Chapter 5B


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 B)
Changing Use of Private and Public Space at Sudley Post Office:
Landscape and Archeological Interpretation

Matthews Household

Based on the evidence presented above, when the Matthews couple acquired the house and property in 1871 they were moving onto a landscape designed to support a household of ten plus people.  In contrast to the Thornberrys, however, the Matthews household consisted only of two to three people.  The smaller size of the household along with the use of the structure as a post office had wide-ranging implications for how the Matthews perceived and used the landscape.

One of the first changes made to the Sudley landscape was the addition of a room to the southern portion of the structure (Figure 5.7).  The Matthews constructed this room by either enclosing an existing porch or by building the addition (Ballard n.d.).  This room housed the post office and the store that the Matthews operated until the turn of the century.  The Matthews entered this room through a doorway added to the original portion of the structure facing the eastern yard.  The doorway is immediately beneath the stairway to the loft of the structure and does not facilitate access to the main portion of the house.  The Matthews might have designed this doorway to separate the public space from the domestic space of the structure.  This separation of public from private space within the structure also carried through to how the household defined space in the yard.

This study did not find any archeological deposits that provide clues to the Matthews= use of the landscape.  The only materials dating to the Matthews household are those in the mixed downslope deposits.  However, this lack of archeological deposits, or negative evidence, is informative.  The lack of yard deposits suggests that the yard was kept relatively free of debris during the Matthews occupation.  This could be the result of two processes.  First, the low number of household occupants precluded the generation of heavy trash deposits in the yard.  Second, with the Matthews operating the post office from their domestic abode, their domestic space would be open for public scrutiny.  With the external kitchen connected to the house by the yard, the yard was part of the domestic space.  This required that their visible living space, which would include the yard, be kept clean of debris.  Keeping trash and yard litter downslope would be a convenient way to maintain this image.

The lack of deposits within the kitchen area, however, is puzzling.  In the deposits recovered from the root cellar, the upper layer (Megastrata III.a) is associated with the Davis household while the lower deposits (Megastrata IV) are associated with the Thornberrys.  This lack of debris might be the result of the Matthews not using the root cellar during their occupation.  If the Matthews did not remove the floorboards or disturb the soils of the root cellar, the likelihood of debris reaching the root cellar would be diminished.  The lack of deposits is partially understandable given the probability that the kitchen area would not receive the same level of use that it did with the large Thornberry household.

The absence of the Matthews-related materials in the root cellar indicates how the Matthews household used the surrounding landscape.  While the Matthews might have had vegetable gardens, they did not rely on them as a year-round food source.  This assumption is based on the lack of late nineteenth-century deposits in the root cellar. This absence contrasts with the Thornberry household.  Archeological deposits suggest use of the root cellar for year-round storage of root crops in addition to canning.  Along with indicating a reduction in  food production, the tax records for the Matthews household do not list any animals being present on the property.

However, census records from the 1880s list Carson Matthews as owning agricultural land to the south on Matthews Hill.  In comparison to local farmers, Matthew's farm production was not only low in quantity but low in diversity as well.  The only crop he produced was corn and his livestock consisted of one cow, six swine and 10 chickens (Joseph 1996b:3.28).  With this low production, the Matthews were probably dependent on locally bought foodstuffs.

In summary, the Matthews' kept their domestic activities very contained.  For the community postal patron approaching the window to receive his or her mail, the only semblance of the Matthews' domestic life they would see is the structure of the residence and the external kitchen.  Use of the structure as a community focal point reinforced the need for strict separation of public and private space.  The yard areas surrounding the structure  reflect containment of domestic activities.  As opposed to earlier time period when there were gardens and animal pens, the yard during the Matthews occupation was swept clean with only the possibility of a smaller garden being present.

Davis Household

By the time Joe Davis and his wife Lucy arrived at Sudley Post Office sometime in the 1910s, the structure had been continuously occupied for more than seventy years and had begun to fall into disrepair.  While Sudley Post Office sat on a well-drained hilltop, the structure was still exposed to the humid conditions and insect infestation common in rural Northern Virginia.  Only twenty years later, a photo of the structure (Figure 5.8) shows that clapboarding was falling off the structure, the chimney had started to deteriorate, and based on the 1930s replacement of joists in the structure, a considerable amount of the timber frame had rotted.

The  archeological deposits found around the perimeter of the structure provide evidence of the impact that the deteriorated condition of the structure had on life in the yard and house.  The archeological record indicates that earlier occupations kept the area adjacent to the structure swept clean.  In comparison, the Davises allowed some trash material to accumulate in this area.  Excavation units recovered a considerable scatter of smaller artifacts around the structure's perimeter, especially in the eastern yard. These materials were present in Megastratum III.a and were found in Excavation Units 1 and 13.  Rather than being an indication of poor sanitation, the accumulation of materials around the perimeter of the structure might have been a result of the placement of soil between the sill and ground to keep drafts out of the crawlspace under the house.  The combination of a breezy crawlspace and a worn floor sagging from decaying joists would make for cold rooms during the winter.  Soil placed around the foundation would serve to insulate the floors of the house.  A local resident, Wilson Beavers, recalled that in the 1930s the ground sloped up to the house.  The Woodwards later removed part of this soil (Wilson Beavers 1997, personal communication). 

With accumulated soils around the perimeter of the structure, items disposed of in the yard during the Davis occupation would be prone to be pressed into the matrix.  In contrast, the earlier packed clay yard allowed materials to be swept out to the perimeter of the yard.  Excavation units (Excavation Units 14, 19) placed farther from the structure revealed a lower density of materials indicating that the yard outside the perimeter of the structure was swept.

The materials found in the accumulated soil matrix allow some idea of the activities carried out in the eastern yard.  The presence of smaller ceramic sherds indicates that the Davises used the yard as an extension of the structure for socializing and dining.  The presence of harmonica parts suggests the household carried out a certain amount of socializing  in the yard.  Lead drippings located in the yard suggest repair activities or the casting of shot for hunting.  Abundant ammunition casings in yard deposits may indicate gun cleaning activities after hunting.  Doll parts indicate children playing in the yard.  Just as the yard had been a busy area during the Thornberry occupation, the return of a larger household again dictated the use of the yard for much of the family's activities.

As for outbuildings, some doubt exists whether or not the external kitchen in the eastern yard remained serviceable during the Davis occupation.  Both archeological evidence and a photo taken in the 1930s show the kitchen had collapsed by the mid-1930s.  Rubble and strata resting on top of the root cellar contain materials dating to the late 1920s and early 1930s.   The photo, taken sometime in the 1930s, shows the start of renovations on the Sudley Post Office structure and the absence of structures in the eastern yard (Figure 5.8).  By the 1930s, the chimney had collapsed onto the roof and pushed the structure onto the top of  the root cellar.

However,  wire nails present in the roofing material point to repairs taking place to the structure during the Davis occupation.  The presence of early twentieth-century deposits  in the upper portions of the kitchen root cellar also suggests the use of the kitchen structure; it was probably still standing during the Davis occupation.  The presence of a stove pipe coming from the eastern wall of the addition in the 1930s photo suggests that some cooking might have been taking place within the structure (Figure 5.8).  However, the household might have used this stove to heat the addition for sleeping.

Based on the artifact assemblage found within the kitchen area, the Davis household used the kitchen in a similar fashion to earlier households, most notably the Thornberry household.  Like the Thornberry assemblage, canning related materials were in Davis deposits.  Interestingly, ceramic types were present in the similar proportions in both Thornberry deposits (Megastrata IV) and Davis (Megastratum III.c), with 80% tablewares and 15% utilitarian wares.  The Davis household deposits contained slightly higher tablewares than earlier household deposits in the kitchen area.  This difference might reflect more food consumption occurring in the kitchen/yard area.

A number of shoe parts and clothing-related materials, such as buttons and suspender fasteners, were located in the kitchen area (Megastratum III.c, Site Stratum H).   The shoes were apparently discarded in the kitchen area and might represent attempts at shoe repair.  The absence of these remains in the readily accessible downslope area fifteen feet to the west strengthens the possibility of shoe repair.  Clothing-related artifacts, such as buttons and suspender fasteners, were also recovered in the kitchen area.  The location of these materials in the kitchen further suggests the use of this area for storage or repair.  The kitchen was also a space used by the Davis children for their activities as indicated by the wide variety of toys in the rubble from the kitchen. 

The yard and kitchen deposits that are associated with the Davis household suggest a wider range of activities than those associated with the Matthews household.  In addition, the use of a wider area of the yard by the Davis household shows evidence for the greater number of individuals using the yard.

From the archeological evidence we can get a sense of the manner that the Davises used their domestic space at Sudley Post Office.  The yard space around and including the kitchen area appears to have been the hub for activities, and was used for both domestic chores and socializing.  The kitchen area was not only used for preparation and storage of foodstuffs, but also for storage, repairs, and as a play area for the children.  The kitchen space was probably most frequently used for non-cooking activities during the winter months since it would have been the warmest area in the house/yard complex.

The use of space by the Davis family conforms to other studies regarding the ways that African-American households used their domestic space (McDaniel 1981; Ferguson 1992; Ryder 1991; Martin et al. 1997).  Yard space was an extension of the house.  Given a larger household and an often small square footage of a house, the household used the structure mainly for storage of valuables, sleeping, and socializing.  The yard would be an extension of this space for chores, craft activities, and socializing.  While the use of space by the Davises was not that different from the Thornberry household of 50 years previous, the use of space by the early twentieth century had begun to change in response to the formalization of rules for socializing during the Victorian era.  Interiors became the setting for the private life of a household, a haven from the outside world (Wall 1994).  For the Davises, the eastern yard served as private space in addition to the interior of the structure.

Similar to previous households that occupied Sudley Post Office, the Davises used the eastern yard as a private space from the watchful eyes of the community.  However, their need for privacy took on a different form of segregation of private/public space than previous occupants. Unlike the Matthews and Thornberrys, the Davises no longer used the space at Sudley Post Office for public space for the community.  Despite this change, the Davises confined their actions to the eastern side of the structure, away from the public view of Sudley Road to the west as well as Sudley Methodist Church to the southwest.  This choice of setting can be seen in the lack of domestic debris in the western side of the yard.  Excavation units placed to the west of the structure contained no ceramics, glass, or other debris that would suggest this space was used for socializing, craft activities, or chores.  Comparing the low yields of material culture from these units to the larger amounts coming from units in the eastern yard supports the notion of a clear division of space by the Davis household.  Based on this material evidence, the Davises kept their daily activities and movements blocked from view from the Sudley community by using the Sudley Post Office structure as a buffer.

Other African-American households in the Sudley-Groveton neighborhood kept their domestic activities private from the white community by locating their households in remote sites.  This can be seen in such sites as the Nash site located on a wooded knoll to the west of Groveton, the currently occupied Davis family home located one half a mile to the west of Sudley road in a wooded location, and in the Jennie Dean house located to the west of Sudley Road along a bluff out of sight of Sudley Road.

For the traveler along Sudley Road or the observer looking from the yard at Sudley Methodist Church, little evidence of the Davis occupation of Sudley Post Office could be seen.  The fact that the Davis household was located near a major institution of the community, Sudley Methodist Church, may have been an important factor for the Davis' use of space, especially during a time when African-Americans' activities were watched with a critical eye.  In addition, since the Davises lived in a formerly public space, the Davis' removal of their day-to-day domestic and social activities from the public eye was even more crucial.

Woodward Occupation (1938-1966)

The Woodward occupation of Sudley Post Office represents the first nonresidential use of the space.  When the Woodwards bought Sudley Post Office in 1938, the building had deteriorated.    The photo taken in the 1930s shows repairs underway with new windows being installed along with the decaying clapboards and chimney falling apart (Figure 5.9).  While the Woodwards are responsible for the majority of the repairs to the structure, the possibility exists that the Perry's might have begun improvements during their occupation from 1935 to 1938 (Jim Senseney 1998, personal communication).

The repairs involved replacing joists, clapboards, and repointing the chimney.  There were also changes made that altered the outside appearance of the structure.  Four dormers were added, two to the east face and two to the west along with a lean-to back porch facing the eastern yard.  The Woodwards might have also added the porches on the western portion of the structure.

Along with the renovations to the house, drastic changes also occurred to the landscape.  The former kitchen area was completely razed and the resulting depression filled in with soils from elsewhere in the yard.  This fill contains midden material with ceramics identical to the downslope built 10 feet to the north of an earlier privy hole, evidence of which had been discovered in Unit 24.  A local resident, John Crews, recalled a shed-like structure existing to the west of the present day privy.  He recalled that the structure was used for storage of gardening tools.

Once the eastern portion of the yard was leveled, portions of slope to the west and east of the structure were made into terraced gardens.  Plants such as boxwoods, hollyhocks, and bulb flowers were arranged along these banks and around the yard.  The level areas surrounding the house were also planted.  One local resident, Wilson Beavers, recalls the yard as covered with shrubs.  He recounted that when the National Park Service obtained the property, local residents were allowed onto the premises to remove ornamentals.  John Crews also recalled the same use of the landscape and added that the Woodwards had planted fruit trees and a grape arbor.  Evidence for these plants were encountered during the ground-penetrating radar survey.  In the southern portion of the yard there were multiple shallow to medium sized anomalies which were concentrated on the eastern bank to the south of the structure.

The perimeter of the house received multiple plantings as well, shown in photos from the 1950s (Figure 5.10).  The majority of the planting stains encountered during archeological excavations (Features 2, 7, 8, 9, 13, 19, 23 and 29) were encountered around the structure's perimeter.  All of these features postdated the Davis occupation and are associated with the Woodwards household.  Based on the poor soil differentiation of most of these features, they were likely formed when the shrubs were planted.  The Woodwards placed flagstone paving around the perimeter of the house to complement their gardens.  In the eastern yard, these flagstones were placed on top of the Davis deposits.

The Woodwards transformed the former domestic landscape of Sudley Post Office into a vacation home whose primary focus was aesthetic appeal.  Within this space they eradicated any surface evidence of former domestic areas such as the outdoor kitchen, yard space devoid of vegetation and the trash deposits to the east.  In place of these activity areas, a stylized landscape was created featuring terraced gardens designed to mimic a natural hillside, a grassed yard with shrubs and flower beds, and flagstone patios surrounding the structure.

Park Service (1966-present)

In 1966 the Woodwards agreed to sell their property to the National Park Service.  The property of Sudley Post Office was deemed an important part of the landscape associated with the First and Second Manassas.  For this reason, the property was included in the 1954 proposed boundaries for the Park (Zensen 1995:105).

Once acquired, the National Park Service allowed the local community to remove many of the ornamental vegetation planted in the 1940s.  Since the 1970s, the yard and surrounding  level has been mown in an effort to keep the area free from overgrowth.  Today the landscape, with its lawn and residual ornamentals, bears more resemblance to the property's use as a recreational space as opposed to a domestic space.

Despite the modifications to the structure in the twentieth century, the Sudley Post Office structure still retains its character from its nineteenth century occupation.  The only exceptions to this are the presence of the porch on the eastern side of the structure and interior trim work, dormers, and porches on the western side of the structure.

The only archaeological evidence from the National Park Service occupation was located in the metal detector survey and consist of items lost by tourists.  These include four Lincoln pennies and a portion of a camera lens located in the southern yard.

Present day tourist visitation to the site is low due to its location on the extreme northern perimeter of the Park and difficulty in accessing the site via the trail system.  Visitors to Sudley Post Office are a mix of local residents who fish along Bull Run and some battlefield tourists.  Despite the changes that have occurred to Sudley Post Office, the structure continues to be viewed by the local community as the old post office.  The fact that the structure continues to bear the title of "Sudley Post Office" hearkens to the important role the structure played, and continues to play, for the ethos of the community.


Use of space at Sudley Post Office has been influenced by several factors over the years.  These influences include the occupation of household members, domestic activities of the household, and the relationship between the household and the wider community.  For John Thornberry, use of space at Sudley was most influenced by his need for public visibility.  Thornberry not only needed this visibility to attract customers to his business, but also to display and reinforce his position within the community.  The ability for his house to be seen from Sudley Church was a significant part of this visibility.  After 1870, the Matthews household resided in the structure of Sudley Post Office and used a portion of the building for the community post office and store.  For the Matthews as well, the need for public visibility as well as public access by the community continued to be important.

The same public visibility that served as an enabling mechanism for the Thornberry and Matthews household did not serve the Davis household in the same manner.  The need for public visibility by the Davis household differed from that of earlier households.  This difference was mainly due to the position the Davis family held as an African-American family residing at the crossroads of a community during a time of intense segregation.  The ability for the community to have full visual access into the Davis' domestic space influenced their decision to concentrate their domestic activities to the east of the house, out of visual range of Sudley Church and Sudley Road.  This was a very different use of space as compared to previous households who made the area of the property within public view the center of activities.  When the structure was used as a vacation home by the Woodward family in the 1940s and 50s, the use of space at Sudley Post Office was once again reconfigured.  Areas in the front of the structure were manicured into terraced gardens and former domestic space was changed into a garden landscape.  This manicured landscape continues today with the use of Sudley Post Office as a national space dedicated to commemorating the Battles of Manassas.

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