Archaeologists and historic preservation specialists work together to preserve, share, and protect our nation’s cultural resources. Although associated most with historic buildings and sites, historic preservationists also strive to preserve and interpret structures or districts which reflect elements of archaeological history. In the following entry, Ms. Christy presents the site and its history, why we preserve and interpret, and how this relates to archaeology.
Site History and Background:
Meadow Garden, a quaint farmhouse sitting incongruously in the middle of downtown Augusta, Georgia, was once the home of George Walton, a man who served his country in a variety of capacities ranging from Revolutionary War patriot to senator, governor, and signer of the Declaration of Independence. The home of Walton was purchased and turned into a museum by the Georgia State Society Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) in 1901, as they recognized the cultural significance of the property. The fate of this place could have been just another disappointment in a long line of historic properties neglected or demolished, but thanks to the DAR and the good work of historic preservation specialists, the house remains a valuable part of the community.
Why Preserve and Interpret?
But why preserve a building, a landscape, or archaeological site? How does the preservation of cultural heritage enhance lives? What are we actually preserving, but an old building? These are questions many visitors ask, and by taking a look at Meadow Garden (which to many is just an old building), we can show the public why we preserve and interpret the site..
When the DAR decided to buy Meadow Garden they did more than preserve a building. They saved the story of a man who fought for American independence. As a result, visitors are able to walk through a historic landscape- the yard Walton worked in, the room he slept in— spaces which are somehow imbued with a living, breathing memory of their own. They are able to step outside of themselves and into the the physical manifestation of private imaginings of the past, an experience that which cannot be replicated in any other way except to be there and immerse oneself.
The preservation and interpretation of Meadow Garden not only engenders the imaginings of Walton’s life, but also the time period as a whole. This is done through the use of guided tours, which take visitors through the landscape and the house, where period-appropriate furniture and objects are on display. It is this combination of the landscape, house, and objects, as well as the the story-telling abilities of interpreters, that provoke feelings of understanding about the past and transports visitors back to the Revolutionary period. We would not know George Walton as a man, statesman, soldier, patriot, without the preservation of his house and the surrounding grounds.
Preservation and Interpretation in Archaeology
Archaeologists also strive to preserve and interpret their findings for the education and enjoyment of the greater public. Similar to buildings, objects found in excavations tell us a story about the past and the people who used them. For instance, what is believed to be a plow harness was found in an excavation at Meadow Garden. This plow harness provides insight into the day to day lives of those at Meadow Garden and presents other questions as well. What role did the farm play in the political, social, and economic life of George Walton? And it is not just artifacts that bring the past to life, but also the structures and landscapes. Take for instance the Roman Forum, which through various interpretive methods provokes a feeling of actually being in Ancient Rome, even though it is only falling columns and other dilapidated structural elements which remain. The same is true for Meadow Garden, which evokes its own sense of the colonial period by being uniquely placed in downtown Augusta. It is an isolated one acre property right in the middle of an industrial block of buildings, so it inevitably causes people to ask “What is a farm-house doing in the middle of downtown?” This is such a good starting point to get people interested in historic preservation.
The first thing I tell people who visit the house is the fact that the city developed around the house, not the other way around, and without its preservation (through the work of archaeologists, curators, and other preservation-minded individuals ), we wouldn’t have this neat little place for people to find out about George Walton, his history, the history of the state of Georgia, and U.S. history during the Revolutionary War period.
Although further excavations at Meadow Garden will no doubt uncover more stories and shed further light onto the use of the property in general, a voice has already been given to those whose stories would otherwise have been left untold. As a result, Meadow Garden remains a hidden gem of the past, sparking the imagination of the public and engendering a spirit of conservation. And it is this spirit that we need in a world where historic preservation remains an unknown to the majority, where properties are neglected and mismanaged, and the stories of the past turn to dust.
The Georgia State Society—National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) currently own the Meadow Garden and have, in one form or another, owned the property since 1901. For more information on Meadow Garden and Georgia State Society NSDAR, please check out historicmeadowgarden.org, our Meadow Garden page on Facebook, or the Georgia State Society-NSDAR Facebook page.
About the author: Maranda Christy, a graduate of the University College London (UCL) with a Master’s degree in Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies, works as the director and lead historic preservation specialist at Meadow Garden.