SITE Armstrong Farmstead (15Fa185)
PROJECT US 27/68 Upgrade
HIGHLIGHTS Phase III Archaeology, African-American History, Rural 19th Century Lifeways, Student Interns
CLIENT The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) is charged with the responsibility of protecting important archaeological and historical sites that may be affected by highway construction. The ongoing archaeological research at the 19th century Armstrong Farmstead is an excellent example of the KYTC's efforts to document and preserve Kentucky's past. This archaeological mitigation project offers a great opportunity to educate the public about the lifeways of early 19th century Kentuckians.
Cultural Resource Analysts, Inc. (CRA) conducted archaeological investigations at the site under contract with KYTC and in partnership with Palmer Engineering, Inc. The project includes the excavation of three structures: a house, a springhouse, and a possible carriage house. Additional features included a possible privy, a trash pit, and a midden.
The available archival data did not indicate when the property was originally settled, but did show that Preston Cummins lived on and farmed the land in 1838, before John Armstrong purchased the farm in 1846. It was not known if other previous owners lived on this section of a much larger land parcel or not. John Armstrong was a relatively well-off farmer who raised and slaughtered livestock and produced hay, wheat, corn, potatoes, and butter, among other things. There were a number of slaves and servants living at the farmstead during most of the time it was occupied. After John's death in 1875, the Armstrong family continued to occupy the house for an unknown period of time. The property then changed hands a number of times and a tenant house was built on the land in the 1940s.
THE ARMSTRONG FARMSTEAD
John and Mary Armstrong purchased the property on which the farmstead is located in 1846. We know that John Armstrong was an Irish immigrant and a farmer. Mary, who was 15 years younger than John, was born in Vermont and a seamstress. It appears that they met, married, and raised a family on the East Coast before they moved to Kentucky. After John's death in 1875, the property was deeded to his daughter, Ann Armstrong. Heirs bought and sold the property during the remainder of the 19th century. Several different people owned the property throughout the first half of the 20th century. After 1959, Robin Scully owned the property, and it eventually became part of present day Clovelly Farm, a 700-acre horse farm. Census data show that by 1850 five African-American slaves (one adult and four children) resided and worked on the Armstrong farmstead. The residents of the Armstrong Farmstead witnessed dramatic changes in rural Kentucky life from the early 19th through the early 20th century, especially during the Civil War and Reconstruction Period.
Three structures were identified during archaeological investigations: a springhouse and two domestic structures. Structure 1 (the springhouse) was probably constructed during the early part of the nineteenth century and was in use throughout that century. Structure 2 (the larger of the two domestic structures) was constructed during the early part of the nineteenth century and no longer used by the end of the century. Structure 3 was not constructed until the larger residence had been in use for some time, likely during the mid to latter half of the nineteenth century, and was used until the early twentieth century. Features associated with the earliest occupation of the site included a trash pit and a probably privy. A midden and an activity area were used throughout the occupation of the site. A possible cellar was documented, as well as an additional area along the southern boundary of the project where another structure may have stood around the end of the nineteenth century.
A geophysical survey, backhoe excavations, and 1x1 meter hand-excavated test units were used to identify and define these features. The excavations allowed the archaeologists to conclude that the site was most likely initially occupied in the early nineteenth century by the Scott family and continued being used for residential purposes into the beginning of the twentieth century, first by the Cummins family, then by the Armstrong family, and finally by unknown occupants at the very end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
WHAT WE LEARNED
Major research questions that guided archaeological investigations at the Armstrong Farmstead included topics such as world systems theory, consumerism, social relations, and spatial analysis. In world systems theory, archaeologists attempt to link artifact assemblages to the global economy. The world systems perspective reveals what types of consumer goods were available in a specific geographic region at specific points in time, providing clues to the market influences affecting the people living at the site. At the Armstrong Farmstead the relatively prosperous market economy of the early to middle nineteenth century can be seen in an increase in the farm's land values as well as a drop in the property value around the Civil War. After the Civil War, the economy stabilized, as can be seen in an increase in the value of the farm as well as the purchasing choices made by the Armstrong family. Interestingly, the crops grown both before and after the Civil War do not appear to exhibit any dramatic changes in quantity. The Armstrongs also show a preference for American made goods through their purchases of ceramics and container glass.
Consumerism is another important research focus since consumer patterns reflect differences in access to local markets - in essence describing the degree of isolation of a site from the broader communication networks by which a site is surrounded. While the physical location of the farmstead appeared to be rural, it's location adjacent to one of the earliest and busiest roads in the region provided the farmstead access to the larger commercial world. This was evident in the faunal assemblage, in which portions of the meat were purchased from local butchers; in the ceramics, which came from the United States as well as England; and in the container glass, which came from the Northeast.
Socioeconomic and social relations questions focus on the association between an individual's social and economic position in life and the artifacts they left behind. The way an individual dressed, the house they built, the food they ate, and the ceramics they used were all indicators of that person's social and economic standing. A number of specialized analyses conducted on the Armstrong Farmstead's artifact assemblage, including ceramic and faunal analysis, were indicative of the family's social and economic standing. The ceramic cost index values were compared to the index values of other nineteenth century sites in order to determine the relative social rank of the Armstrongs. While their rank placed them moderately low, they were well within the realm of other similar farmsteads. Ceramic vessel function analysis and faunal analysis demonstrated that the residents of Armstrong Farmstead relied on a diet utilizing chops, steaks, roasts, and other cuts of meat, supplemented by soups and stews. This data indicated that the status of the occupants of the Armstrong Farmstead appeared to be relatively high.
Spatial analysis is also an essential component of historic archaeology in general and of the Armstrong Farmstead in particular. There are two aspects of spatial analysis. The first involves an understanding of the spatial arrangement of structures, while the second focuses on the activities that took place around them. Since such a small portion of the actual farmstead was examined archaeologically, the entire farmstead layout could not be configured. Only the immediate domestic yard area could be associated or differentiated from other farmsteads, locally or regionally. The layout of the immediate domestic yard area was common as evidenced by the locations of the midden, springhouse, and privy, yet unusual due to the presence of an activity area that included an apparent limestone and brick walkway. Features commonly associated with the outer domestic yard area such as chicken coops, wash houses, and storage sheds were not evident because this area of the yard may have been beyond the project limits.
The investigations at the Armstrong Farmstead demonstrated that this site was a valuable archaeological resource. The site was viewed in the historical context as a farmstead and residence from the early nineteenth through the early twentieth century. Relative to current research questions in historical archaeology, the site offered a unique opportunity to better understand the development of a nineteenth-century farmstead and the function and importance of associated outbuildings and activity area.
KYTC and Cultural Resource Analysts, Inc. are strongly committed to public education and involvement. Several mechanisms were used to inform the public of activities at the site. A local television news crew filmed the archaeologists at work and interviewed the Project Archaeologist about the site. Public tours of the site also were arranged and information pamphlets were created. In addition, students from Transylvania University were provided internships during this project, which gave them an invaluable opportunity to learn about archaeology.
Finally, a comprehensive report will be written that details all of the findings from this archaeological investigation. Public and professional presentations will be given about the significant results. The artifacts and attendant data, including the report, will be curated with the University of Kentucky Museum of Anthropology.