Featured Fragment – Huntley House Button

By Kerry S. González

In 2016 Dovetail conducted an archaeological excavation at the Historic Huntley House in Fairfax County, Virginia. This work was completed at the request of the Fairfax County Park Authority as part of their Huntley Tenant House Rehabilitation Project. Dovetail surveyed portions of the property surrounding the tenant house as well as the interior of the building. This was a unique case where the floorboards of the tenant house had been removed prior to the installation of new flooring, revealing the soils below the dwelling and allowing archaeological access to an often-hidden living surface. Dovetail’s excavations inside the house primarily focused on the builder’s trench (an excavated trench for the placement of a brick or stone foundation) in the southwest room of the building. Of the numerous artifacts recovered during this excavation, one was instrumental in determining a possible construction date for the building.

View of the Huntley Tenant House.


View of Southwestern Room of the Huntley Tenant House.


A copper-alloy U.S. great coat button (pictured below) was recovered from the builder’s trench within the southwest room. This coat button dates to the 1830s and 1840s and was potentially dropped by someone involved in the construction of the home. This date proved extremely useful for interpretation as the previous estimated date of construction was circa 1880.


1830s–1840s Great Coat Button with Inset Showing 1830s Great Coat (USHistory.com 2017).


The presence of this button and other artifacts suggested an antebellum construction date for the dwelling. Also key to dating the structure was the lack of Civil War-era material within the builder’s trench. The Huntley House property “was the scene of a large encampment of Union troops during the Civil War” (Bierce 2002:6; cf. also John Miner and Associates 2003:67–75). Earlier excavation near the tenant house recovered many Civil War-specific artifacts and post-1860 materials across the yard. If the tenant house were constructed after 1880, some artifacts dating to the 1860–1880 period likely would have been dug up during the building’s construction and thus end up in the builder’s trench. The builder’s trench, though, only contained artifacts that predate this period. The tenant house, therefore, potentially dates to the circa 1825–1862 Mason family ownership of the Huntley House property, rather than having been built after the Civil War, as previously thought (National Park Service 1972). This excavation, along with other studies on the property, highlights Fairfax County Park Authority’s dedication to history and the importance of having professionals present during renovations on historic properties.


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Bierce, C. Richard
2002   Historic Structure Report. Schaffer, Wilson, Sarver, and Gray, Reston, Virginia.

John Milner and Associates, Inc. (JMA)
2003   Historic Huntley: Cultural Landscape Report. JMA, Charlottesville, Virginia.

National Park Service (NPS)
1972   National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. United States Department of the Interior. Electronic document, https://www.dhr.virginia.gov/registers/Counties/Fairfax/029-   0117_Huntley_1972_Final_Nomination.pdf, accessed June 2016.

2017   M1832 Enlisted Greatcoat, https://www.ushist.com/mexican_war/us_military/uniforms/qm-3350_greatcoat_m1832_mexican-war-us.shtml, accessed August 2017.