Historic Preservation Grad Is VDOT Guardian of Virginia Historical Treasures

Ken Stuck puts his historic preservation education to work as cultural resources coordinator for the Virginia Department of Transportation in Hampton Roads. (Photo by Stephani Kalis.)

By Emily Freehling

Ken Stuck ’90 sits at the intersection of progress and the past in his job as cultural resources coordinator for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s busy Hampton Roads District.

In an area of Virginia that is home to America’s first permanent European settlement – along with a bustling modern network of roads, tunnels, and bridges – Stuck deploys teams of archaeologists to search for traces of the past beneath land that has been slated for roads that will keep Virginia moving into the future.

Sometimes, his work leads VDOT to redesign projects so that they don’t unnecessarily disturb historical sites. Other times, it leads his teams to unearth long-buried history.
A few years ago, Stuck oversaw work that offered a rare glimpse of an 18th-century settlement found near the I-64/I-264 interchange on the border of Norfolk and Virginia Beach.

Work to improve the interchange continues, but before construction began, Stuck engaged the College of William & Mary’s Center for Archaeological Research – where he held his first job in archaeology – to perform a full-scale excavation of the site.
Previous archaeological work had revealed that the location was home to the Colonial-era settlement of Newtown.

Ken Stuck shows artifacts similar to the ones found at the Newtown site. (Photo by Stephani Kalis)

Stuck said the investigation uncovered a cellar that contained more than 20,000 artifacts, including pottery, pipes, and even leather soles from shoes that had presumably been tossed into a brick-lined well found during the excavation.

Because the artifacts were found on what at the time was the property of an area church, the church owns them. But Stuck said church and VDOT officials have worked together to ensure that the fragile items are preserved, with the help of William & Mary’s archaeology lab.

The project exemplified what Stuck likes most about his job: the opportunity to connect the community with a piece of its history.

Stuck worked with VDOT’s public relations team to produce a video about the project, which helped educate area residents about the early 18th-century Colonial settlement lying beneath the interstates many of them travel daily. He also visits schools to talk about his work.

A Richmond native, Stuck knew early on that he wanted to do something hands-on involving history. “I got very interested in archaeology in high school,” he said.

He visited what was then Mary Washington College during his college search, and after a tour, decided to seek out the school’s Department of Historic Preservation, led at the time by Professor Carter Hudgins.

“We came in unannounced from a regular tour and asked if we could talk to someone,” Stuck recalled. “Professor Hudgins spent 45 minutes with my parents and me talking about the department. I pretty much left that day knowing that Mary Washington was where I wanted to be.”

He met his wife, Wendy Scott Stuck ’92, at Mary Washington. Stuck went on to earn a master’s degree from William & Mary, then worked at their Center for Archaeological Research before joining VDOT.

“I thoroughly enjoy what I do,” Stuck said. “We try to contribute something to the knowledge of archaeology and architecture in Virginia with our work.”

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