The Fiske Center Blog

Weblog for the Fiske Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Munroe Tavern: Week 1 report and a “What is it?” puzzle


The Fourth of July holiday weekend is upon us, and at Munroe Tavern there is another good reasons to celebrate: Our Fiske Center Archaeology Team has completed all of the preliminary work necessary to begin full-scale excavations next week! This preliminary work included removing a layer of sand fill from the area underneath the ell; identifying, photographing, and mapping foundation stones and a brick feature; and targeting areas for further excavation. Check out the before and after pictures!

Clearing away the sand.

Clearing the sand.


            Why is there sand, you may ask, underneath the ell? The sand was placed over whatever existing structural remnants were present when a concrete pad (which served as the floor) was placed there (probably during the 1960s). A remnant of this concrete pad can be seen in the picture below, where it is currently being used to cover a well. The sand has a leveling effect which forms a nice, flat surface to pour the concrete on. Luckily, both the concrete and the sand protect and preserve what’s below them.

            Upon removing the sand (which, though easy to scoop is quite heavy!), we were able to identify, photograph, and map foundation stones that may be from the original construction of the ell in the 1860s. We also uncovered a brick structure that we have not been able to successfully identify yet. Take a look at the image below and see if you can identify this feature. If you have an idea, drop us a line via the comment box below. Our guesses so far include a trough and a drain of some sort. Note that along the bottom on both sides are openings. We’re hoping to clarify its function archaeologically by excavating an adjacent area, and we’ll be sure to post when we have figured it out.

 The first photo is what the area looked like when we started; the second is what was underneath!

Our mystery brick feature.  What is it?

            Targeting areas for further excavation is a necessary part of many excavations. Though we would love to be able to open up the entire area, time constraints make it necessary to pinpoint specific locations that may be particularly informative. We combine historical documentation, features or artifacts visible in the ground, soil changes, and at times sheer intuition to determine areas of high archaeological significance. Shovels, trowels, buckets, and artifact screens are the tools of our trade: they allow us to essentially “ground-truth” our lines of evidence and ensure that the features and artifacts in these areas are recorded and recovered. This is the adventure that we will embark upon next week when we begin our full-scale excavation of several units in the area where the ell used to stand.

            We have had several visitors so far, and we would like to encourage anyone who is in the area or will be in the area in the month of July to stop by and check out Monroe Tavern. It is definitely worth taking one of the daily hourly tours (running from 12-4PM), plus, you get the added bonuses of witnessing an archaeological excavation and asking the archaeologists questions. We’re there Monday to Friday, 8 to 4 in good weather. We truly enjoy the opportunity to interact with people and share our work with you, so don’t be shy!

            For those who are curious, the most common question we’re asked is if we’ve found anything yet, and rest assured that we have. However, most of what we find would largely be considered garbage to most people. We have recovered copious amounts of construction materials, including nails, wood, plaster, glass, and bricks, a couple of bottles, some relatively modern ceramics, and a glass doll’s eye. Even though they are not old, relatively speaking, we can interpret these artifacts to better understand the Tavern’s role through time and even some of the people who were an active part of its long and rich history.

Michael Way



  1. congrats on a great blog and best wishes on your adventures to yesterdays.

  2. I am excited to watch your progress. I am working on my genealogy, and my ancestor, Thomas K. Layton, was a brick maker and brick layer. I am looking for photos of the homes he built (Darius L. Vigus home, about 131 or 135 E. Second St, Lexington) and more

  3. This is very thrilling! I look forward to visiting your site and keeping up to date via this blog. Please visit for a listing of my talks and demonstrations concerning the history of Mass brick and pottery making history. Best regards, Rick Hamelin

  4. We are thrilled to see the archeology work commence, and I am personally delighted that our archeologists are also good writers so that the project can be shared so capably! Thank you.

  5. Marilee – the Darius L. Vigus house built by T.K. Layton is the three-bay brick shown in the upper right picture. Layton’s own home on the street (known both as East Second and Constitution) is long gone. Great blog on the tavern project.

  6. Back in early 80’s, while waiting for my stint in the army to start, I did volunteer “excavation” under Roland Robbins, just me working and he, due to health issues, directing my hands.
    I recall the place was called “Monroe Tavern” and the area was adjacent to a house.
    The work was done in the fall, if I recall.
    I was directed to him by John Chatteneuf, from Northern Mass, who was then head or member of the Thoreau Historical/Philosophical Society and an English teacher at Hollis, New Hampshire, high school.
    At the time, I was working factory night shifts and going down to work with Mr. Robbins during the day. It was unpaid work, but just listening to Mr. Robbins’ stories and the signed book he gave me (which got some water damage at my parents’ place over all the years I’ve been away) was worth the time.
    My memory of those years has faded, and I cannot remember everything we did (there were a few things done around the Robbin’s residence) but I remember being told that Mr. Robbins had passed some years later. Although New England is “home” for me, even after all these years overseas, Mr. Robbins’ passing took away a little something from thoughts of home.
    Robert Jay Cook

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