Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: October 1993 Volume 31 Number 4, Pages 149–156

Found in Our Front Yard

Sue Andrews

Page 149

I started digging up our front yard more than a year ago. I had heard that to find artifacts you should dig where the privy had been. Near that area was one place where the grass would not grow, and to avoid chopping sod I started there. About an inch down my shovel struck a boulder with squared edges and a flat top. Digging around this rock I found the remains of an old stone wall, running east and west, parallel to the front of the house. I excavated the wall in both directions, but after running for 24 feet it ended, with no apparent side-walls.

I then picked another spot, closer to the house, and there I found another wall. This wall ran north and south, and connected with two other walls running east and west [see next page]. In one corner was something that looked like the foundation of a fireplace. But after further digging, one of these "connections" disappeared, and so the outer foundation now appears to be part of a separate building, probably pre-dating our house.

All year I dug. (My biggest problem was finding places to pile the dirt.) Even in the winter, when I could dig, I dug.

About two months ago [last May] I started digging at the gable end of the house, and found a small square foundation. Its walls are 20 inches thick and its center is about four feet square. I knew that our house had once had a kitchen as an outbuilding, and at first I thought that this square might be the foundation for it, but none of the walls has the right measurement for it. (The kitchen is listed as being 15 feet square in the 1798 Federal Direct Tax Assessment for the so-called "Glass Tax".

Page 150

Diagram of excavated area

The'area marked "A" includes the walls I uncovered when I first started, The area marked "B" is the section that I at first thought might be the separate kitchen. The area marked "C" is the section under the terrace, where I found the Rhenish stoneware.

Page 151

The assessment also listed a stone barn, 64' by 30', and a stone waggon house 48' by 12', in addition to the house, which was 33' by 24'. Both our house and the barn fit these measurements perfectly, and we have a 48' stone wall which we are sure was once the back of the wagon house.)

While I was doing this excavation I found a lot of artifacts which I am now in the process of washing and sorting.

Many of them are redware shards. I also found a piece of blue and white Delft. (If you collect Delft you would never break a plate to see the glaze on a cross-section, but when you find a broken piece you can see that the glaze is thicker than that on most earthenware.)

I have found close to 50 pieces from clay tobacco pipes. The size of the hole in them, I have read, tells you how old they are; if the hole is bigger, the pipe is older. They are measured by 64ths of an inch. The ones I found are not very old -- dating perhaps from 1780 to 1820.

Rhenish stoneware fragments (full size)

My very best find, at least in my estimation, is some Rhenish stoneware. I found four fragments of it (and five of something similar) under a terrace which had been added to the front of the house in 1950. (The front of our house was actually the back when the property was a farm.) My husband had a section of the terrace removed so I could dig down right next to the house, and that is where I found the Rhenish stoneware -- three feet out from the house and 20 inches deep. It is similar to some found at Xarter's Grove, near Jamestown, Virginia, and could be from the early 1700s.

Old brass padlock (4" x 2 1/4")

I have also found an old brass padlock; a shutter hook, like those on the Herr House near Lancaster (which I noticed while on a field trip with Eva Noll); a large bullet; a Civil War button that Bob Ward says is from a New York troop; about a dozen pewter buttons, two sizes -- 3/4" and 3/8"; and a musket ball.

Page 152

Decorated pin case (1 11/16" x 5/16")

Another find was a decorated pin case. Shaped like a miniature dagger sheath and decorated, it is, in fact, a container for two straight pins, and could be carried in the pocket.

Rein retainer (4 5/8" x 2 3/8")

Somewhat larger is a device that was used on horse-drawn vehicles. It has a keeper that fits over the shaft on a buggy or small wagon, with a ring below, through which the reins passed.

I have a whole batch of teeth. One, which has a cavity in it, is a human tooth. Apparently someone just pulled it out and threw it into the fire-place. I have collected many different kinds of teeth -- horses' teeth, they keep growing as they wear down; a pig's fang.

I also found an eye! Just last week I found a perfect doll's glass eye, with a blue pupil.

To give some idea of the quantity of things I have found, I have a big box of bones; two boxes of corroded iron things, including hundreds of nails, some of them hand-wrought and some cut; boxes of redware weighing more than thirty pounds; about six pounds of slipware; lots of earthenware; and three or four pieces of Chinese Export china. The earthenware is mostly blue and white pearlware, hand-painted and made in England. There was also some blue-edged Leeds, which was very popular, and some green-edged Leeds, as well as some polychrome painted shards. I also found some greenware; some blue and green American stoneware; salt glaze; brownstone; and some transfer-painted fragments.

I also have boxes of old glass, mostly bottle necks.

We are so far unable to identify a number of the artifacts I have dug up, and I would really like to know what they are. One, for example, is a pair of iron hands, palms up. They do not appear to have been attached to anything.

Page 153

(Someone suggested that they might be from the 1920s, but no one seems to know what they would have been used for. Someone else suggested that they might have been from an old insurance plaque, but there isn't anything to attach it by, and I don't believe that's it.)

Another thing I would like to know more about is a little narrow funnel, about four inches long and only about half an inch in diameter at the top. It is made out of copper, I think.


We have only one old picture of the house, taken in 1914 by Clarence Staats' father. It was taken from their home across the stream, and our house is partly hidden by a horse's head. We do have several pictures, though, of the house as it looked when we bought it in 1954.

Until recently we thought that the house had been built early in the 18th century. (Our neighbors told us it was "the oldest house in the Valley", and we had deeds dating back to 1708.) In the fall of 1991 we engaged John Milner, the well-known historical architect, and since then we have learned a lot more about the house itself.

Page 154

Bob Ward has also been very helpful, notably in telling us about Lewis Gronow, who lived in the house during the Revolution. He also informed us that our James Davis was not the same James David whose daughter, Eleanor, was "robbed and murdered in her house in the Great Valley in 1752", and that that was another Davis family, who lived in the eastern part of Tredyffrin Township. (Our children grew up thinking that the murder had happened in our house -- and that the ghost of Eleanor Davis lurked in the attic!)

Another person who has been invaluable in helping me "read" my ruins and sort my artifacts is Juliette Gerhart, whom I found halfway through my digging. She worked as an archaeologist at Valley Forge Park and could identify most of my findings.

The oldest part of the house, the eastern part, was built in 1756, with the western half built in 1830. The 1756 date was discovered by a dendrochronological investigation of several cores of wood taken from the summer beams on both the first and second floors. It is a very accurate way of dating, by interpreting the tree rings on the wood and the spaces between them. Another block of wood, taken from the cellar fireplace arch, was dated from 1700, but it was probably old wood from an earlier house. I hope someday to dig up the datestone that once adorned the east gable of the house.

The house was built by James Davis, presumably to replace the original "messuage" mentioned in a 1741 deed from Thomas David to Methusela David. The Davids were part of the original Welsh settlement of Tredyffrin: in 1708 Thomas David and his father John purchased a 200-acre tract in the Great Valley from David Powell. In 1750 Methusela sold the property to James Davis. (The "d" in the surname had now become an "s".)

House and barn (prior to 1962 fire)

Page 155

The property remained in the David/Davis family until 1770, when it was bought by Lewis Gronow. He was also a Welshman, and a relative of the Davises. Colonel Gronow was a staunch patriot during the American Revolution, and also a petitioner for the manumission of slaves. He was quite wealthy in 1776. Upon his death in 1786, however, his wealth was gone -- perhaps a consequence of the war -- and the property was sold at sheriff sale to Thomas Bull, a relative.

He, in turn, sold it to Jacob Kurtz in 1791. Jacob Kurtz built the barn which, until it burned in 1962, stood to the west of the house. The date-stone is still there in the side which we rebuilt into a much smaller barn after the fire.

Seven or eight years ago a couple drove down our driveway, looking for an ancestor's home. The ancestor was Jacob Kurtz. At that time, in our research we still hadn't found the owners from 1770 to 1830, but as the datestone on the barn read

we had surmised that the surname would start with a "B". Their visit cleared up the mystery: the "B" stood for Barbara, Jacob Kurtz's wife. Since then we have had other Kurtz descendants visit, including a bus load of Amish from Lancaster County. We also always show the "J. K." carved in a wall cabinet over the kitchen fireplace.

During the first third of the 19th century the farm changed hands several times. In 1808 Jacob Kurtz sold it to John Bowen. Nine years later, in 1817, it was sold at sheriff sale to Samuel Davis. In 1819, on Samuel Davis' death, it was sold for his estate by the executors, John Gronow Bull and Joshua Evans, to Benjamin Jones. And in 1830 Benjamin Jones sold it to Henry Detwiler.

The notices of these sales in contemporary newspapers give us an inventory of the various buildings on the property at these times. In an advertisement in the Village Record in February 1818, for example, it was noted that there were "on the premises three stone dwelling houses, two of them two-story; the other one and a half", a "large and convenient stone barn, and all other buildings necessary for a good farm". Similarly, in a description of the property in the American Republican in October 1819 when it was offered for sale by the executors of Samuel Tavis it was noted that there were "two two-story stone houses -- the mansion is large and commodious -- a large barn, milk house, granary, waggon house and hog house, all substantially built of stone, -- [and a] cyder works and frame smith shop". Walls of these various outbuildings are still standing -- but we don't know to which buildings they belong. During severe droughts we can see the outlines of two small structures between the house and the stream; the grass is brown where their stone foundations are close to the surface.

Page 156

The property, a dairy farm during its best years, remained in the Detwiler family for almost a century and a quarter until we bought it in 1954. (In fact, some of you may know it still as "the old Detwiler place".) It is down a long lane from Yellow Springs Road, right on Valley Creek. As I mentioned earlier, what is now the back of the house was originally the front. There used to be a road there -- it came down from Yellow Springs, past St. Peter's Church and the Paoli Inn, into Darby Road - but it is not there now. Most the old houses were placed close to the road, and this one was too.

Our biggest problem now is what to do with the mess I have made. I would like to finish digging up the entire space between the older half of the house and the outer foundation. I would lower the grade, and have three steps leading up to the kitchen. The foundations that I have excavated would be stabilized and appear as walls. And then I would finish it all off with lawn and flowers.

Illustrations by the author


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