Last week, Jerry Smith had to cut our meeting short at Stirling’s, as he was due to give the VC a tour of the Rebel’s Rest site. “OK if I tag along?” I asked. He assented and we hopped into his truck.
The first thing he showed we was a neat stack of bricks taken from the various fireplaces. Smith had spent done time tracking down the stamps. “They’re not all from the same company, which is curious.” No doubt there was some reuse over time.
I was poring over the bricks when the Vice Chancellor showed up. Smith pulled some plans out of his truck, and a baggy full of what? I couldn’t tell. Over we walked to the covered stand where the Rebel’s Rest porch had stood. “The wisteria is coming back strong,” said John. University archeologist Sarah Sherwood had joined us. “It’s already had to be cut back,” she laughed. In the meantime, Smith pulled out his plans.
“When Fairbanks built Rebel’s Rest, he used logs that had been sawn,” Smith said. He pointed to a long log set horizontally on top of a foundation right in front of us– it was clearly not dawn but hewn. “All in front of that,” he continued, emptying out the baggy, “was this.” Little bits of glass spilled out. Melted glass, he noted. Probably from the fire that burned down the Polk residence that occupied the site before the war.
In the area in front of the hewn Polk log there are modern pillars of poured cement, dating to 2002-3, when PPS workers had to crawl under Rebel’s Rest to set up supports and run wires and vents and such. Some are “signed.”
On the right hand side, below where the kitchen had been, are the remains of a size able room, “Is that a natural outcrop down there?” asked the VC. Indeed, a large rock with a still running spring coming out from under it. “We even found the sump pump down there,” said Sarah, “still in functioning condition.” I wish I had asked to see it. The stone walls of this room showed evidence of burning on the wall. Not from the recent fire, Smith noted, or the 1860s one. A mystery.
There are lots of mysteries, in fact. For instance, right beside the spring, on a higher level, a carefully excavated square revealed what first seemed to be a staircase… which then ended in a perfect cement wall. Why? “How old is cement, anyway?” I asked. “Roman,” replied Smith. (Note to self: don’t ask stupid questions in front of the VC)
Closer to the parlor, where the old staircase had been, was this circular pattern of brick. What was it? “We have a lot more to excavate in this area,” said Sarah, “so we can’t just dig this up, much as we’d love to.” It’s interesting how part if the brickwork runs one edgy, and the other side goes another way. “Right now,” she goes on,”my pet theory is that it’s a spiral staircase to a Yankee speakeasy.” They’re saving this excavation for last–“dessert,” says Smith.
There are quite a few other items of interest in the vicinity, just beyond the housestead. What seems clear is that Fairbanks built on the old Polk home, which was probably not a humble one. All around us evidence, too, of livestock and poultry. There’s more in the woods toward Fulford, but I declined to go. The grass was tall and certainly full of chiggers, after all, and I hadn’t exactly been planning for a walk in the woods.
The Messenger reports this week that the archeology team is looking for volunteers– from what I’ve seen, there’s a lot to be uncovered still! Below are a few more pictures from my stroll around the site.