Binghamton Academic Center Archaeology


Archaeology of Daily Life

The material culture left behind by the 19th century households of the block has given us some insight into these relations. Several of the households possessed elaborate, fashionable ceramics and glassware consistent with their class but others did not. Take for example the Myer household, which showed little emphasis on fashionable dining, possibly due to some precarious financial circumstances. In the larger picture, ceramics and glassware were not the most expensive consumer items but the Myer household may have chosen to economize in this area and may not have had many resources to expend on dining and entertainment. The privy deposit associated with the rental period and Lawrence occupation on the E.K. Clark property also showed very little emphasis on ceramic dinner ware and this does appear to be consistent with what we know of this context. The Lawrence family were rural farmers who were new arrivals in Binghamton and did not have the wealth of many of their neighbors while families who rented the property were working class. 

Ceramics and glass ware used for dining and tea were an integral part of class relations and social reproduction within the household. The rituals of the dinner or tea party were an important aspect of elite and middle-class culture that both genders shared in. These cultural rituals formed part of the glue of class relations, assuring those who participated that they belonged, excluding those who did not, and forming bonds that perpetuated class relations through shared ideologies, economic relationships, and social connections. Class relations were also perpetuated through instruction in etiquette and table manners within the household. There were few assurances that families would maintain or improve their class in the 19th century. 

Many of the rituals of class display, entertainment, and social reproduction in the household have been attributed to the active agency of women. There is some truth to these attributions but also some danger. There is evidence that woman were actively involved in the consumption of ceramics and glass (Wall 1994, 2000) and in the raising of children, and thus, in the creation, maintenance and reproduction of class. To exclude men from these practices, however, is to reproduce the ideology of separate spheres and impose some of our most prevalent stereotypes on the past.In truth, the women and men of the block were both active agents in consumption and production, and the construction and reproduction of their households. They were both actively engaged in the relations that structured their lives.


Sanitation and Hygiene

From the intact properties on the block, it appears that most block households practiced broadcast disposal in yard areas during the early to mid-19th century. Mean dates for sheet midden deposits suggest that this practice generally ended prior to the last quarter of the 19th century. Less visible means of disposal th are evident in the second half of the 19th century on three properties: the Mather/Buffum, Mather, and Mather/Clark. This does not necessarily mean that the rear yards of these properties were clean and neat. Just the fact that there was a privy deposit in the carriage house of the Mather property suggests that, while they may not have been broadcasting trash in the yard, unseen filth did not bother them. Sanitation features also existed in the rear lots of the Mather/Buffum and Mather/Clark properties and these certainly emitted a definite stench. Mayor Thayer's observation (quoted in Anderson 1993: 20) does seem to generally hold true – out of sight trash was fine so long as the household presented a clean front to the world. Part of this clean front was personal grooming and hygiene. The Mathers discarded a bone toothbrush, evidence of dental hygiene that was not highly common in the mid 19th century, in the same yard sheet midden that contained faunal bone and exposed, dead cats. Another was found in the privy deposit in their carriage house.

Household sanitation features were present on only a few properties. Capping dates for the privies on three properties suggest a relatively consistent period for the installation of indoor toilet facilities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Cisterns on two of these properties appear to have been installed prior to the capping of the privies, indicating the provision of indoor water supplies prior to indoor toilet facilities. Without further information on sanitation arrangements on more properties, it is difficult to gauge the general adherence of households to various sanitation technologies, such as water closets. It is possible that other households on the block made more extensive use of these technologies, which provided convenience and increased privacy concerning bodily functions. Based on current information, it appears that block households absorbed messages regarding cleanliness in terms of broadcast yard disposal. Trash disposal practices on at least some properties were more discrete–confined to shaft features or less visible areas. Although evidence is somewhat lacking on other properties, the decrease in broadcast disposal and the lack of trash pits implies that refuse must have been disposed of in discrete trash pits or moved off site. Personal cleanliness and hygiene are evidenced by the appearance of toothbrushes on several properties. All of these factors are consistent with elite ideologies where at least the facade of yard cleanliness and personal cleanliness was associated with individual morality and success.


Space, Place, and Power

The history of the Downtown Academic Center project block is intimately enmeshed with the development of capitalist social and spatial relations (Harvey 1989). At its inception, the block merely represented platted space – a series of geometric lines over space defining areas for sale. Purchase of the lots within the early 19th century land market brought profit for some and many of Binghamton's early elite were bolstered by land speculation. As the block was occupied by elite families, it came to have meaning as a place. Meaning and attachment to place can be highly individual and idiosyncratic. What we can read through careful analysis of maps and social relations is the place that the block was assuming within the larger settlement and how social relations shaped this place. The fashionable, widely spaced houses on one of the main streets of the early settlement symbolized the power of developing capitalist interests. This meaning resonated well into the 19th century when the urban core was losing its luster as residential space for the elite and middle-class due to increasing industrialization. Within the changing context and relations of industrial Binghamton, the block became working class housing and symbolized the power of the elite in a new manner. But the increasing tensions between labor and owners also added a new layer of meaning– as a place fraught with potential danger for the elite – just as the working class occupants created their own senses of home and place here.  The final chapters of the block have been written through the lenses of renewal, de-industrialization, and revitalization. For the last several decades of the 20th century, the block has become embroiled in the dialogues and transformations surrounding urban renewal and revitalization. This process pushed out the poor, and often unheard, residents of the block to re-create a blank space for capitalist development. The recent construction of the Downtown Academic Center is aimed at revitalizing not only this block but the surrounding urban core. This development, and the archaeological knowledge of Binghamton's past gained through the development, are currently adding new layers of meaning and rediscovering old layers, to the Downtown Academic Center project block.


Site History





Last Updated: 8/7/17