Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Patapsco Female Institute, Maryland--Part I

My son is in a special class that has been studying archeology. As the unit came to an end, they had a field trip to the Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City. The Institute was built in 1837 on a hill just outside of town. We parked by the courthouse and had to walk up, an activity much easier for the children than for adults.

The gate by the road

Walking up the hill

View from the front steps

The front steps

The Patapsco Female Institute was a finishing school for girls from eleven to nineteen. They studied math, music, Latin, religion, botany, and philosophy. Anywhere from 100 to 150 students per semester studied there, though enrollment declined in the late 1800s and the school was closed in 1891. It was converted into a posh hotel for several years. It also served as a hospital during World War I, a retirement home, and a theatrical venue. It still serves as an open air theater in the summers, as well as being an archeological site year round.

Our docents were young and professional. After a quick overview of the work they do, the class was split into two groups--one to tour the building while the other did some archeology. My son's group did the tour first. We started at the front of the building and discussed its Greek Revival style (popular in the mid-1800s) and its good location (the first American railroad had a stop at the bottom of the hill; the Patapsco River and several turnpikes came through the area; Baltimore is not far away). Most students at the Institute were from the South, making enrollment tricky during the American Civil War.

Learning a bit of history

Then we headed into the building. The archeologist explained that there are two types of things they found at sites--artifacts, which are man-made things often dug out of the ground; and features, which are man-made structures or objects that can't be moved, like walls or ruins. So the building is a feature on the site. When the building was stabilized, they decided not to make a new roof, leaving a nice, open-air feeling. The first area was where the entrance parlors stood. Students would meet with visiting parents in these front room. The restorers left an outline in the wood floor where the walls and fireplaces would have been.

In the front rooms

Outline of walls and fireplaces

These fireplaces were situated right about other, downstairs fireplaces that were part of the kitchen complex.

Directly below the fireplace outlines

View down into another part of the kitchens, with a main fireplace and a bread oven

Close up with bread oven on right

Another interesting feature is an added wing that contained the chapel and a mysterious room downstairs. Our guide asked us to guess what the room was used for.

Wing room with a wall in the middle?

Large rounded windows show where the chapel was

The guide had one of the children read about the chapel from a diary entry by one of the students. She described the first day the chapel was used and the various girls who were baptized by a local minister.

The guide also explained that they don't know why that extra wall was added to the downstairs room. Any guesses were welcome though no definitive answers came. We continued on through the basement.

Showing where the staircases were

Another intriguing room in the basement was a room with no entrance. The best guess is that the room was a root cellar or other storage area, probably accessed through a trap door with a ladder.

Looking down into an unused room

The guide said the room was probably a furnace room for the hotel since the round structure at the end looks like a chimney. Outside, she showed us some spikes in the walls where the hoteliers put in a deck for dining.

Two spikes to the right of the bottom of the window/doorway

The guide displayed various photos and drawing of the Institute through the years. The most interesting part to me was a tuition bill. The total of the bill for the April to August semester was $213. One item on the list was a broken pitcher, so I guess the girl had an accident or was klutzy.

We switch to archeology in the next post!

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