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Metal Key Excavated in Anacostia

Object Details

After 1867
3/8 × 3 1/16 × 1 in. (0.9 × 7.7 × 2.5 cm)
In the early 1980s, archaeologists excavated land along Howard Road, SE before construction began on the Anacostia Metro Station in southeast Washington, D.C. Their discoveries included household objects, like this metal key. Though popularly known as a skeleton key, it is a “bit” or “barrel” key designed to open a singular lock, rather than a skeleton, or “master,” key. The bit is no longer attached to the barrel, either broken off or rusted away. The key might have fit a lock in one of the eleven residential buildings that once stood in the 1000-1100 block of Howard Road, SE. Prior to the Civil War, the area had been a plantation known as Barry Farm. The Freedman’s Bureau purchased the farm after the war and divided it into one-acre lots. Formerly enslaved African Americans bought parcels for $125-$300, which included lumber and an obligation to build a house. They worked, often by lantern light after returning from day-time jobs downtown, to construct homes in the neighborhood that came to be known as Hillsdale.
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Anacostia Community Museum Collection
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Anacostia Community Museum
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