4 education
4 research
4 outreach
4 dialogue

E-Pardon Our Dust

Washington Underground: Archaeology in Downtown Washington, DC,
a walking and metro guide to the past...

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DC Archaeology Tour Contents

Locator Map
Archaeology in DC
Urban Archaeology
A-Rare Achievement
B-Self Medication
D-Crowded Housing
E-Pardon Our Dust
F-Safe Water
H-Path of History
I-2nd Hand Economy
J-Oldest Profession
Making Do
Other Sites
For More Information

E - 'Pardon Our Dust'

Location:  Square 530 between 3-4th and F-G Streets, NW (see MAP)
Metro: Judiciary Square Station (Red line)

(see additional informational links below)

In the late 1860s, Horace Greeley wrote of Washington: "the rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting, the mud is deep and the morals are deplorable." Less than 20 years later, another writer observed Washington was a handsome city with "dazzling vistas and public edifices reminiscent of grand European capitals."

What happened to Washington in those intervening years? In 1871, Washington City, Washington County and Georgetown formed a Territorial Government and organized a Board of Public Works. Under the leadership of Boss Shepherd, their ambitious plan eventually covered the fetid canals, built water mains and sewers, and graded the streets. But the work was accompanied by controversy and difficulties. Two senators were among residents who returned to find their houses resting high above street level.

Archaeologists found evidence of this disruption during excavations of Square 530. Richard Burr and his family bought 618 3rd Street in 1853. Analyzing pollen preserved in the soils, archaeologists found that the Burrs had planted grass and a pine tree in their yard. Other nearby lots, however, were full of weeds, especially goosefoot, a plant that thrives on kitchen compost. Around the time of the public works, 3 to 6 feet of fill was brought in to raise the yard levels to keep them from flooding. This fill covered the Burrs’ manicured lawn.

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Washington Underground:
Archaeology in Downtown Washington, DC,
a walking and metro guide to the past...
was produced cooperatively by the National Park Service, National Center for Cultural Resources, Archeology and Ethnography Program; the District of Columbia Office of Planning, Historic Preservation Office; the Center for Heritage Resource Studies, University of Maryland, College Park; and the Society for American Archaeology.

Additional Links

'Boss' Shepherd Got the Job Done--At a Steep Price (Washington Post article, 2000)

Pollen Analysis

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