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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Slaveholder's farm unearthed


NICHOLASVILLE - Preparations for a new four-lane road in Jessamine County led to an archaeological dig that is shedding new light on a pre-Civil War slaveholder. AMEC Earth and Environmental, a contractor with offices in Louisville and Lexington, hopes to finish work this week at the site off U.S. 68. Since August, a crew for the firm has dug up the remains of a small plantation house, two slave houses, and two brick-making kilns that probably date back to the late 1830s and early 1840s. The dig is west of Nicholasville on the Henry Knight farm about a mile south of the Ky. 169 intersection with U.S. 68. A new four-lane U.S. 68 is scheduled to be built through the site between 2007 and 2009. The site in a large cow pasture is significant because it has been relatively undisturbed, said Wayna Roach, an archaeologist with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. "It's one in a million, really," Roach said. "We don't get this type of history often. Most of Kentucky has been plowed, and a plow would take this kind of stuff right out, and so the preservation is beautiful. "I actually hate to see it go. I wish we could pick it up and put it somewhere else and let folks come see it." Instead, AMEC Earth and Environmental has a $250,000 contract to dig up the site, collect whatever artifacts it can find, and photograph and record data for future use. Those actions serve as the mitigation allowed by the federal law for historic properties. The two-room house was owned by Mason Barkley, a hemp farmer who owned about 25 slaves, said Susan Andrews, project manager for AMEC Earth and Environmental. The dig has peeled back earth to find evidence of a stone hearth where there was once a chimney. Bigger stones are pier stones where wood members were laid. Another structure revealed by the dig is a detached kitchen and slave house from the 1840s. There is evidence of a stone cellar, and you can still see the stone steps that went down into the cellar. Around the time of the Civil War, the shed was demolished and the cellar was filled, and a kitchen with a chimney was built onto the main house, Andrews said. The site also has the remains of two kilns where clay bricks were made. Bricks were found in straight, neat rows. Clay and water would be mixed and then the bricks would be formed by hand, Andrews said. They were thoroughly dried, stacked and then covered by a clay chamber. Then they would be burned for three days, and after the fire died down, the bricks were allowed to cool. "A lot of big farms would make their own bricks," Andrews said. She is aware of only two similar kilns being dug up in the state. Household artifacts have been found at the Jessamine site as well. "We've found beads and jewelry, some of the things that have fallen through the floor," Andrews said. "We found pierced brass disks, which is something found a lot near houses occupied by slaves. We found hand-formed pipes, smoking pipes, lots of smoking pipes, actually. "We've found broken dishes and glasses and bottles and buttons. In that cellar we found a huge part of a bone that might have been an ox. They must have had oxen up here and slaughtered one." The site might add more information about slaves in Kentucky, Andrews said. "There's not much known about how slaves actually lived, especially in the Upland south of Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia, because they lived differently than down South, where they had hundreds of slaves living on a plantation. Slaves didn't write, and most of the history was written by well-to-do white men, and you get a certain bias with well-to-do white men." The Jessamine site had been known since the 1990s, but state officials didn't know what it would reveal until an environmental evaluation this past summer. "We sent crews out here to survey it," said Phil Logsdon, environmental coordinator for the state Department of Highway's District 7 Office in Lexington. "They do shovel tests every 20 meters, and when they did that, they started finding these historic artifacts, so they knew something was here. We realized it had a lot of intact deposits, ... and that it had a enough integrity to tell a story about the past." Despite the artifacts gleaned from the site, the new road will still come through the property, state officials said. A new $20 million four-lane road will be built from just south of Southland Christian Church to just north of the Y intersection of U.S. 68 and Ky. 29 near Wilmore. Project Manager Keith Caudill said the District 7 Office is in the process of getting an appraiser to evaluate properties along the intended route for the new four-lane road. "We're hoping by the spring of 2006 to start the right-of-way acquisition process," Caudill said. The appraiser will meet with each affected property owner. Later the district will send out buyers to make offers on the properties. Plans also are being made for relocation of utilities. Bids will be let in May 2007 and completion is anticipated for 2009, weather permitting. Parts of the existing two-lane U.S. 68 will remain as a service road and a bike path. The artifacts collected from the site will probably be kept by the University of Kentucky, Andrews said, and some artifacts might even go on display in the future.

Reach Greg Kocher in the Nicholasville bureau at (859) 885-5775 or


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