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Archaeological Fieldwork Update: The Kitchen Road

Fraser D. Neiman

On Monday September 17, the archaeology department began the final phase of excavation required to support the Foundation’s exciting plans to restore Jefferson’s Kitchen Road.  In the first decades of the nineteenth century the Kitchen Road linked Monticello’s kitchen, at the south end of the covered passage, to the eastern end of Mulberry Row, where the three slave houses that Jefferson designated “buildings r, s, and t” once stood.  The Kitchen Road was a key feature of Jefferson’s later landscape design, because it offered access to the mansion’s hidden service spaces, separate from the more formal access for elite visitors to the front door across the East Lawn.

Archaeology staff members, led by Karen Smith, will excavate a series of 5-by-5 foot quadrats south and east of the kitchen. This is the area enclosed by the dashed oval on the map below.  Fieldwork is currently slated to last 10 weeks.  As in the past, our field and lab staff will be available on-site to explain the project to visitors, answer questions, and showcase finds.

Figure 1. Monticello archaeologists are excavating 5-foot quadrats in the area m

This round of excavations has several goals. The first is to advance our understanding of how the Kitchen Road intersected with the Kitchen Path that once ran straight out the covered passage opening toward vegetable garden gate on Mulberry Row. We are also interested in locating any evidence for the treatment of this area during the Monticello-1 period, before Jefferson constructed the south terrace and covered passage. Finally, since restoring the Kitchen Road will require cutting into the ground surface in a few spots, we want to excavate these spots archaeologically to ensure that the restoration does not inadvertently destroy archaeological evidence.

Figure 2. After removing a layer of sod, archaeologists clean the surface of the surface of the first layer

Archaeological fieldwork required for the Mountaintop Road Restoration Project, begun in the spring of 2010, has contributed significantly to our understanding of the landscape and its evolution from Jefferson’s day to the present.  During the first phase of the project, we discovered the remains of the Kitchen Road itself. We also established that the south edge of the East Lawn sits atop over 5-feet of Jefferson-era fill, testimony to the massive amount of dirt moving required to construct the level expanse around Jefferson’s house.  In the spring of 2011, we were able to determine that  the “inner loop road”, on which visitors line up for house tours, is not a Jefferson-era feature, but dates to the Levy period.  

The third phase of fieldwork, conducted in the fall of 2011 and early 2012, allowed us to locate the Jefferson-era ground surface, buried by several feet of modern fill along Mulberry Row adjacent to the Weaver’s cottage.  The Mountaintop Road Restoration will require removing this modern fill, so it is critical that we know where it ends and the Jefferson-era deposits start.  An unexpected bonus from this work was the discovery of a building from the 1770s.  For more on this, see this recent blog post:

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