Back to Kids Homepage Back to Scottsville Museum Homepage

A Text-only Version of the Archaeology Activity

Layer of Occupation: “Early Settlement”

The year is 1745. The area is the southern part of modern-day Albemarle County, but at this time, there is not yet an Albemarle County. It had not been created yet. A group of men gather at a house on a hill high above the James River, owned by a man named, Edward Scott. Together these men started a settlement known for a while as Scott’s landing, named after Edward Scott himself, and then eventually changed to Scottsville when it officially became a town. The river was rich in resources and the soil around it was good for farming, so folks began to settle here. Only a few families lived here, at first sparsely populating the area.

Layer of Occupation: “Scott’s Landing Becomes Scottsville”

The town grew and grew as settlers came from all over to take advantage of the good crops. In 1818, Scott’s Landing became a town and was then recognized as the first county seat of Albemarle. Traffic flourished along the river down to Richmond. The town’s importance was increased when Shenandoah Valley counties started sending their cargo by wagon over the Staunton and James River Turnpike to Scottsville’s port, to have it sent down the river towards Richmond. By 1835, Scottsville had a population of 600 people, and warehouses and buildings started springing up everywhere.

Layer of Occupation: “The Canal Is Opened, But the Roads Are Poor”

As buildings sprang up, there was great need for a reliable source of cargo transportation. The river often flooded, or even got too low in times of drought. So, in 1840 the James River and Kanawha Canal opened up between Richmond and Lynchburg. The canal offered safe and cheap transportation of goods to Virginia’s capital. By 1841, Scottsville’s population was at 1,000 people. The roads leading to Scottsville were poorly kept, and often too dangerous for the wagons from the Shenandoah Valley to journey across. Trade in Scottsville began to decline as the wagons followed the safer roads towards other locations along the canal, such as Lynchburg. By 1850, the population had decreased once again to just over 600 people.

Layer of Occupation: “Civil War Destruction”

Just after 1850, the Virginia Central Railroad was constructed in Charlottesville and this form of transportation was safer than the Staunton Turnpike and other poorly kept roads that led to Scottsville. The new railroad also provided a quicker route to Richmond than the old way using wagons and canals.

In addition to the decreased use of the canal as a result of the new railroad, in 1865, four full years after the start of the Civil War, Scottsville was hit with a devastating blow. General Sheridan’s group of 10,000 Union soldiers left Charlottesville in two groups. One group was sent to destroy the railroad, and the other group was sent south to destroy the canal at Scottsville.

The destruction of Scottsville began at 3 PM on March 6, 1865. Boats were captured; warehouses full of supplies were burned. Canal locks and bridges were destroyed and the town’s houses and barns were ransacked for food and goods for the Union soldiers. The last wave of soldiers left a hungry and burning town of Scottsville behind on March 9, 1865.

Layer of Occupation: “The Railroad Replaces the Canal”

Ravaged by war and floods, the canal was no longer able to perform its duties and provide any income for the town. In 1880, the deed to the canal was signed over to the Richmond and Allegheny Railroad Company. They immediately came in and began to build their track over the old canal towpath. Even though the railroad had come to Scottsville, prosperity did not. Unlike the days when Scottsville was an important shipping point, the railroad gave Scottsville no special purpose. There was simply a small depot for travelers to come and go, but no major industry was held here. By 1890, the population of Scottsville had decreased significantly to 362 citizens.

Layer of Occupation: “Highway Transportation”

In 1907 highway transportation and the construction of the Scottsville bridge saved the town and its residents from becoming a ghost town. With the invention of the automobile, the country was able to move around a lot more, and life started moving just a little bit faster. By the end of World War I, two state highways intersected in Scottsville allowing residents to come and go, as well as visitors.

Today Scottsville remains a quiet town with Main and Valley Streets serving as the focus of business. The river provides tourists and townspeople a great form of entertainment and relaxation thanks to the excitement of water sports such as tubing and canoeing.


So what you have in front of you is more than just a cup full of goodies. These layers each represent an important time in Scottsville’s history where new artifacts can be found by digging through the layers. If you were digging in real dirt each layer would look very different, sometimes almost as different as the layers of candy you have, and the archaeologist would examine the change in color, content, and texture of the soil to determine if he were at a new period or layer of occupation.

Now put on your hard hat, get out your pick and shovel (or get your two toothpicks), and start digging. You have received a grant from the Historic Preservation Society to find out as much as you about the time General Sheridan and his troops destroyed the town of Scottsville during the Civil War. Carefully dig out each layer, starting first with the gummy bears representing 1907-present day. Record what you find. Are you finding artifacts from the old stores that were replaced by new stores on Valley St.? Next, dig out each part of the layer of twizzlers representing 1880-1907. Are you finding any old nails or railroad ties from the first construction of the railroad in Scottsville?

Now you should come to the layer that you and the Historical Society are most interested in: the period of destruction caused by the Civil War. Carefully extract as much of the pieces of cookie you can without disturbing the layers beneath. Did some of your cookie pieces fall though your layer of M&Ms? This happens in real dirt all the time. Some of the layers above can get mixed in with the layers below and it is your job as the archaeologist to note when something is out of the ordinary. For example, in Ancient Greece the people would use old materials from ruined temples in the walls of the next building. So, you might find an ancient piece of marble from the temple of Zeus, used to build a wall that came 400 years later.

How do we know?   Oral History   Archaeology   Archives/Accessions   Teacher/Parent