During recent renovations to the Visiting Flag Officer Quarters (VFQ) buildings adjacent to the Latrobe Gate on the Washington Navy Yard (WNY), an interesting discovery has been made: a “time-capsule” of late 19th and 20th century artifacts.
The items were not ones of substantial monetary value, but instead were a look into the lives of those who came before at the WNY. Such items included sets of cover, gloves, more than 40 local whiskey bottles, boots, a rolled up two-dollar bill, stamps, medicine bottles, empty food packages, personal hygiene items (combs, mirrors, shaving powder), cards, newspapers from that era, hats, tobacco pouches and cigarette packs (some dating as far back as 1881), and letter envelopes.
"I think it is extremely interesting because it is a time-capsule from that period," said Igor Boras, with Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Washington. "How often do you get a time-capsule from 1909 just lying around?"
The VFQ building, which was built in 1881 and during its history served as an enlisted Sailor's barracks until the 1960s. In 1908-09, a major renovation was done to the building in which tin ceiling tiles were placed throughout the building along with the addition of sun rooms. Today the building was coming into disrepair and requires an extensive overhaul in order to make it livable once again.
Part of that effort which is being spearheaded by NAVFAC (and supported by Naval Historical Center) was to investigate the condition of the roof joists and supporting architecture, which necessitated removal of the 1908-1909 ceiling in the attic (4th floor of the building). Upon examination of the crevices where the rafters were located, the artifacts were discovered.
According to Boras, the find probably does not represent any large discovery when it comes to the history of the United States nor to the history of the Navy, but it does represent an important piece of the history of the WNY and specifically the VFQ.
This find comes right on the heels of an important discovery of pottery fragments dated to prehistoric times at the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling on the Potomac River. A 16-inch-wide, 12-inch-deep pot was able to be almost entirely reconstructed with the pieces recovered from the site. However, Wendy Markos of NAVFAC Cultural Resources pointed out that discoveries such as the WNY VFQ are extremely rare due to the fact that most buildings have been stripped down to their core already and that finding material within a wall cavity in a manner such as this was very unique.
"I think [the WNY discoveries] are cooler," said Boras.
Plans for the artifacts found in the VFQ are not yet entirely clear. According to Boras, they may be displayed, either in the reception area of the VFQ itself, or elsewhere.
With all of this information in hand, there is still little that is known about this "treasure trove" of 100-plus year old cultural material, which leads one to ask: why was this stuff stashed there?
"That's the million-dollar question," said Boras.
To view additional photos of the discovered artifacts, visit http://www.facebook. com/navdistwash.