Excavating the Past
At Wye Hall, a former plantation on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the land is encouraged to speak about the past.
By Susan Hines
Land conservation and historic preservation are familiar to readers of Landscape Architecture. But what if the history you are trying to preserve lies buried underground? What if
conserving the land means creating a landscape design that leaves archaeological finds intact and undisturbed?
The work of landscape architects at Wye Hall on Maryland’s Eastern
Shore serves as an example of how design professionals can work successfully
with clients and archaeologists not just to uncover history but to protect and
preserve landscapes that hold potential clues to the past.
Wye Hall, the plantation home of William Paca, a signer of
the Declaration of Independence, Maryland’s third governor, and a mover and
shaker of the early Republic, is located on Wye Island, between the Chesapeake
Bay and the Wye River. Shortly before his death in 1799, Paca owned 1,414 acres
and 100 slaves.
The original house was built in the early 1790s. That house,
a neoclassical mansion just one room deep, was set on a series of enormous
terraces that elevated the house above its surroundings—a flat tidewater
landscape that afforded few natural vistas across the land. The first house
burned in 1879, and a more modest replacement was built. The current house,
constructed in the late 1930s, copies the neoclassical style of the original
and shares some of its foundation.
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