Academics

Hands-on with History

By Mitzi Bible, June 12, 2019

> Read how Liberty’s location makes it a prime spot for learning about American history in the Liberty Journal article, “Stepping into America’s Past.”

Liberty students are not only touring local sites to learn about the area’s rich history, they’re also getting to touch pieces of the past. Nearby sites — some owned by the university — have become their laboratories as they uncover clues to how people lived in a bygone era.

“It’s different than reading a scanned image of a document; you’re actually touching the brick or the wall, or you’re sifting through the dirt to find the pieces that are connected to the past,” said Donna Davis Donald, who teaches public history and historic preservation.

Students have been doing just that this past year at nearby Mead’s Tavern. Built in 1763, the building (purchased by Liberty in 2015) is the oldest standing structure in Central Virginia.

Last semester, archaeologists excavated under the tavern’s front porch for the first time. With the help of students, they recovered a large assemblage of 18th- and 19th-century artifacts, including several coins, three of which date from the 1790s. They also recovered a uniform button from Wayne’s Legion, the first United States army organized by George Washington and placed under the leadership of General “Mad” Anthony Wayne from 1792 to 1798. Archaeologists also discovered the outline of a pre-1803 porch and various items such as homemade gaming pieces fashioned from broken ceramic plates, smoking pipes, decorated stemware, two gun flints, brass buttons, wine bottle glass, a stone marble, a brass thimble, and a large number of ceramic sherds.

“Mead’s Tavern is one of the few structures from the 18th century still standing in this part of Virginia,” said Randy Lichtenberger, director of cultural resources for Hurt & Proffitt, the firm conducting the excavation. “Though it’s been altered, the core of this building dates back to 1763. … It’s the last very early building left in New London, and there’s a lot we can learn from it.”

The tavern is located about 15 minutes from campus in the historic community of New London, a major trade center in the mid-18th century. Liberty has worked with the nonprofit Friends of New London, Virginia Inc., a local preservation group, to restore properties in the former colonial town. New London actually predates the Revolutionary War and, situated on the edge of the frontier, was the westernmost center on a major trade route. The university also owns the Bedford Alum Springs Hotel, a large health resort in New London in the late 19th century, and has begun research into its history. Evidence indicates that a Revolutionary-era arsenal was located on the site.

Junior Lindsay Vanderwey was one of the student volunteers who participated in the archaeology at Mead’s Tavern.

“It’s really cool to go to school in Virginia because there is so much history here,” she said. “Mead’s Tavern and New London was this forgotten area of Virginia. Now, Liberty is going there and exposing it to the general public, and it’s been a great opportunity.”

The public is invited to view the progress at Liberty’s properties during New London Day on Oct. 26.

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