They’re doing science in our parking lot!

As many of you know, AWS is headquartered at the historic George Washington House in Bladensburg, Md., which is the site of the former Indian Queen Tavern.  The original portion of the building was constructed circa 1760, so we are blessed with big, beautiful brick fireplaces in many of our offices.  As the bicentennial of the War of 1812 approaches, interest in the rich history of Bladensburg is peaking.  Archaeologists from the Maryland State Highway Administration have been conducting digs at many of Bladensburg's historical sites including Bostwick House and now right here at AWS.

The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) and the Center for Heritage Resource Studies (CHRS) at the University of Maryland designed the Bladensburg Archaeology Project as a collaborative partnership to investigate the historic resources of the town of Bladensburg, Md. in anticipation of the upcoming War of 1812 Bicentennial.

On Monday, teams started digging trenches in what is now the AWS parking lot to begin their survey for historic artifacts.   The team is keeping a terrific blog and Flickr photo stream on the whole Bladensburg project and are providing daily updates on their work here at the George Washington House.  With permission, we have excerpted below a post on the history of the Indian Queen Tavern, but we encourage you to check out the whole blog to learn some surprising facts about local history.  Of special interest are all the great photos and a research paper titled “Ecology, Commerce, Conflict and Transportation Along the Anacostia River” that is presented in five parts on the Bladensburg Archaeology Project blog.  We are excited to have this chance to honor the third part of our mission: “Clean the Water, Recover the Shores, Honor the Heritage.”

Excerpted from The Bladensburg Archaeology Project Blog:

“Around 1763 a tavern was built on the north half of Lot 6 by Jacob Wirt and his wife Henrietta. Jacob was a Swiss immigrant and Henrietta emigrated from Germany.  They raised their three sons and three daughters in this tavern.  In 1774, Jacob Wirt died and left this property, including the brick store (George Washington House), tavern, stable, and counting house before the tavern door, to his heirs.

Although the tavern was still owned by the Wirt heirs, it was rented out.  By 1798, the tavern was being operated by Richard Ross.  The tax records described the tavern as a two story, framed dwelling house measuring 46 ft by 28 ft.  The property also supported a 12 ft by 16ft framed kitchen, a 26 ft by 20 ft framed stable, and a 26ft by 9ft shed.

Perhaps the most significant mention of the tavern came in a letter dated March 26, 1797 from George Washington to Elizabeth Willing Powell.  In the letter he noted that although Spurrier’s Tavern in Jessup was popular with travelers, “the lodging is bad-the eating tolerable…better for lodging than eating.  At Bladensburg nine miles beyond a good house is kept by one Ross (sign of the Indian Queen).  We believe that Washington was likely referring to Richard Ross’ tavern.

The last known tavern keeper was Patrick Daugherty who took over the operation in 1802 and may have kept the Ross name for his business.  Ross’ Tavern is not mentioned again until 1814.  Joshua Barney’s daughter, Mary, reports that after the Battle of Bladensburg, Commodore Barney was taken to Ross’ Tavern at his request. Here he oversaw the capture and parole of 80 wounded American soldiers.  Additionally, a letter written from Ross’ Tavern about the Battle of Bladensburg from Henry Thompson to Brig. Gen. Stricker also suggests the use of the tavern as a head quarters following the battle.  This is the last known reference to the tavern.  Based on the chain of titles, it appears that the property ceased to support a tavern by the 1830s.

By 1861, a German cabinet maker, Ernst Franz (Francis) Gasch, operated a cabinet shop on this property where he also made coffins and served as a local mortician.  Although Francis and his wife, Sophia, moved across the street in 1895, they continued to operate the funeral home* at this location until 1902.  By 1939, the property is vacant.”

*The Gasch family still operates a funeral home in the area, now located about a half mile up the road.

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