Chapter 5A


Chapter 1
Chapter 2A
Chapter 2B
Chapter 2C
Chapter 3A
Chapter 3B
Chapter 4A
Chapter 4B
Chapter 5A
Chapter 5B
Chapter 6
Chapter 7


Chapter 5 (Part A)
Changing Use of Private and Public Space at Sudley Post Office:
Landscape and Archeological Interpretation

Studying the use of landscape at Sudley Post Office offers a unique opportunity to examine the interaction between public work space and private domestic space.  For the first sixty years of the property's history, the landscape at  Sudley Post Office served both the needs of the inhabitants and the needs of the community, first as a wheelwright shop then as a post office.  During the final full-time domestic use of the structure by a local-laborer household, the structure was no longer used as a combination of public/private space and became wholly a private space.  In the 1940s, 50s and 60s a local Alexandria, Virginia, couple used the structure as a vacation home.  The couple sold the property to the National Park Service in 1966 to serve as public space dedicated to the commemoration of the First and Second Battles of Manassas.

The archeological record allows insight into landscape history by allowing researchers to locate and analyze the different work and domestic activity areas present on the landscape through time.  Although multiple occupations at Sudley made the task of identifying and separating these areas difficult, enough tangible evidence is available from the archeological record to reconstruct a history of the Sudley Post Office landscape through time.

Understanding the landscape, however, goes beyond interpreting a four-acre plot of land.  The landmass of Sudley Post Office shared and continues to share its economic and social space with a larger community and needs to be viewed within that larger context as well.  The role that residents of Sudley Post Office played within the local community provides a backdrop for discussion of activities within and beyond the bounds of the Post Office property.


The use of space at Sudley Post Office represents a unique phenomena for the Manassas area.  Rather than beginning as a small farmstead, the property was originally part of a large mill complex.  The original occupant, John Thornberry, worked as a wheelwright and designed his living/working space based upon the needs of his trade.  Thornberry's customers were for the most part local residents who were in the area to use the services of Sudley Mills. As such, Thornberry was largely dependent on customers who frequented Sudley Mills.  Thornberry organized the landscape to meet the needs of small rural industry rather than rural agriculture, and as discussed in the following section, his craft factored into the placement of structures on the landscape. While the residence was situated on a ridge away from the road, the shop was near the crossroads of the local community.  Locating the shop in sight of the road not only ensured ease of access by customers, but also placed Thornberry's shop in a highly visible location.

The location of the property near to the crossroads of the Sudley area would also serve the next occupants' need for visibility within the community. The next occupant, the Matthews, used the structure as a post office.  Once again, the local community would need ready access to the property.  The proximity of Sudley Post Office to the crossroads of the community ideally suited its use as a community mail drop.  This expansion of the Sudley area occurred during a time when the community was recovering from the ravages of the Civil War.  One main reason for the continued preeminence of the Sudley area was the expansion of the Sudley Mills complex after the Civil War by its Northern owners (Conner 1975:3).

By the turn of the century however,  the importance of the mill complex at Sudley had faded.  New steam-and-gasoline-powered mills began to process the grains and timbers of the community.  These steam operations were more efficient and less cumbersome than the larger mill complexes.  Steam mills located at Balls Ford to the south and a gas mill at Acola to the west gradually drew customers from Sudley Mills (Oswald Robinson 1997, personal communication; Conner 1975).  As the mill complex faded from importance, the community lost residents and its regional importance declined; the landscape at Sudley Post Office reflected this changing economic situation.  Based on declining property values, the structure at Sudley Post Office began to fall into disrepair around the turn of the century.  Photos taken in the 1930s show the structure in serious disrepair. 

The fate of the former public space of Sudley Post Office mirrored the economic fate of Sudley Mills.  In the 1910s, the property owner rented the house to a local laborer family, the Davises.  Had the structure not fallen into disrepair, the Davises' economic means would have not allowed them to live on such a property.  In addition, the poor condition of the structure might have rendered the property less visible to the community and allowed the use of the formerly public space by an African-American family.  Otherwise, during an era of Jim-Crow Laws, the local community might perceive the use of this public space as a challenge to the local social order.

The final use of space for Sudley Post Office before the National Park Service acquired the property was as a vacation home.  C.G. Perry briefly owned the property from 1935 to 1938.  C.G. Perry, a resident of Washington, D.C., appears to have bought the property for recreational/land speculation purposes.  In 1938 the Woodwards purchased the property from Perry and renovated the structure to serve as a vacation home. It is interesting to note that the precursor to the use of  Sudley Post Office as a national recreation space by the Park Service was the use of the property as a recreation/vacation space by the Woodwards.

After 1966, the bounded four-acre landmass of Sudley Post Office became part of a larger land mass for the first time since the Thornberrys acquired the land from the 200 acre Sudley Mill Tract.  This time however, rather than being part of the local economy, the property became part of a federal space commemorating the First and Second Battles of Manassas.


Thornberry Household

John Thornberry and his wife Martha arrived at Sudley sometime in the early 1840s.  The Thornberrys took up a lease arrangement with the then owner of Sudley Mills, Peyton Neville.  The earliest archeological deposits found at Sudley Post Office in Megastratum IV coincide with the appearance of Thornberry in the 1846 tax records for Sudley (PWCPP 1846).  More than likely, the Thornberrys were not only the initial occupants of the Sudley Post Office structure, but constructed it.

The structure sits on a relatively high knoll (200 ft amsl) overlooking the juncture of Bull Run and Catharpin Run.  Based on the topography of the site, Thornberry probably leveled off the top of this knoll and built a one-pen frame structure with a stone chimney on the northern end.   Typical of many frame structures built in Piedmont Virginia during this time period, Thornberry laid the structure's sills on top of sandstone piers and did not excavate a cellar hole.  Constructed in the late 1840s, the structure was a 15 ft x 16 ft frame structure with a sandstone chimney on the northern wall (Figure 5.1).  This one-bay structure served the needs of the Thornberry family well into the 1850s. 

By 1860, the Thornberrys boasted a household of five children (USBC 1860a).  The size of the initial structure would have been too small to provide living space for all of these people. To accommodate their growing need for space, the Thornberrys constructed an  addition sometime before 1860.  The addition was a frame, one-pen section added to the north of the structure and doubled the size of the structure's ground floor from 250 ft2 to 500 ft2 (Figure 5.2).  Interestingly, the Thornberrys built the addition using construction materials salvaged from other structures.  The reuse of timbers is apparent in the mismatched mortise and tenon joints.  Many of these joints contain dowel holes with no matching dowel holes present on the adjoining timbers (Ballard n.d.).  The need to reuse dismantled framing members for house construction was potentially the result of deforestation in the Manassas area by the mid-nineteenth century.  In addition, Thornberry's small lot did not contain a sufficient source of timber that he could mill into framing lumber.

The initial size of the structure at Sudley Post Office, with a downstairs room just under 250 ft2 and a loft upstairs, would have limited any other activities besides sleeping, storage of material possessions, and socializing.  Thus, most of the domestic activities would have taken place in auxiliary structures or in the yard. Archeological excavations in the east yard revealed the remains of a kitchen and associated root cellar.  The footprint of the root cellar is approximately ten ft x ten ft.   Based on the discovery of a concentration of  rubble fall in the eastern portion of the kitchen ruins, the Thornberrys located the kitchen chimney on the eastern side away from the residence..  Locating the chimney away from the house  would have kept sparks away from the house, and, in the event of a flue-fire, the top portion of the chimney could easily be pushed downslope and away from the house.  The entrance to the kitchen most likely faced the house as this would provide easy access and a draft source opposite the hearth.  Mid-nineteenth-century materials were located  in the root cellar under the kitchen (Megastratum IV.a).  Based on these materials, the Thornberrys probably constructed the kitchen/root cellar structure when the original  portion of the structure was erected. 

Materials recovered from features and lower strata within the root cellar of the kitchen suggest activities that the Thornberrys carried out in this structure.  Excavations of these deposits revealed ceramic sherds, lamp chimney fragments, bone, nail and window glass.  Based on the fragmentary nature of these materials, the majority of artifacts were probably broken in the kitchen and slipped through the floorboards into the root cellar fill. The presence of canning jars and lid liners suggest that the Thornberry's canning activities took place in the kitchen.  Ceramics from the root cellar included an edge-decorated  platter fragment and four edge decorated plate fragments. The presence of these materials reflects that the Thornberrys carried out food preparation and food serving activities in the kitchen.

The eastern yard area, where most of the domestic tasks (laundry, repairs) and socializing took place, was only 1600 ft2.  Given this size, the household confined yard activities to a very small space.  Consequently, the yard was swept clean of refuse with the bulk of material being thrown downslope to the east.  The lack of mid-to-late nineteenth-century materials recovered in excavation units placed in the yard reflects this phenomena.

The level area available for domestic activities was considerably smaller when the Thornberrys first arrived at Sudley. The extreme slopes in the area of Sudley Post Office would have been prohibitive for household chores.  As a result, the Thornberrys went to considerable efforts to cut and fill areas in the eastern yard.  Evidence for the leveling activities is found in stone and soil fill present in the eastern section of the yard.  This fill is found only five feet to the northeast of the kitchen before the level area drops off downslope toward Bull Run.  The downslope area to the east of the yard served as a convenient trash dump area during the nineteenth and early twentieth-century occupations of the site.

Other landscaping activities associated with the Thornberry household are evident in the stone retaining wall immediately to the north of the structure.  Thornberry designed this wall to hold the cut slope to the north.  The drastic change in elevation further illustrates the cut that occurs to the south of the wall.  The area to the south of the wall was more than likely cut when the northern addition was added to the residence sometime before the Civil War.  Due to its placement, the cut would have had to be made before the construction of the northern addition.

The extension of the retaining wall to the north at its eastern most extremity is associated with the wall landscape mentioned above.  To the east of this portion of the wall is another cut area that is level for approximately 15 ft and then drops off sharply toward Bull Run. On a site visit, Dr. Stephen Potter suggested this area might be the locale for an outbuilding or activity area.  Excavation units placed in this area of the yard contained yard scatter on the surface and extensive fill toward the east.  While stratigraphy in this area suggested fill, excavations did not reveal any architectural features in this area nor any evidence for specialized activity areas.  This portion of the yard might simply have served for the storage of materials such as firewood or for rough processing of raw materials in a location away from the structure and main yard.

The Thornberrys were not the only residents on this four-acre plot of land.  In 1852 John Thornberry owned one slave over 16 years of age (PWCPP 1852).  By 1860 he increased his pool of enslaved labor by one more slave (PWCPP 1860).  No records are available that detail the location of these slaves' residence.  However, clearly the slaves did not reside within the Sudley Post Office structure given its size and the number of people residing there by the mid 1850s.  Examination of historic maps combined with findings from the archeological record offers some clues as to the possible location of these quarters.

Several maps made after the First Battle of Manassas document the surrounding landscape and structures in the immediate area of the battle.  Three of the four maps drawn during the Civil War show two to three structures present on the ridge of the Sudley Post Office site.  The Sigel Map of 1862 shows three structures clustered in a tight linear fashion and oriented in a northeasterly direction from Sudley Methodist Church (Figure 5.3).  The McDowell Map of 1861 (Figure 5.4) shows a similar arrangement to the Sigel map.  The positioning of these structures on the maps in relation to Bull Run and Catharpin shows a major discrepancy with the present landscape.  These maps show the structure as being too far south of the confluence of Bull Run and Catharpin Run.  The possibility exists that the authors positioning of the structures was more a stylistic interpretation than a true rendition of their locations.  Furthermore, no archeological evidence was found that supported the positioning of the structures as interpreted on the

Sigel and McDowell Maps.  This lack of detail is understandable since the structures of Sudley Post Office did not figure heavily in the maneuvers of First Manassas.

The Harris map, drawn in 1861,  provides the most accurate placement of structures on the landscape (Figure 5.5).  Maureen Joseph (1996a:3.19) has noted that the Harris map is the most accurate rendition of the battlefield in the immediate area of Sudley.  The positioning of the Sudley Post Office structure on this map in relation to Bull Run, Sudley Methodist Church and the topography of the area supports her contention. The Harris map shows the Sudley Post Office structure being at the northernmost extremity of the ridge with three other structures to the south. 

The Harris map shows the southernmost structure being located due east of Sudley Methodist Church. In the metal detector survey of this area several domestic artifacts were located in this approximate location.  There exists the possibility that this southernmost structure served as the quarters for Thornberry's enslaved laborers.  The positioning of this possible structure in relation to the Thornberry residence is worthy of note since they are at the maximum distance on the ridge.  If this were the location of the slave dwelling, the physical distance would be symbolic of the social distancing between these two social groups.  This same social distancing as seen through spatial organization has been noted on other slave/owner landscapes (Orser 1988).

Thornberry's wheelwright shop was another locus for activities at Sudley Post Office.  The base of the hill to the west of the Thornberry's residence is a potential location for Thornberry's wheelwright shop.  Ten feet to the west of this location, Sudley Mill Road (precursor of modern day Route 234) received wagons bound on their way to Sudley Mills, less than 1/10 of a mile to the northwest.  The wagons would turn to the west, ford Catharpin Run to the west of Sudley Post Office and  head north toward the mill.  This spot is the only area on the property at grade with Sudley Road and would serve as a convenient local to take on wagons for repair.  Also, the spot is level and readily accessible to water at Sudley Ford.  Artifacts relating to blacksmithing/horseshoe repair activities were found in this area during a metal detector survey of the site.  These artifacts include worn horse shoes, metal scraps, and carriage remains.  An excavation unit placed in the immediate area of these artifacts revealed a cobble floor, possibly for the wheelwright shop.  To the south of this location a level area was cut from grade of the slope south of the house.  The metal detector survey of this area located several scrap iron fragments potentially associated with activities of the wheelwright shop.

The spatial location of the workshop is significant for two reasons.  First, the shop was at grade with Sudley Road, near the crossroads of the community and directly across from Sudley Methodist Church, a community landmark.  The high visibility of the shop to passing travelers would have benefitted Thornberry.  Other blacksmith/wheelwrights in the Manassas area and mid-Atlantic region also located their shops at community crossroads (Joseph 1996a:4.90; Catts, et al. 1994:27).  The variety of services a wheelwright/blacksmith provided for a rural community necessitated the location of smith shops at crossroads.  Wheelwrights mended a wide variety of implements from plows, tool handles, and wheelbarrows (Catts et al. 1994:11).  A cock to a flintlock rifle found at Sudley Post Office hints at the diversity of jobs Thornberry might  have accepted in his trade (Figure 5.6).  The cock is a flat, throat-hole, military type featuring a reinforced neck (Stephen Potter 1997, personal communication).  The possibility exists that Thornberry refashioned flint locks rifles to percussion rifles during the Civil War.  Prior to the outbreak of the war, such services were in demand as the fledgling Confederacy relied upon their men to supply their own arms and many soldiers brought antiquated weapons to the field (Jim Burgess 1998, personal. communication).  The close proximity of the shop to the crossroads  of Groveton-Sudley and Sudley Mills Road would have made the spot a convenient socializing space as well.  Nineteenth-century blacksmith shops often served as socializing spots where the community came to exchange local news (Versaggi 1981:446; Reeves 1995:12).

The second significant aspect of the shop location was its relation to the residence.  The shop area was downslope and out of view from the front of the house. As such, the domestic space of the Thornberry household was completely removed from the work space of the shop.  At the same time, the public space of Sudley Road and Sudley Methodist Church was visible from the house.  Thornberry might have found this view of the church favorable given his role in the congregation and services as undertaker. From the churchyard of Sudley Methodist Church, Thornberry's residence was in the direct line-of-sight to the east. For the visitor coming onto the property from Sudley Mills Road, both the shop and  the residence at the top of the hill were visible.  While the residence of Thornberry did not represent an imposing architectural element by any stretch of the imagination, the residence=s visibility from both the church and road would have served to reinforce Thornberry's place within the community.

Along with wheelwright activities, the Thornberry household was also engaged in the subsistence production of foodstuffs; as indicated by local tax assessments.  In 1855, the Thornberrys owned two horses or mules, cattle, sheep and hogs (PWCPP 1850).  Given the limited landmass to the east, west and north of their residence, the pens for these animals were probably to the south of the residence.  Along with animal pens, the Thornberrys probably had some garden plots on the property.  Again, these structures would need to be located south of the Thornberry residence.  A reference concerning the exhumation and desecration of the body of Major Sullivan Ballou by the Twenty-first Georgia Regiment mentions the presence of garden plots at the Thornberrys.  Major Ballou was part of the Rhode Island regiment during the First Battle of Manassas.  Soldiers buried the Major in a garden of a "little house to the left (east) of the church  where Slocum and Ballou died," presumably the Thornberry residence (Moore 1862:343).

The presence of the root cellar beneath the kitchen also suggests that the Thornberrys were engaged in subsistence activities.  Root cellars allow for the storage of root vegetables for an extended period.  When kept in a cool, moist environment vegetables such as cabbage, potatoes, yams, carrots and turnips can be kept fresh for several months.  Root cellars like the Thornberry's kept vegetables in such an environment by their position below the frost line and closer to the water table. The redeposited bedrock and subsoil present in the root cellar were ideal for providing a cool moist environment.   The Thornberrys excavated all six of the smaller vegetable kilns within their root cellar to a depth of at least four feet below the surface and well below the frost line.  On a site visit, local resident Connie Padget noted that her grandfather lined the bottom of these kilns with hay, placed the vegetables on top and then redeposited soil on the top (Connie Padget 1998, personal communication).  In his study of rural Southern Maryland, George McDaniel noted the use of similar pits for the storage of vegetables (McDaniel 1981:154).   Once vegetables were needed for consumption they could be dug out from the smaller pockets or vegetable kilns.

The Thornberry's practices of  animal husbandry, canning, and root cellar activities allowed the household to be self-sufficient in terms of food.  These activities required that the Thornberry's use all available land for household-related activities.  As such, the mosaic of gardens and activity areas at Sudley Post Office during the Thornberry occupation was very different from the grassed and manicured landscape visible at Sudley today.

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