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From Pickles to a 100-year-old License Plate, Building Project Yields Artifacts

February 8, 2018

Old bottles

Inkwells, beer and medicine bottles, milk jugs, and a porcelain New Hampshire license plate from 1917 are among items recently unearthed on Wentworth’s campus during construction of a new academic building for engineering, innovation, and sciences.

Spanning different time periods, the artifacts are amassed in Kevin Smith’s office. Smith, Wentworth’s clerk of the works, oversees construction sites on campus. His connection to the new building started before the foundation was built, when all kinds of items began turning up. Some have broken tops; some are dirt-stained; all of them have a story to tell. They include clay pipes—or pieces of them—believed to be from the early 19th century.           

Throughout the excavation, Smith walked around the building site and took photographs of the artifacts, which quickly piled up in milk crates.

“Some days, I’d have to make three or four trips [to take the crates back],” said Smith. “Then I’d wash the bottles and store them… I put them on the shelf, but then the shelf wasn’t big enough.” 

The items were unexpected, he said.            

“We had absolutely zero information on them. In fact, the only information we had on that site was from the old, World War II temporary bunkers [that were used] when Wentworth was taken over by the government. Before that, there was a rope factory [on the site],” Smith said.         

Smith has researched some of the artifacts; most of the bottles are dated and have words printed on them. For example, he found pipes with the initials “T” and “D,” which stand for Thomas Davidson of Glasgow, which produced pipes during the early 1800s. Along with the pipes, another one of Smith’s favorite finds, also believed to be from the early 1800s, is an intact jar of pickles. He also found items pertaining to a “Windsor Hotel,” but cannot trace one that was built near Wentworth.         

In addition to the items he’s gathered, Smith said there were truckloads of dirt filled with broken bottles.

“It sounded like Christmas trees—tinkling, crackling, breaking. Breaks my heart imagining what was carted out of there, but we have to make a building,” Smith chuckles.

Jody Gordon, an archaeologist and assistant professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, said the excavation conjures Boston’s Back Bay infill project, and how it contributed all kinds of material to create buildable acreage in that section of the city. He thinks some of that debris may have wound up in the Wentworth site.        

Smith and Gordon plan to catalog the items and display them for the public. The two will work with other professors and the library staff to share the history revealed in the artifacts.

“This project gives Wentworth students a connection to Boston. A lot of students are likely to work in Boston, and a lot of students will be working in construction management,” says Gordon. He adds that it is important to recognize the history of a 400-year-old city.

A display of the excavated artifacts will be shown later this year in the library.

See photo gallery.

--Sumya Mohiuddin

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