The sign tells the story of the original home of Hardy Pace, who owned and operated the ferry that crossed the Chattahoochee River, joining Vinings and Atlanta. While that isn’t in dispute, there could be some questions about the last couple of lines on the sign, which say the house was used as a hospital for Union soldiers wounded in the capture and siege of Atlanta, with the home later being destroyed by fire.
But a researcher investigating the property has discovered relics on the property that may indicate the house was not used as a hospital.
Garrett W. Silliman, with Terminus Archeological Research in Atlanta, said the sign’s wording is vague enough that it likely won’t need to be changed.
“But they may need some additional literature at the visitor’s center,” Silliman said. “Or it could be completely spot-on,” Silliman said
“At least it doesn’t say it was burned by Sherman,” he said.
Silliman was asked to study the area around the Pace House by the Vinings Historic Preservation Society, which oversees the site. Gillian Greer, the society’s executive director, said they are looking to figure out the legitimacy of the long-held views that the original house was a 17-room antebellum mansion that was used as a hospital and headquarters by Generals William T. Sherman and Oliver O. Howard and later burned, possibly by Sherman.
Greer said the idea to have Silliman look at the site came along as the historical group planned repairs to the building’s foundation. She said that since someone would have to crawl under the house to make repairs, it would be a good opportunity to study its history as well.
“The opportunity just kind of came along to have an archaeological study done,” she said. “We just wanted to do it.”
Greer is hopeful that Silliman’s research will help create a blueprint of the original home.
“We’re just trying to learn more about the history of the property,” she said. “Part of our mission is to educate the public.”
The current, three-room home, which replaced the original, was built between 1865 and 1874 by Solomon Pace, Hardy Pace’s son.
In the past couple of weeks, Silliman has combed the home’s front yard with a metal detector, getting about 50 “hits.” Each hit was marked with a small orange flag, about a quarter of which he has dug up with a trowel.
Silliman has discovered a few nails dating back to the Civil War era, but the most telling artifact discovered so far is an unfired .58-caliber bullet, which he said was standard-issue federal ammunition. He said the fact that the bullet wasn’t fired and was found in the home’s yard close to Paces Mill Road likely means that it was dropped there by a Union soldier.
Silliman said the area the bullet was discovered in was not built on at the time, because it is unlikely the ammunition could have gotten under a house. While that is physical evidence that federal troops were at the site, it could call views of the size of the original house, or at least its location, into question.
“If we’re talking about a much larger, 17-room mansion, it probably wasn’t in this part of the yard,” Silliman said. “But for all we know, the home could have been right up to the edge of where the bullet was.”
Many of the flags are located in clusters around the yard. Silliman said that means that areas where metal didn’t turn up could have been used as pits for a wartime hospital, where amputated limbs and medical waste were buried.
“It’s likely that the wounded were housed somewhere in this vicinity, but where the physical location was hasn’t been figured out,” Silliman said.
Early in 2012, Silliman plans to go back and excavate six-foot-by-six-foot areas of the yard, going as deep as a foot, to try to learn more. Working with Georgia State University researchers, he is also using a magnetometer, a device that surveys the magnetic field in an area to find possible objects in the ground, to study the yard and the foundation of the current building. He hopes this will help show where the old home’s foundation could have been, as well as possible locations for trash pits.
He said some of the current home could have been built using remains of the original house. Studying these remains could help determine whether the house actually burned down.
“It’s also possible it may have fallen into a bad state of repair, and it was rebuilt,” he said.
Greer said that even if some of the Civil War stories about the home don’t pass muster, the home’s status as a historical landmark is secure. She said the reason the Pace House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009 was because of its key role in transportation on the Chattahoochee, as well as Pace’s ownership of a grist mill and tavern.
“The importance of the house doesn’t revolve around whether it was burned down,” she said.
Silliman said he has previously performed archaeological investigations at other Civil War sites, including Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield and the location of the Battle of Peachtree Creek. Gen. Howard, commander of the Fourth Corps of the Army of the Cumberland, is a personal favorite of his. Howard is believed to have stationed his troops at the Pace House for five days before moving across the river at Pace’s Ferry.
“I like the idea of contributing to a community’s story,” Silliman said, “something like the Civil War that’s so central to a community’s identity.”