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South End to get first archaeological dig, at Massachusetts Avenue townhouse that might have been a station on the underground railroad

Boston's archaeology team plans to begin digging in the rear yard of the League of Women for Community Service in Boston headquarters at 558 Massachusetts Ave in October, in advance of the league's plans to do extensive landscaping there.

The townhouse was built in 1858 for William and Martha Carnes and their three children on what had been part of the original Back Bay marshes.

The stately home was the showcase of William’s fine wood importation and furniture making business and retains much of its original interior including some of the original furniture.

The Carneses were dedicated abolitionists and there is oral history that the house was a stop on the Underground Railroad. In 1868, Nathaniel and Eliza Farwell bought the home. Nathaniel was the mayor of Lewiston, Maine and a cotton mill owner, and his daughter, Evelyn, married into the Ayer textile family. They were complicit in the cotton industry and benefited greatly from enslaved and later indentured labor in southern cotton plantations.

In 1920, the League of Women for Community Service purchased the building. The League is a group of Black Bostonians who created the organization in 1918 in response to the lack of support for Black veterans returning from World War I. The League supported Black artistic and intellectual community through concerts, lectures, and exhibits in the house. ...

In the 1950s and 60s, the building provided housing for Black students who could not live in local college dorms due to segregation. Coretta Scott rented a room in the building while a student at the New England Conservatory, and met Martin Luther King, Jr. while living there. The League building has remained a gathering place for Boston’s Black community and repository of cultural items for over a century.

Urban archaeologists live old privies and for the buried artifacts they might contain. Although the original house had "four indoor flushing toilets and two showers," so no privy, city Archaeologist Joe Bagley said he's hoping to find an old cesspool or cistern, since the indoor plumbing was installed long before Boston had sewer lines.

The dig aims to find out more about the lives and activities of the two families who lived at the home and the early League History. The archaeologists will also be looking for any evidence in support of Underground Railroad history.

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when the current orange line is barely functional and had to be shut down for a month.
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