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The Duke Diggs Site in “The Foot”



Established at the turn of the twentieth century, “The Foot” was the home of the majority of African Americans living in Jefferson City.  The soul of The Foot resides at the bottom, or foot, of the hill below what is now the campus of Lincoln University, a historically black university founded in 1866 by African-American veterans of the American Civil War.  The self-sustaining neighborhood was established to support the African American community when its residents were not allowed or welcome in other parts of town.  This included the Lincoln Hotel, later called The Booker T Hotel, restaurants, a grocery store, service stations, a nightclub and pool hall, just to name a few.  The community thrived for more than five decades.

 GPR_survey

In the 1950s and 60s, a combination of the construction of U.S. Highway 50 through the northern portion of the Foot and the Campus View Urban Renewal Project, initiated by the City of Jefferson’s Housing Authority, destroyed most the neighborhood, leaving very little trace of a once vibrant past.  Only Quinn Chapel, the Duke Diggs Community Center and Johnson’s Barber Shop remained.  What was once a bustling city within a city was now grassy fields and a ”sandlot” ballpark. 

In 2008, plans were made by the City of Jefferson and MoDOT to create a new interchange at Highway 50 and Lafayette Street.  Before construction could begin, an assessment of the project area had to be done, looking for significant architectural, historical, and archaeological resources.  A Phase I archaeological survey revealed artifacts dating to the period of significance for the neighborhood, 1900s-1960s, within the proposed project area and it was recommended that additional, more intensive work be conducted. A ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey was also conducted in the grass field portion of the site.  The site was named after one of the more prominent, but by no means more important residents of the site, Duke Diggs.

The Duke Diggs Site (23CO1612) includes a transfer Duke_Diggs_house(moving) company, a barber shop and a shoe repair shop as well as several residences.  Diggs was an entrepreneur, philanthropist and well-respected member of the community.  He owned the transfer company and several rental properties throughout the Foot.  His wife, Estella, was also a very influential resident and very active in the local community.  In addition to the Diggs’ properties, there was also a barber, Ulysses S. Tayes and Benjamin Logan, a shoe repairman, all of whom lived on the 500 block of Lafayette St.  Behind these homes and business were Diggs’ transfer company and a rental home owned by Diggs and exclusively rented by the Warren/Smith family.

Prior to the construction of the new interchange, MoDOT archaeologists had to determine if the site was intact below the surface, whether it met the criteria to be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, and if yes, what would be the project’s affects upon it.  In the summer of 2014, using the data collected by the GPR survey and historical maps as guides, archaeologists opened several large excavation blocks.  A total of 27 features including evidence of 4 houses, several outbuildings, and various yard features (fence lines, cisterns, retaining walls, etc.) were identified, mapped, photographed, and samples of artifacts collected. 

 

Analysis of the artifacts gathered from the excavations is ongoing but some of the more interesting finds have been:

  • An electric razor from Tayes’ barber shop/house
  • Medal issued by the city of Verdun, France, commemorating the help provided by American troops during World War I
  • Billiard balls, possibly from the local pool hall

Tayes_cellar

Excavation at the Duke Diggs site allows the public and researchers alike to get a glimpse of the everyday life of the citizens of The Foot – their consumer habits, tools of their trades and common pastimes, for example.  It reminds people that even though the above-ground evidence of a neighborhood or community may be gone, details of the past can lie just beneath their feet.  It also has become a catalyst to reconnect that community and remind others of what had been lost.

The archaeological aspect of this project was not the only opportunity given to the MoDOT researchers.  This site is young enough to still have generations ALIVE who lived, worked and played in the neighborhood.  By teaming with the Historic City of Jefferson, MoDOT has created an Oral History Project focusing on collecting stories about life in The Foot.  Appeals were made to the public to share their knowledge and memories of the Foot.  Plans are in also the works to create two informational kiosks or panels to be placed along the nearby Greenway walking trail, discussing the archaeological work and the businesses that made up the heart of The Foot.  These would correspond to the planned information panel to be located near the Duke Diggs Community Center.

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