In 1948, while planting a large holly tree in the South Grove, the grounds crew
found over 35 individual wine bottles, in addition to numerous other items from
the 18th-century. These artifacts, found just 80-feet south of the Mount Vernon
Mansion, were suggestive of trash deposits, or a midden, formed through the
disposal of Kitchen and Mansion refuse during George Washington’s lifetime.
Given the practice of discarding debris near where it was created, the portion
of the South Grove south of the Mansion Kitchen is a likely spot to find
domestic trash associated with the entire Washington household – family,
visitors, tradesmen, servants, and slaves.
In 1990, a large, oval-shaped trash-filled feature was revealed located only yards from the “holly hole,” where the grounds crew located the artifacts in
1948. Mount Vernon archaeologists realized they had discovered another pile of trash, that could provide details about the lives of the Washington households. The
feature that the archaeologists uncovered was a large depression filled with
layers of trash and soil approximately 30 feet in diameter and in excess of one
and one-half feet thick at its center. The midden seems to have formed in a
natural depression and contained more than 50 separate episodes of throwing away
garbage. This feature is known as the South Grove Midden.
Over five years the Mount Vernon Archaeology Department conducted an intensive
excavation to explore this artifact-rich area. Over 75,000 items were unearthed,
including ceramics, glass, toys, tobacco pipes, wig curlers, scissors, oyster
shells, animal bones, and crab claws, discarded between 1735 and 1765. These
artifacts provide valuable information about George Washington and his family
and friends during these years and support the historical documents that detail
how the South Grove was transformed from an area where trash was deposited into
a pleasure grove during Washington’s life.