Archaeologist’s digs reveal more details about early college life

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“For most of the 19th century, it was common for people to dump the trash in their own backyards,” said Susan Palazzo, project manager and archaeologist at Rivanna Archaeological Services. “The University tried a health policy, but it was often ineffective. There was an 1848 mention in faculty minutes of a garbage removal system where garbage was kept in barrels which would then be removed daily and deposited on the outskirts of the University. A 1909 map shows a dump behind the old powerhouse, south of New Cabell Hall.

The trash dump at Hotel A, encountered in a unit about 42 feet north of Mews Alley, yielded about 500 artifacts, including glass from windows, containers, and laboratory bottles; sheet metal; a porcelain electrical insulator; bird and mammal bones; and several personal items, including a frosted glass possibly from a pair of glasses.

“These digs behind Hotel A only offer a narrow window into the lives of the people who lived and worked at the university, so it’s difficult to make a general statement about who they were,” Palazzo said. “We find artifacts that mirror what we read in academic papers.”

Items such as the signet ring and the heart-shaped pendant were probably lost, not discarded.

“We don’t see many such objects in archaeological assemblages because people take care of them and usually don’t abandon them,” Palazzo said. “The signet ring was a popular genre in the 1890s, long before women could be full-fledged university students, but there were women who lived with their families in hotels and lodges and who came from the city. The university had summer schools and educational programs for women.

The work of archaeologists has also confirmed conflicts between hoteliers as well as complex water management systems.

“It confirmed a story, that the caretaker at Hotel A got in trouble for shooting animals behind the adjacent dormitory, where we found animal bones,” Hogg said. “And provided an interesting insight into how Hotel A was built – in a ravine with the area in front filled in to make the terrace.”

Hotel A is unique, with a sunken courtyard on the south side and an area to the east and north. A thick stone retaining wall surrounded the spaces.

In the early years of the University, the hotels served as dining halls for the students. They were owned by the University, but operated by independent contractors who used the areas around the hotels as building sites.

The original hotels could not always accommodate all of the students assigned to them or the families of the hoteliers. At Hotel A, hotelier Addison Maupin moved the dining room to the basement so his family could use the first floor. In 1867 the University built a large addition to the east of the hotel to expand the student dining hall.

During the 1907-08 school year, Hotel A was transformed into a laboratory for experimental physiology and physiological chemistry. In 1928, the Virginia Quarterly Review moved in, and the addition was demolished two years later when the University renovated or removed several buildings related to medical laboratories.

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