Archeologist examines foundation at Harmony Hall

Erin Smith Staff writer

January 6, 2014

WHITE OAK — Despite the rainy and gloomy weather Sunday, there was an air of excitement and anticipation at Harmony Hall Plantation as volunteers and staff members anxiously watched and waited as archaeologist Ken Robinson explored a set of ruins that was discovered last year.
“It was about one year ago that a volunteer stumbled across the foundation,” said volunteer Sunday Allen. “We contacted and then waited on an archaeologist to come and give his opinion.”
“Harmony Hall volunteers contacted Ken Robinson. He had done 52 test sites including the cellar,” said Seth Lewis.
Robinson, of Archaeological and Historical Services, arrived and walked around the ruins checking measurements, checking the firmness of the surrounding soil and taking photographs. He found the ruins quite interesting and dated them as possibly late 19th century to early 20th century, much newer than the house, which dates from about 1760, but still historically significant to the plantation and its operations.
Robinson, along with several volunteers, walked around the perimeter of the ruins as he carefully examined related debris.
He cautioned the volunteers about digging around the walls as the soil packed against it could potentially contain artifacts or other material that could hold clues as to the building's primary function.
The ruins measure about 24 feet across and about 60 feet in length. There is one end that appears to have been left open and the remnants of what may have been a dividing wall about halfway through the length of the ruins. A room appears to have indentions along the foundation wall that Robinson said could have potentially held either sill beams or upright posts. Robinson added that making a determination as to whether the notched places held upright posts or sill beams or served some other purpose altogether is difficult without knowing the intended use of the building.
“There are several interpretations (of the ruins),” said Robinson. “I don't know yet if they are valid.”
His two hypotheses included a possible use for naval stores, grain storage, or for washing/cooking/pack house. He added he is not totally convinced of any of these as the answer to its purpose.
Robinson also discussed a recent find near Fayetteville he had assisted in researching that turned out to be a loom house and another that was much larger than this set of ruins that turned out to be a large naval stores facility.
Robinson encouraged the group to try to learn as much as possible about the families that have owned Harmony Hall in the past and if possible to determine what functions the plantation was used for during their ownership. He also said that oral legends in the community regarding the activities of the plantation could also be helpful.
Volunteer Brandon Moore also presented Robinson with an artifact he had found when he discovered the ruins. Robinson carefully looked the piece over and examined it and finally pronounced it to be a piece of a cast iron pot.
“You need to sketch approximately where you found it and bag this and label it,” said Robinson.
After careful thought and more examination, Robinson said, “This is a huge building … It is a lot larger than most out buildings found on a simple country farm … . It seems to have a very soft floor that is deep and filled in over the years.”
Robinson added that there is no evidence of a fireplace, which would rule out a domestic use for the ruins.
He also examined the remains of a foundation of a early 20th century tobacco barn that is also on the property near the vicinity of the ruins in question.
Robinson, who has been working in archaeology for 35 years, had performed a test dig at Harmony Hall Plantation in 1988. He said the dig was very limited in scope and turned up some Native American artifacts along with artifacts from the residence.
“That was how I become familiar with the place,” said Robinson. “It has always been an interesting site.”
He added as to the ruins in question, there is no guarantee of an answer.