An Historical Geoarchaeological Approach to Sourcing an Eighteenth Century Building Stone: Use of Aquia Creek Sandstone in Christ Church, Lancaster County, VA, USA

Abstract

Historic Christ Church in Lancaster County, VA (1735), is one of America’s best-preserved examples of colonial Georgian architecture. Among its many architectural highlights is the beautiful stone trim that adorns the brick church’s doorways and windows. As it ages, conservation of original stone architectural elements is becoming necessary. The goal of this study is to determine the source of the exterior stones so appropriate matches can be acquired when repairs or replacement of some elements are needed. It will also help elucidate Christ Church’s construction history. We compared stone samples from Christ Church’s steps and keystones to samples taken from the famous Aquia Creek quarry on Government Island in Stafford County, VA, that provided the stone for America’s first federal buildings (e.g., White House, Capital, Treasury). We used standard petrographic thin-section analysis to compare the samples’ grain size, sorting, and mineralogy. Both stones are moderately sorted, medium sand sized, subarkose sandstones. Based on this as well as historical evidence, we suggest that the steps at the north, south, and west doors as well as the stone elements around the windows and doors of the church are made of the Cretaceous Aquia Creek sandstone quarried on Government Island. Within the quarry, the sandstone most likely came from the upper Patapsco Formation of the Potomac Group rather than the lower Patuxent Formation. This information should be kept in mind as Aquia Creek sandstone has a history of premature weathering and may require shorter term maintenance and longer term replacement.

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Acknowledgments

Camille Wells (freelance colonial architectural historian and writer) helped with finding other colonial buildings that incorporated Aquia Creek sandstone. Jerrilynn Eby MacGregor (freelance historian for Stafford Co., VA) helped with understanding the history of the Aquia Creek quarries. Raymond Cannetti (master historic brick and stone mason) helped with answering questions regarding colonial masonry and building stones. Kevin Key (University of Dallas) helped with field sampling on the Middle Peninsula and Virginia Peninsula. Janet Douglas and Carol Grissom (Smithsonian Institution), and Emily Aloiz (John Milner Associates Preservation) and Richard Livingston (University of Maryland) helped with field sampling on Government Island. This manuscript was greatly improved by the reviews of Joe Hannibal (Cleveland Museum of Natural History) and two anonymous reviewers.

Funding

This research was made possible by a Franklin Research Grant from the American Philosophical Society and a Sabbatical Support Grant from Dickinson College’s Research and Development Committee.

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Key, M.M., Lieber, S.B. & Teagle, R.J. An Historical Geoarchaeological Approach to Sourcing an Eighteenth Century Building Stone: Use of Aquia Creek Sandstone in Christ Church, Lancaster County, VA, USA. Geoheritage 12, 4 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12371-020-00426-x

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Keywords

  • Sourcing
  • Provenance
  • Aquia Creek sandstone
  • Christ Church