Averys Rest well dig
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    Dec 2004
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    Avery's Rest well dig

    Archaeologists unearth old well at Avery's Rest

    By Rachel Swick
    Cape Gazette staff
    Later this year, workers will break ground on a new development on land settled more than 330 years ago by sea Capt. John Avery. After learning about the proposed development, volunteer archaeologists from all over the state headed to the Rehoboth site and began digging.

    Avery, a wealthy landowner, justice of the peace and militia man, was one of the first European settlers to inhabit the northern shores of Rehoboth Bay, west of Rehoboth Beach. While other settlers gathered in the busy port of what is now known as Lewes, Avery received a patent for his land in 1675. His plantation along Rehoboth Bay consisted of 350 acres, where based on evidence found by volunteer archaeologists from the Sussex County chapter of the Archaeological Society of Delaware, he raised cows and pigs.

    The archaeologists also found earthenware pottery, broken pipe stems, a trash pile, what appears to be a small shed and two wells.

    While growth and development have become a way of life in Sussex County, it is not often that archaeologists are able to gain access to private property to conduct digs. Neither the state nor the county require archaeology as part of the approval process, so local archaeologists were thrilled when they received access to Avery’s Rest, the former homestead of John Avery.

    Well work

    On Wednesday, Aug. 29, Dan Griffith, project manager for the site, along with his team of Carolyn Whalen-Strollo, Wayne Mellin and Charlie Mowday, had reached the bottom of the well. They systematically began removing the well’s wood casing, which had not seen sunlight for about 300 years, carefully hoisting heavy panels up the steep bank of the well. The archeologists uncovered the structure, starting from the surface and working down, in much the same way that the settlers had first created it, starting with a hole that measures about 12 feet in diameter, and cataloguing each piece as they took it out.

    Mellin and Mowday stepped into the middle of the well, where the water reached almost to their knees, and gently moved the inner well casing from side to side until it came loose.

    All four sides of the structure held together as the four-person team carried it out of the well and into the sunlight. The settlers had tapered the end of each plank so they could be hammered into the silt, using adzes to make the wooden structure.

    “This is the first European settlement in this part of Sussex,” said Griffith. “We’ve known about this site since 1977, but it wasn’t threatened then.”

    While the team has not yet found a house, the archeologists have a pretty good idea where it is, but they plan to start digging in that area later, because it is not threatened by the current development. Whatever is there can wait to be discovered, said Griffith.

    “Avery didn’t die here. He moved elsewhere,” said Griffith. “But his wife remarried and came back here, so there’s a number of occupations.”

    Griffith said he expects his team to be finished with the current project by the end of September.

    They have been working three or four days per week for a year and while the work has been hot and sweaty, it’s been worth it, said Whalen-Strollo.

    Both Griffith and Whalen-Strollo worked on the Lewes shipwreck site prior to this work.

    “It’s hard to get out here more than three or four days because most of us are working other projects at the same time,” said Whalen-Strollo. She travels to the site from Bethany Beach, Griffith travels from Kent County, Mellin from Seaford, and Mowday commutes from his home in Rehoboth. John Bansch, president of the Sussex County Chapter of the Archaeological Society of Delaware, visits the site frequently to help in the excavation.

    Griffith said if it weren’t for volunteer archaeologists the site would have been lost and so would have part of the history of Sussex County.

    “This could be someone’s backyard and they wouldn’t have any idea it was here,” said Griffith. “Now they’ll know someone lived here centuries ago.”

    In many cases, archaeologists don’t have an opportunity to conduct a dig on private property before a development is built.

    Delaware has no state or county requirement that an archaeological survey be conducted on land slated for development. Surveys are required for road or bridge construction, but not in the case of private developments. Only burial grounds are protected, and that’s under federal law.

    In the case of Avery’s Rest, the archaeologists got lucky.

    “The property owner was kind enough to let us on here,” said Griffith. “They are letting us have until November to finish, but we’ll be out of here long before that.”




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