The Wash House
As reconstruction of the detached kitchen loomed in the background, excavation of the washhouse began in 1998 and was completed in 2000. The task of locating this building was easier than the kitchen, since a photograph showed it near the location of the kitchen and smokehouse. The remains of the washhouse, such as pier supports for the building, water cistern, hearth, and drainage system were discovered. The thousands of artifacts recovered from the washhouse indicated that it was probably constructed sometime after the destruction of the detached kitchen in the mid 1870s. The building was probably used into the early 1900s and then was dismantled. While oral history has always referred to the building in the historic photograph as the “washhouse”, the archaeological excavations conducted at the site reveal that washing activities were not exclusive to it. More than likely it was a multipurpose building that housed a water cistern, was used for washing activities, and served as an indoor domestic workspace. Archaeological evidence indicates that a large portion of the washing activities at Riverside during the late nineteenth century were not confined solely to the building and extended to the yard spaces around it. An outdoor hearth suggests that a large part of the washing duties, such as heating water, took place outside of the building.
The excavations at the washhouse also may have found evidence of soap making at Riverside. There is a strong history of soap making at Riverside. The Moremen family was known to make large amounts of soap to trade with passing riverboats, which inspired Riverside’s nickname of “Soap Landing”. A 1890s family cookbook featured two recipes for making soap. In a memoir, Horace Moremen describes his mother Rachel’s soap making operation at Glen Fount, the Moremen’s first home in Brandenburg.
“We had what was called an ash hopper in a little house to itself and all the ashes from all the fires were brought and put in that ash hopper. It was wide at the top and came to a point a the bottom and under it was trough to catch the lye and carry it to a barrel and at the proper time for making soap, water was poured on the ashes and the lye was boiled in the kettle till it was strong enough to make soap and my mother always had barrels of soap, both hard and soft.”
It is probable that the hearth behind the washhouse and two linear fire pits found during the excavations appear to have been used to make wood ash or heating kettles to make the soap. The soap making and other domestic duties carried out in the washhouse and the nearby yards would have been conducted by the Moremen women and some hired servants.