In the mid-1990s one of our preservation consultants suggested that strategic archaeological excavations on the Weeks Brick House property might yield valuable historical and interpretive information. Such a study would be essential in planning for any future reconstruction of the "ell" and/or barn behind the house. In late 2001 archaeologist Neill DePaoli, Ph.D., who directed digs at Pemaquid Point, Maine as well as at Sandy Point Discovery Center in Stratham, N.H., was asked to submit a proposal to the WBH board.
Research would focus on the following questions: (1) Where was the home of Leonard Weeks ? (The existing brick house was built by his son, Samuel.); (2) Is it true that the house was constructed of locally-made brick?; (3) Can we locate a kiln and a pit where the clay may have been dug?; and (4) Is the c. 1710 construction date valid?
Dr. DePaoli divided the project at the Weeks property into two phases. (1) Background historical research to gain an understanding of the house and farmstead use through time. This information would determine the specific locations of archaeological investigation. (2) The actual archaeological dig, followed by evaluation of findings.
The background research was conducted during 2002-2003. Dr. DePaoli combed the WBH archives, town & state records, and consulted with Greenland Town Historian Paul Hughes. A grant aided this research, which resulted in Dr. DePaoli's 63-page historical survey, Three-and-One-Half Centuries in Greenland: The Weeks Brick House Farm of Greenland, N.H. (This stands as the most comprehensive compilation of Weeks Farmstead history, and is available for purchase at our Donate & Shop page.)
After reviewing the results of his research, Dr. DePaoli planned for selective digging in the area of the original "ell" at the back of the house. Additional funding was required for the digging phase. Ground-penetrating radar was used to identify likely locations to dig. While this equipment was onsite, it also confirmed the location of the burial ground of Greenland earliest settlers --- on a point just across the Weeks Farmstead rear property line in the woods overlooking the Winnicut River.
In the months leading up to the actual dig, during the excavation, and for the post-project public presentations, The Portmouth Herald kept the community informed about what was happening at the Weeks Brick House. The following are links to three articles:
"A hidden past"
by Karen Dandurant, Portsmouth Herald, October 25, 2006
"Archaeologist digs history --- Study of Weeks home reveals 'snapshot' of past lives"
by Karen Dandurant, Portsmouth Herald, July 7, 2007
"Dig at farmstead to be revealed Tuesday --- Weeks Brick House gives up its secrets"
by Karen Dandurant, Portsmouth Herald, October 1, 2007
(The following is excerpted from the Archaeological Dig Report by Neill DePaoli, Ph.D., that appeared in the fall 2007 WBH Newsletter. Photos by R.W. Bacon.)
Dr. Neill DePaoli and his crew came away from the first archaeological excavation of the site of the wooden story-and-a-half ell that once extended off the rear of the Weeks Brick House with mixed results.
Excavation showed no evidence that the ell dated to the mid-17th century, as some have claimed. Excavation indicated the ell probably was built in the late 1700s or early 1800s. However, the archaeologists left the dig far from empty-handed. They exposed four segments of the stone foundations and footings that supported the wooden superstructure of the building. The southernmost section of the foundation represented part of the five- or six-foot deep cellar that stood in the ell.
The archaeologists also recovered a considerable number of household and architectural artifacts discarded and lost by the occupants of the Weeks Brick House and its ell between the late 18th and early-20th centuries. They ranged from fragments of glass wine bottles, stemmed drinking glasses, and earthenware and stoneware plates and dishes manufactured in England during the late-18th and early-19th centuries to an array of glass beer and liquor bottles dating to the early 20th century.
Dr. DePaoli is especially excited about the recovery of a number of large bricks that appear to be discards from the early 18th-century construction of the Weeks Brick House. These bricks may well hold the key to determining whether or not the Weeks Brick House walls are constructed of locally-manufactured brick. Dr. DePaoli hopes to have samples of the bricks and Winnicut River clay tested for compatibility.
Excavation of a single pit immediately outside (west) of the ell exposed dramatic evidence of the devastating fire that consumed the barn and attached outbuildings in 1938. The archaeologists unearthed large quantities of melted and charred ceramic, glass, and metal bottles, jars, jugs, and cans that were stored inside the wooden shed and workshop attached to the barn.
A fifth pit dug just outside the northwest corner of the Weeks Brick House revealed a portion of the gravel carriage and wagon "drive" that once provided access to the barn and workshop. Excavators unearthed large fragments of a redware milk pan, a bowl, several pots, three pearlware plates, and a saucer from beneath the drive. These items were remnants of a deposit of household trash thrown out of the now-blocked side entrance by Weeks family members during the 19th century.
Dr. DePaoli concluded the season optimistic that the grounds immediately outside the Weeks Brick House and ell and the northern fields hold much more of the early story of the occupants of the Weeks Brick House.
The 1710 Weeks Brick House is a distinctive structure worthy of its place on the National Register of Historic Places. And it is near-and-dear to both distant Weeks descendants and local history/preservation enthusiasts. Yet because of location, configuration, economics, and more, it is unlikely to ever be a typical "museum house" with regular hours and docent-led tours. So why does the Weeks Brick House need a museum "interpretation plan"?
While the Weeks Brick House is not a typical "museum house," the structure and farmstead are historical, educational, and cultural assets with potential to illuminate the past and enrich the present.
A museum interpretation plan is an educational blueprint, outlining how a museum or historic site presents its assets and tells its "story" to its constituent community. Such a plan defines the "big picture" storyline, identifies audience needs, and sets forth the ideal method(s) for imparting the museum's "story".
The development of an interpretation plan, long on the Weeks Brick House "wish list," involves research --- but not the historical kind. The first step will be consulting the local and regional community in a series of focus-group meetings to help identify how the assets of the Weeks Brick House and Gardens can best serve public need. Will the prime storyline be farming? Architecture? Land use? Colonial gardening? 17th-century life? The evolution of the regional economy? The struggle for stable community in a new land? The farmstead is capable of illustrating a variety of topics. Ultimately a rigorously-developed interpretation plan will guide the Weeks Brick House in presenting public programs that earn the interest, participation, and support of our community. Do you have ideas? We welcome your participation in the process!