2015 Day of Archaeology — Open House for the Fort Germanna/Enchanted Castle Site


I like the idea – a day exploring what Archaeologists really do. People generally think of us “finding stuff.” Well, this year my Day of Archaeology is a little different than that…

Eight months ago I started a new position as the Archaeologist for the Germanna Foundation. The Foundation is steward for several historic properties in Orange and Culpeper Counties in Virginia, USA. The oldest – the one needing most of my attention—was the site of a 1714, palisaded fort.

Fort Germanna_Artists Conception 1

Artists conception of Fort Germanna.

Fort Germanna was settled by several German immigrant families sent to Virginia’s Frontier by Colonial Lt. Governor, Alexander Spotswood. The men from these families were designated “Rangers” as their presence was meant as a buffer for the English colonial settlements to the east. These German immigrants were also indentured to Spotswood and for 4 years they worked the land around the Fort. Around 1720, the fort walls were removed and a new residence for Spotswood was built at the site. Spotswood’s new mansion, reminiscent of the Governor’s Palace he’d helped oversee in Williamsburg, was built in the wilderness some 20 miles west of nearest settlement. One prominent visitor to Spotswood’s estate deemed the structure the “Enchanted Castle” and the name stuck.

During the 1970s, American Archaeologists grew increasingly curious about the location of this “Enchanted Castle.” By the end of the decade they had found man made terraces and located foundation ruins from the building. It sat known but undisturbed until threatened by a development plan during the 1980s. Elizabeth Schneider and Historic Gordonsville, Inc. were fundamental in purchasing the property and saving the site. Archaeology of the Enchanted Castle began in the mid-80s, first as “salvage archaeology” which attempted to recover as much information as possible before the site was destroyed. Once the site was no longer threatened, a more systematic study of the structure was begun. Mary Washington College (now University of Mary Washington) became involved and their Archaeology Professor, Dr. Douglas Sanford, oversaw excavations through 1995 when funding ran out. Since that time, no further archaeology has been done.

In late 2013, the property for the Enchanted Castle and Fort Germanna Sites was entrusted to The Memorial Foundation of the Germanna Colonies in Virginia, Inc. (The Germanna Foundation). The intent is to restart archaeology at the site. One of my first and most important tasks is the stabilization of the previous archaeology. The site was cleaned up and the vegetation that had grown up over the years removed. We then needed to fill-in (not dig up!) the site so that the old excavations and ruined foundations no longer collected water from rain and run-off.

Ft Germanna EC work 021(2)

Bringing in fill…

I mapped the areas that needed to be covered and calculated the volume of fill needed. Then I waited for the weather to cooperate (we had a wet winter here in Virginia). It wasn’t until May that I was able to get truckloads of fill material delivered to the site. Once that was done, it was a matter of moving the soils into place. By mid-July we were close to finished. Most of the 20 truckloads of fill that was brought in was spread across the site (by hand!). The deepest excavations are now leveled, and I no longer need to bail out the site every time it rains. The remaining resources are safely protected under the fill. When the time comes to undertake new excavations on the Enchanted Castle, it will be waiting for us to uncover it once again.

On 16 July 2015, we celebrated our “Day of Archaeology” with an Open House at the Site. Members of the Germanna Foundation – many of them descendants of the original German settlers – came out to visit. We marked the location of the Enchanted Castle and put up interpretive signs explaining what was discovered in the 1980s and 90s excavations. We also marked the location of the small segment of the palisade wall found from the 1714 Fort.


Signage explaining the small section of the palisade wall found in 1994.


Larsen speaking with visitors to the site.


Dr. Means setting up his table of printed “artifacts.”












Dr. Bernard Means, professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, set up a display of “virtual artifacts” that he has collected from Virginia and the world. Dr. Means and his students have scanned artifacts from numerous sites and then printed them with a 3D scanner. While we have yet to re-start excavations, we hope to have artifacts to scan for next year. Our next goal is to begin better defining the perimeter of Fort Germanna. Maybe we’ll find some “stuff.”