By Carlos Lu
The Old North Church plans to renovate the Washington Garden on the northern side of the campus for several reasons: to repair the garden walls that are rapidly deteriorating, to create an outdoor classroom area for education programs, and to create a more inviting space for visitors to enjoy. But before ground can be broken on the project, archaeologists must examine the site for physical remains, a process called Cultural Heritage Management (CHM), a crucial part of maintaining our connection to the past.
The past doesn’t just exist as records in a book; it can be found in the things we literally leave behind: our trash. Trash represents physical evidence of the lives of those who came before us. CHM is the collection of the physical evidence that can be found at historically significant locations, the aforementioned trash. Because of the historic significance of the Old North Church, CHM work must be conducted on the site before construction of any kind can begin.
Historical records indicate that the Washington Garden was the previous location of two tenement buildings, Union Court 1 & Union Court 2. These low-income houses, and their associated outdoor bathroom or privy, were occupied during the dawn of the 19th century. The City Archaeologist of Boston, Joseph Bagley, and his crew recently finished their preliminary excavations of the garden, finding the remains of the foundations and cistern of the old tenement buildings. With proof of physical remains on site, phase two of the excavations will begin in early August to learn more about those who lived in Union Courts 1 & 2.
Joseph Bagley, or Joe as he prefers to be called, is a true Bostonian. An alumnus of both Boston University and UMass Boston where he studied archaeology, Joe manages over 30 archaeological sites scattered throughout the city. At the Old North Church Joe is particularly interested in the personal lives of the occupants of Union Court 1 & 2, one occupied by the Crocker family over generations and two by several families over time. After going over census and property records of the time period, Joe said, “I saw Richard Crocker go from renting to buying [Union Court 1] and thought ‘yes, go you!’ He’s living the American Dream.” Hopefully phase two of the CHM work at Old North Church will provide a better idea about the personal experience and lives in the North End.
When phase two of the dig begins in early August, visitors to get a personal look at the excavation findings by interacting with and examining some of the artifacts at the Discovery Table or leaving their suggestions for the site after the excavation at our Sounding Board. This August will be a great opportunity to learn more about what life was like at the turn of the 19th century in the North End. We hope to see you soon!