were taken out and hauled away.

“We carefully hand-demolished it,” he said.

Only then could the original yellow pine flooring be removed and the process of archaeological excavation begin.

With great care he began digging in the soil below, hand-sifting through dirt and stone to reveal an extended brick hearth along with bits of porcelain and pottery, cups, plates, clothing pins and other items.

“A broad range of ceramics associated with domestic use,” he said.

Once cataloged, each item will remain at the house for public display.

His efforts also revealed that the floor of the kitchen wing, renovated in the 1820s when it was occupied by Jacob and Mary Deily, was originally lower than the floor level of the main house, built to be Taylor’s homestead in 1768.

Rough pieces of limestone used on exterior walls of the kitchen wing suggest to Jones that the structure dates to the 1730s.

He said many of the porcelain pieces, some of the highest-quality material of the time imported from as far away as China, have been preserved over the years by an unlikely source — rats.

The ground underneath the kitchen “was saturated by rat and rodent tunnels” said Jones, and the pests, attracted to shiny objects and traces of salt, carried those objects off to their dens.

“Because they did that they’re responsible for saving a lot of stuff,” he said.

Taylor, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, purchased the 332-acre property from Thomas and Susannah Armstrong, the original owners, in 1767. The construction of what is now known as the George Taylor House was completed the following year.

Of Scotch-Irish descent, the Armstrongs purchased the land, part of the more than 2,700-acre Chawton Manor, from the Estate of John Page in 1752.

Jones estimates the Armstrongs lived on the property as far back as the 1730s, and hopes to confirm that through archaeological activity.

After Taylor, the home was occupied by Col. David Deshler, a delegate to the state convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution in 1787, and his wife, Susanna.

The house will be the venue for the borough’s annual 4th of July celebration from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Monday, with period re-enactors, readings of the Declaration of Independence and a performance by the Antebellum Marine Band, Gettysburg.

Kevin Duffy is a freelance writer.

Copyright © 2016, The Morning Call

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Dig could unearth mysteries buried in and around Catasauqua’s George Taylor House

Photo of Tom Jones by April Bartholomew Courtesy of The Morning Call

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