By Ralph E. Moore Jr.
Special to the AFRO
The AFRO-American Newspaper will be moving to a former mansion on a once 10-acre plantation. The Upton Mansion at 811 W. Lanvale Street in West Baltimore will house the AFRO News, AFRO Charities and the AFRO Archives on a single acre. It is an exciting project even in its early stages of development.
A recent visit to the site on a windy Friday morning found several students at work, disturbing the ground under the knowledgeable leadership of Dr. Adam Fracchia of the University of Maryland’s Archeology department. Digging into holes 1 meter in length by 1 meter in width and 1 meter deep, anthropology and archeology students were gathering artifacts from past lives of the property: a residence, WCAO Radio and the Baltimore Institute of Musical Art, which was available to Black students before they could attend the Peabody Institute. Bits and pieces were found on the days leading up to this last day of the dig, including a fragment of bone from a pig and a piece of a drinking cup. They will be taken back to Fracchia’s lab for cleaning and cataloging.
Edward Ireland owned the property as a country estate in 1790. Years later the building, seated atop a hill, was erected in 1838, and is important these days because of its Greek Revival architecture and its survival as a rare 19th century country house. The mansion had a carriage house and a path that leads to the front of the house and runs full circle on the grounds emptying onto the main road.
In addition to Fracchia participating in the dig that is coming to a close, was Justin Mohammadi from University of Maryland and Stacey Longo of Coppin State University, both standing in a hole looking for artifacts and keeping a careful journal of everything they found. They used a manual called the Munsell Soil Chart, which reveals where things could possibly be found depending on which of the three layers of ground are identified in the hole.
Alexis Szkotak, a student scholar from Goucher College, was also onboard, along with Tammy Gillums, a military veteran, who commutes regularly from Arlington, Virginia and uses her expertise with surveying equipment. And finally, there is Quanshay Henderson who lives in the neighborhood and volunteers.
They are all friendly, professional and very proud of their work. Fracchia, though trained in archeology, has a side interest in anthropology. He wants to see others return to the area to get oral histories from the longtime residents of the neighborhood.
“It [the Upton Mansion] is an amazing but overlooked landmark that shows the evolution of the neighborhood and the city in general. It is an exciting piece of history,” Fracchia said.
The building has been vacant since 2006; but the energy from the dig and the promising reuse signaled by the development of the mansion and its grounds, stir the hope of collateral improvements to the nearby neighborhood. 811 West Lanvale Street seems to have nine lives like the proverbial cat. Its next life as the next AFRO Newspaper Building will likely be its most exciting.