Category Archives: Volunteers

Archaeology at the Mill Progress Report – Pt. 3

Earlier this year, lead archaeologist, Dr. Mike Johnson, wrote up a progress report of the archaeological work that has been done at the Mill to date.  We’re excited to present  the final section of the paper, Part 3 of his “Thoroughfare Gap Archaeology News” below (Click HERE for Part 1 and Click HERE for Part 2).  


The rest of this newsletter will focus on the prehistoric aspects of Thoroughfare Gap archeology, which is Johnson’s research interest.  However, Johnson will continue to provide preliminary assessments of historic results as appropriate.

Currently, the excavation levels are below the historic artifact zone, with a possible exception of a disturbance in the northeast corner of Square 2 (N960E3476).  No evidence of a cellar or historic pits have been detected in the three test squares.  As a result it is likely that any prehistoric occupations have not been disturbed by historic period activity.

This is supported by a discovery on September 3 that what was originally thought to be evidence of a shallow relic stream bed from when Broad Run was running across the feature, many thousands of years ago, was actually a prehistoric artifact.  Figure 8 shows the large, water rolled boulder after it was cleaned off at the bottom of level 105 in Square 3.  The inset image shows that the boulder was discolored from burning and it has a battered area (arrow) that was from using it as an anvil stone, probably from splitting high quality stream cobbles.  Level 105 also produced the highest concentration of worked quartz artifacts yet recovered from any excavation level on the site.  Figure 9 shows a clear quartz biface fragment and a large quartz unifacial core fragment.  These artifacts located on the same level; in an isolated context, and in proximity to an “immovable” object, the anvil, strongly suggest that the excavation has encountered a relatively undisturbed surface.


Figure 8.  Plan view of Sq. 3, level 105 with large anvil stone.


Figure 9.  Clear quartz biface (1) and quartz unifacial quartz core fragment (2) from Sq. 3, level 105.

Recently, two possible Middle Archaic, Morrow Mountain-like points were recovered from the other two squares (Figure 10).  Both were laying relatively flat, indicating minor displacement, and were at approximately the same level.  Morrow Mountain points date to approximately 7,000 to 7,500 years ago (B.P).  It is possible that the two points could be Late Archaic (4,500-3,700 B.P.), Savannah River knife/saw-like tools.  However, the use of quartz in Savannah River points is rare.  On the other hand, hornfels was commonly used in the Savannah River period.  The unusually high number of meta-volcanic artifacts from both squares suggests the Morrow Mountain age.


Figure 10.  Hornfels Morrow Mountain-like point (1) from Sq. 1, Level 105, and quartz Morrow Mountain point (2) from Sq. 2, Level 104.

As stated above, the meta-volcanic stone occurring on this site probably comes from geological formations located south of the James River.  Major prehistoric meta-volcanic quarries occurred at Morrow Mountain in central North Carolina, where the stone was commonly used during that cultural period.  Unlike Savannah River artifacts, Morrow Mountain artifacts are uncommon in Northern Virginia, which makes the resolution of this question important to the major prehistoric research question about the use of water gaps as places where people came periodically from great distances to meet.

These are preliminary evaluations of recent data, only just uncovered in the last few weeks.  With the recent discoveries, especially of potentially minor disturbance to the prehistoric components, it is possible that the site has good stratigraphic integrity.  That would make the site’s prehistoric components extremely rare in an interior upland context.  Most stratified sites have been found along major waterways, such as rivers and estuaries, where large volumes of loose sediment/sand are available for both water and wind transport.



Archaeology at the Mill Progress Report

Earlier this year, lead archaeologist, Dr. Mike Johnson, wrote up a progress report of the archaeological work that has been done at the Mill to date.  We’re excited to present his “Thoroughfare Gap Archaeology News” below.  Expect to see parts 2 and 3 of the September TGA news posted here in the near future.  


Hopefully, this will be the first of many updates on the progress of archeological investigations in Thoroughfare Gap by the Northern Virginia Chapter of the Archeological Society of Virginia, working in concert with Turn the Mill Around Foundation.  Prior to the current effort, archeological investigations in the gap have been sporadic with the current work being the first comprehensive investigations of any part of the gap area.

It began several years ago under the oversight and direction of Kay McCarrron, who was the previous Executive Director for Turn the Mill Around Campaign.  It continues under the oversight of Frances Allshouse and direction of Mike Johnson, Ph.D.  Its focus was on identifying potential archeological features and sites that may be impacted by a proposed trail system (Figures 1 and 2) to the east of the Chapman-Beverly Mill.  That was mainly so the significant features could be properly conserved.  Its main objective was to identify historic features that logically would have been associated with the mill and its owners.

figure-1Figure 1.  Preliminary master plan for development of the mill property.


firgure-2Figure 2.  Transect interval sample locations.


However, McCarron took the opportunity to expand the testing to cover areas of potential research interest beyond mere development related impact areas.

Finding historic, mill related features was no surprise.  The big surprise was the discovery of unusual prehistoric stone artifacts.  Prehistoric artifacts could be expected.  However, many of the artifacts were made of non-local stone, indicating that they were either brought or traded over many miles by people whose only means of transportation was on foot.  That discovery brought former Fairfax County Senior Archeologist, Mike Johnson into the project.  He was involved in research on water gaps, like Thoroughfare Gap, as focal points for very early (20,000-10,000 B.P.) prehistoric trade centers, large interaction camps and transportation bottlenecks.

Over time he took on more and more of the field oversight.  His participation has involved supervising recovery of both the mill related historic and gap related prehistoric archeological information.  The initial field strategy devised by McCarron and Becky Garber was to test the trail impact areas, using controlled shovel test pits spaced at tight intervals across the landscape to the east of the mill.

This strategy was consistent with that used by Johnson in Fairfax County and was ideal for the recovery of the highest quality historic and prehistoric data.  The method is similar to a “Phase I survey,” designed in government archeology to locate sites in areas that have not been previously surveyed.  However, Chapman’s Mill and its complex of supporting features was a recorded site.  Its state registry number is 44FQ271, which means it is the 271st archeological site recorded in Fauquier County (FQ) Virginia (44).

Since the tight interval transect interval sample was being employed on a known site it was considered part of the next phase, Phase II, which is the first part of an assessment of a site’s significance.  Johnson calls this a Phase IIA.

The fieldwork was completed several years ago, with the recovery of enormous quantities of historic and a lesser amount of prehistoric artifacts.  Fieldwork was suspended for more than a year and a half to permit laboratory processing and cataloguing artifacts.  This was necessary prior to determining where to do more intensive test excavations, designed to assess the significance of potential features.

Johnson agreed to assist with the understanding that his contribution would be consistent with his research interest in prehistoric use of water gaps. He did not feel competent enough to do justice to a complex industrial site like Chapman’s Mill.  Although Johnson has basic competence in historical archeology, his advice is to get a qualified industrial archeologist with specific skill and experience in dealing with mill complexes.

The results of that lab work indicated that several areas held a high potential for prehistoric activity areas consistent with Johnson’s research interest.  The distributions of two of the more important exotic stone artifacts (jasper and meta-volcanic) are shown in Figures 3 and 4.  Both stone types are not common on most sites east of the Blue Ridge.  Jasper sources have been identified south of Front Royal, at Point of Rocks on the Potomac and between Fredericksburg and Culpeper.  Meta-volcanic sources have yet to be found north of the James River.


figure-3Figure 3.  Phase IIA jasper distribution.


figure-4Figure 4.  Meta-volcanic distribution.


One of the largest and most intense jasper artifact areas was found to be co-located with the most intense and largest meta-volcanic area as shown in Figures 3 and 4.  Interestingly, this area also is where the Phase IIA testing identified a large stone foundation.  It is also the highest landform, relative to Broad Run, located east of the immediate mill area and south of the railroad tracks.  The higher elevation and distance from Broad Run suggests that it would possibly contain the earliest prehistoric camps.  Relative safety from flooding also is likely the same reason it was used for an historic house.

Part 2 of this article coming soon!

Mills Need Friends Too!

Courtesy Jonathan Hill

Calling all history lovers, preservationists, admirers of unique architecture, archaeologists, old mill enthusiasts, educators and anyone who loves scenic, outdoor spaces!

We’re looking for Friends of the Mill!

In our continuing efforts to find new ways to spread the word about the Mill and its history, Turn the Mill Around Campaign is seeking out individuals interested in forming a ‘Friends of the Mill’ organization. The Friends would be independently incorporated and could take an active role in numerous aspects of Mill site operations including but in no way limited to community outreach, site maintenance, fundraising, coordinating with school and youth groups to offer tours and activities, and promoting the site to photographers, filmographers and other artists.

Interested in finding out more?  The first meeting to discuss this new group will take place Saturday, July 23 at 1PM at the Mill office (4250 Loudoun Ave. The Plains, VA 20198).  Contact Frances Allshouse at for details.

Become a Gatekeeper!

Be a Friend of the Mill!  Become a Gatekeeper!

Be a Friend of the Mill! Become a Gatekeeper!

Ever wonder who the wonderful folks are who make sure the Mill is open to the public every weekend all year long?  Well the answer could be you!

After many years of great service, the Mill’s former volunteer gatekeeper recently retired from his post, so we’re now looking for a crew of volunteers to take on his duties.

The job is simple, just open the gates at 9AM and close them again at 5PM on Saturdays and Sundays.  What a great way to start and end your day!  And since we’re looking to gather a group of three or four individuals, each volunteer will only have gate duty one or two weekends per month.

There are some great benefits too!  All our gatekeepers will receive:

  • Access to the Mill property during off hours
  • Early notice of upcoming events
  • Free use of Mill site for photography
  • Free mill tee shirt
  • Discount at ShopChapmansMill.Org
  • Free adoption of one of the Mill’s stones at the end of first year of service

Interested in joining the team?  Contact Frances Allshouse at or by phone at 540-253-5888.


Archaeology Map

Mill Site Map with Shovel Test Pits

Mill Site Map with Shovel Test Pits

Since our archaeological program began in earnest around 2010, our crew of talented volunteers has dug dozens of shovel test pits (STP’s) and logged an estimated 10,000 artifacts.  The site has produced a wealth of items dating from the prehistoric period through the late 20th Century.  In fact, the Mill has proved to be so artifact-rich our crew is still hard at work cataloging pieces excavated in the 2013 dig season!

In advance of our plans to install walking trails this Summer, we compiled the above map which illustrates the positions of the archaeological STP’s (marked by the red dots) in relation to other features.  Eventually, we hope to fill in the rest of the map by digging STP’s on a ten foot grid across the entire site.  Areas of interest identified by this initial study can be opened for further study and in-depth analysis.

To see some of the items we’ve uncovered, watch our video or follow us on Facebook!