This week in Pennsylvania Archaeology we review the foundation of an early smoke house uncovered by the archaeological excavations currently being conducted at Fort Hunter Mansion and Park by the Section of Archaeology of The State Museum of Pennsylvania. The structure was built by Colonel Archibald McAllister in the early 19th century on his plantation along North Front Street in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Col. McAllister started his plantation at the site of a French and Indian War fort in about 1787 by building a large stone house at the junction of Fishing Creek and the Susquehanna River. He was a very successful entrepreneur with his farming activities, eventually his operations included a grist and saw mill, a blacksmith shop and a tavern.
The smoke house was described in the agricultural newspaper Cultivator by Daniel Chandler in 1835 based on his visit to the farm in 1828. He described Col. McAllister as “a gentlemen of science and refined observation”. Chandler was especially impressed with his household conveniences notably the milk house, smoke house and clothes line, describing each in detail. The smoke house “was a wooden octagon building ….. perfectly tight except the door-way”. Chandler noted that the smoke house was unique in that it was elevated off the ground by a foot or more and that “no fire was admitted into the building” therefore reducing the chances of the building catching fire. The smoke for curing the meats was introduced into the building by a tube from a stove in an adjacent room. Typically, in a conventional smokehouse the smoke is generated by a brick fireplace in the center of the earthen floor or by an iron stove in the building. It was noted that McAllister’s arrangement provided a perfectly dry building allowing him to store his meats in the smokehouse until they were consumed.
The smokehouse foundation is not an artifact in the traditional sense, but is an archaeological feature, a technical term that applies to objects such as post molds, foundations, walk ways, roads and other remains that cannot be removed from the site. This treasure is the rocks which form the foundation of a structure – as in this case the base for the smokehouse. The archaeological footprint of Col. McAllister’s innovative smoke house design consists of a circular stone foundation 12 feet in diameter allowing for the unique octagonal building. The connecting room for the stove can be seen in the picture as an “L” shaped alignment of rocks to the right of the main foundation.
Excavations at Fort Hunter will continue weekdays 9am - 4pm, through October 7th.For more information, visit PAarchaeology.state.pa.us or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .