When a fire tore through the Latta House in the Oberlin Road neighborhood in 2007, it destroyed the last standing remnant of Latta University. The turn of the century school taught African-American students in the years after reconstruction in what was then the outskirts of Raleigh.
But a new archeological survey of the Parker Street site shows that not all was lost. The city bought the 2-acre lot after the fire for a park. The survey, presented to the city council on Tuesday, recommends making the site a historic landmark.
Archeologists with Environmental Services Inc. studied the site over the past six months and spent six days digging on the property. Scott Seibel heads Environmental Services’ archeology division and prepared the report (below) for the city.
Seibel said they found more than 3,000 artifacts on the site, mainly pieces of glass and pottery. The archeologists also found a padlock that they matched to an “almost identical” lock in the 1897 Sears catalog.
“It sounds mundane,” Seibel said, “But it’s exciting to be able to identify these items.”
Seibel said they also found shards from single-sided shellac records and a silver-plated knife and spoon. “It’s these little personal items that are nice to find.”
Judith Guest, executive director of the Latta House Foundation, said she was happy that the city sponsored the survey. “People can’t relate to what they can’t see,” Guest said. But now, she says, Raleigh residents can see items that were actually used at the university 100 years ago.
The recovered artifacts are currently at Environmental Services’ Raleigh office, but Seibel said the company is sending the collection to the city’s Mordecai House. The artifacts are city property.
Guest said the recovered artifacts could go on display at the Raleigh City Museum sometime in the near future.
The house was recognized as a Raleigh Historic Landmark, but now the new park could get the same designation. The Raleigh Historic Districts Commission is reviewing an application to name the park a historic landmark and will make a recommendation later this year.
Guest said that if the commission and city council approve the historic designation, the site would become the first city historic landmark without a standing structure.
Guest said she hopes the city and the Latta Foundation can partner to build an educational facility on the site. The property “does not need to be an open lot,” Guest said. “It should represent not only Latta University, but the history of the Oberlin community as a whole.”