Roland Gladden and Jessica Crenshaw, who are about as young and hip as the Arkansas Times gets, came to work Monday and fell into the 19th century.
No, they hadn’t stumbled into the newsroom. They found themselves clabbering about in a trench dug in the parking lot outside, on Markham between Scott and Cumberland. Gladden, a guitarist before Monday, is now an archeologist, and he specializes in finding ceramic bits with the maker’s mark on the back, making identification a snap.
A little explanation: Our parking lot is on top of the remains of the 1840s Ashley Mansion and whatever antebellum out-buildings lay behind or to the side. A north-south backhoe cut put in the parking lot over the weekend sliced into Little Rock’s early days, cutting a profile of piers and walls made of brick and plaster. The trench will accommodate two grease traps for 21st century restaurants, but at this stage, it’s a pathway to territorial days in Little Rock.
What can a trench tell you? Is it really history? Thanks to the Times’ duo, we know that in downtown Little Rock at the end of the 19th century, folks weren’t just eating on English china, they were eating on china decorated with an image of the farm of a famous abolitionist. The piece on top of the dirt in the trench behind the Ashley home jumped out, its blue was so bright. We turned it over. “The Residence of the late Richard Jordan of New Jersey, JH & Co.”
God bless the Internet. Richard Jordan, it turns out, was a Quaker evangelist who was an early and vocal opponent of slavery. He had a farm in what is now downtown Camden, N.J., and, according to the Camden Historical Society, his farm was “immortalized on elegant Staffordshire chinaware.”
Well, what do you know? We guess our little piece of pottery, made by Joseph Heath and Co., who worked in a place called Tunstall, England, from c. 1828 to 1841, is what you’d call ground-proofing: Some info on the Internet is accurate!
That little piece of pottery is mighty old, and it was tossed out a long time ago, its place at the base of a foundation exposed by the trench tells us. It’s possible it was made in England the same year John Garrett tried to kill Chester Ashley over in William Woodruff’s print shop. (Garrett, according to a history provided by the Historic Arkansas Museum, was mad at Ashley for drumming up opposition to Robert Crittenden, the territorial delegate to Congress who’d been killed in duel by Henry Conway. Ashley survived and the rest got counties named for them!)
We are reminded of the time a teacher told us that she objected to a new standard on teaching Arkansas history because, she said, Arkansas doesn’t have any history. Sigh.
Gladden and Crenshaw’s finds sent others scurrying to the backdirt. The trench diggers had restored to sunlight a metal handle of some kind that we like to think was to a stable door, more transferware and plain ceramics, including a piece from the bottom of a stoneware something stamped J & G Meakin (c. 1890), butchered bone, a rusty bolt and glass.
Little Rock needs a city archeologist. It would be a fine thing to check out the city’s physical past whenever possible. The grease trap guys wouldn’t have to wait that long to finish up.
About that recent Observer item in which we mused about walking around Little Rock in the early morning. The Observer was mighty sleepy that morning. All the streets we listed as west of Broadway are, of course, east of Broadway. And the Gazette building is at Third and Louisiana, and has been for nearly 100 years. We wrote that you could look in the windows of the Gazette at Third and Spring. A sharper head notes “It’s pretty hard to see in those windows from two blocks away.”
Next time, we’ll get coffee before we begin to observe.