Sampling of North Carolina's Archaeological Sites
The Past in Transylvania County:
Deaver House Excavations
Yes, Dr. Frankenstein, there is a Transylvania in
North Carolina. It's a county in the far western part of the state
among the mountains. Perhaps you have heard of Brevard--it's the
county seat. The county has an exciting past, beginning in prehistoric
times when native Indian cultures, ancestors of the Cherokees, roamed
the mountains, and including the time when the early white settlers
began to stake out the mountainous country as their own. Last fall,
Transylvania County was home to one of the first archaeological
excavations conducted at a nineteenth-century residential and farmstead
site in western North Carolina.
The excavations took place at the William Deaver
House, one of western North Carolina's finest surviving examples
of early- mid-nineteenth century architecture. Archaeologists Ruth
Wetmore and Kenneth Robinson directed the project to recover information
for the restoration of the house and farmstead. Restoration is being
sponsored by the Transylvania County Historical Society. Only preliminary
excavations were conducted last fall, but several excavation units
were opened inside and outside the house, and there were some very
The main feature of the site is the main house, a
two-story, wood timber structure with a full two-tiered porch. The
house sits atop a steep sided hill, overlooking an old Indian Trail
which later became a main road for settlers into the Davidson River
region of what was Old Buncombe County. William Deaver, a prominent
mountain landowner, is thought to have built the house on the site
around 1830, although there is some evidence that it may have been
constructed in the first decade of the 1800s. The house was greatly
enlarged sometime in the mid-nineteenth century.
There is no historical information that tells exactly
when the house was first constructed, but an important piece of
evidence recovered from the archaeological excavations has provided
the first hard evidence as to when the additions were made to the
house in the mid-1800s. The tell-tale artifact was a ceramic plate
fragment found in the foundation trench which was dug out when the
additions were made. The ceramic sherd had the name and mark of
its English manufacturer--James Edwards--on it and a search of historical
reference books showed that the maker's mark was not used prior
to 1842, so the addition to the house could not have been built
before that date. This date has helped pin down a part of the construction
sequence of the house. Perhaps future archaeological study will
produce evidence for the original construction of the house.
Inside the house, the ground surface below the floor
boards and the area around the base of the chimney was investigated.
Few features were found in the soil, but a great number of artifacts
were preserved, most dating from the twentieth century, but some
dating from the historic occupation of the house. The subfloor area
was very dry and many paper artifacts from the 1930s and 40s were
preserved. We found small fragments of sheet music, still readable.
One notable twentieth-century artifact was a metal lapel button
with a molded American flag and the words "REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR"
on it. A "UNITED CONFEDERATE VETERANS" button also was
Excavations around the house showed how the foundations
of the house were built. Several interesting artifacts also were
found in the side yards of the house, including a French-made gun
flint (from a flintlock gun), and several pieces of tablewares dating
from the nineteenth century. Some of the tablewares may be as old
as the 1810s or 1820s.
Another important discovery was a "mystery"
structure located on a hillside about forty feet away from the house.
The structure consists of large stone slabs that seem to form a
wall. The wall is buried under the hillside. It could be a cellar
to a building or perhaps the foundations of an earlier house. No
one knew this structure existed until the archaeologists, with assistance
from a lot of volunteers, cleaned off the hillside where it was
located. A tree growing in the middle of the feature indicates it
must be at least 80 years old. Exactly what this structure was is
anyone's guess. It will have to be excavated to find out its function.
A few prehistoric stone tools and pottery pieces
also were found around the site, evidence that prehistoric Native
Americans camped on this site at various times during the past 5000
The archaeological information gathered from this
project will contribute to the restoration and the interpretation
of the site. Already, the results have been used to plan for certain
restoration activities and the information will be used to plan
future archaeological research on the site.
This archaeology project was aided by a great number
of volunteers. Several members of the Transylvania County Historical
Society rolled up their sleeves and helped clear vegetation, excavate,
screen for artifacts, and catalog the artifacts. Many students from
Brevard College's Inside-Out Community Service Program also lended
their hands in the excavations. All told, about 400 hours of volunteer
assistance was given to the project.
We would like to acknowledge the Transylvania County
Historical Society for sponsoring this project. Funding was provided
by the Society through grants from Mrs. Marion Stedman Covington
of Greensboro, a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation,
and a Survey and Planning Grant from the National Park Service,
as administered by the N.C. Division of Archives and History.
by Kenneth W. Robinson and Ruth
Reprinted by permission from the
NEWSLETTER of the Archaeological Society of North
Carolina (Number 96) and the Friends of North Carolina Archaeology,
Inc., (Volume 7, Number 1), March 1991. © North Carolina
Archaeological Society 1991
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