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The Smithsonian Institution plans improvements to the Patent Office Building, home of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. The plan includes constructing an auditorium under the courtyard to enhance the public mission of the museum. In anticipation of the improvements, a historic structure report was developed (Hartman Cox Architects and Oehrlein Associates Architects 1999). Construction in the courtyard could endanger or destroy archeological resources. In accordance with the Smithsonian’s own historic preservation policy, it is also taking measures to identify, evaluate, and treat significant archeological resources that may be affected by the project (Smithsonian Institution 1993). Through its consultant Hartman-Cox Architects, the Smithsonian employed John Milner Associates, Inc. (JMA), to conduct a Phase I documentary research investigation to identify cultural resources that may be affected by the construction. The JMA investigation, conducted in June and July 2002, was designed to consider the types of archeological resources that may be in the courtyard, the potential significance of such resources and the likelihood that the resources may be preserved. The JMA team has concluded that it is unlikely that significant archeological resources are preserved in the courtyard.




The Patent Office Building is in Reservation 8, in the northwest section of Washington, D.C., and is bounded by F Street on the south, Seventh and Ninth Streets on the east and west, and G Street on the north (Figure 1). The area of potential effect (APE) is the open courtyard that is bounded by the four wings of the building (Figure 2). The approximate total area of the APE is 27,000 square feet (.62 acres; .25 hectares).

The project is within the Coastal Plain physiographic province, east of the fall line that crosses the District roughly parallel to Rock Creek Park. The Coastal Plain is underlain by young, poorly consolidated sediments (Froelich and Hack 1976:75). Most of the soils in the District have been altered by human activities, and over 80 per cent of the land area has been disturbed (Smith 1976:1). The soils in the project area are classified as urban land, nearly level to moderately sloping, of which over 80 percent are covered by asphalt, concrete, buildings, and other impervious surfaces (Froelich and Hack 1976:50).

In the late eighteenth century, the project area was the top of a small hill that was at the upper end of a ridge that tapered off to the southeast (Hawkins 1991:26). The Patent Office Building entirely covers the hill, the top of which is in the courtyard. The steps on the F and G Street sides of the building “formalize the natural grade change” (Hawkins 1991:26).




The goal of this study is to assess the potential for prehistoric and historic cultural resources in the Patent Office courtyard. The research team consulted primary and secondary sources, such as documentary, cartographic, and photographic materials. These materials were analyzed to produce information about events and activities that would contribute to or disturb the archeological record. Using maps and drawings, an assessment was made of how the eighteenth­century ground surface may have been altered by development. The analysis was done to develop an assessment of the potential for preserved archeological resources.