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Missouri Department of Transportation

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Archaeological Investigations for the New Mississippi River Project

MoDOT and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) reached an agreement in February 2008 to construct a new bridge over the Mississippi River, redirecting I-70 and relieving traffic congestion on the aging Poplar Street Bridge. Although historical research and the evaluation of architectural properties had been conducted prior to this agreement, archaeological fieldwork formally began on the Missouri-side of the project in June 2008, with testing for the proposed bridge approach. The importance of this archaeological project lies in the singular opportunity it provides researchers to examine multiple facets of 19th-century life in St. Louis, looking at where people lived, worked, shopped, and played.

New Mississippi River Project

The archaeological fieldwork has been completed: ten historic and two prehistoric archaeological sites have been identified:

  • The Mullanphy Park Site (23SL2274) – This site contains a mixture of mid-19th to early-20th-century property types, including industrial (the Schulenberg and Boeckler Planing Mill), civic (the Mullanphy Playground and Pool), residential, and commercial. Limited data recovery was conducted in two areas of the site in 2011, resulting in the identification of 39 archaeological features.

  • The John C. Kupferle Foundry (23SL2295) – A late-19th-century industrial site, the Kupferle foundry operated at the corner of Mound and N. 2nd streets from 1882 to 1910. A portion of the site also contains remnants of the Conrad Beck brick yard including the brick clamp. The site is considered historically significant, and excavation was conducted in 2009, with supplemental work conducted in 2012.

  • The Gestring Wagon Factory (23SL2310) – The Gestring Wagon Factory was in use from 1866 to 1935. Excavation of the site in 2009 focused on the original wagon shop (c. 1866), the new factory building (c. 1875), a separate blacksmith shop, and the family residence (c. 1892).

  • The Tocco Site (23SL2315) – The Tocco Site represents a mixed residential/commercial area, and includes single-family homes, tenements, storefronts, and the remains of one of the early volunteer fire houses. Excavation of the site, conducted in 2010, focused on the early, single family residences. Unfortunately, the portions of the site containing the storefronts and firehouse have been previously excavated by bottle hunters, and any information that may have been recovered has been lost.

  • The Worthy Woman’s Site (23SL2316) – The site represents a mid-19th through early-20th-century residential neighborhood. In addition to residential properties, the site also contains remains of a building used by the Worthy Woman’s Aid and Hospital during the 1870s. Excavation of the site was conducted in 2010 and 2011.

  • The Mullanphy Lake Site (23SL2317) – Mullanphy Lake is referred to by 19th-century histories as “a favorite place for fishing, boating, and bathing.” Archaeological testing suggests that the lake was in fact an old sinkhole that had flooded. Similar in nature to the nearby ‘Kayser’s Lake’, this sinkhole probably became choked with sewage and was eventually filled in. Although the site is not considered significant, testing has provided some insight into living conditions in the city during the mid-to-late-19th century.

  • The McGuire-Newell Site (23SL2318) – Much of this city block was destroyed during the original construction of I-70 during the 1950s. The small portion that remains represents deposits from five 19th-century residences. Two features were excavated: a privy and a cistern. Both features appear to have been filled and abandoned in the 1890s. The cistern contains evidence of mass dumping of household items (e.g., entire sets of dishes, bowls, and stemware), while the privy also contains stratified deposits dating to the 1880s. Excavation of the site was conducted in 2010.

  • The Schulte Site (23SL2319)– Initial testing conducted in 2010 suggested that the site contains remnants of homes and businesses occupied during the mid- to late-19th century. Of particular interest were a grocery and two residences, all originally owned by the Schulte family starting in the late 1840s or early 1850s. Subsequent excavation, however, demonstrated that portions of the site have been greatly disturbed by previous excavation and looting. Fortunately it appears that a large portion of the site has been sealed under a mid-20th-century concrete foundation, and will be buried—and protected—by the current bridge project. Although the site is not currently considered historically significant, future researchers will have the opportunity to reevaluate the site and possibly discover the features that MoDOT archaeologists had hoped to uncover.

  • The Leudinghaus Site (23SL2322) – Archaeological testing of the Leudinghaus-Espensheid factory and surrounding properties was conducted in stages between January and April 2011. Although archaeological features were identified, most of the Leudinghaus factory itself had been removed by previous construction; the majority of the remaining features are related to the residences and businesses that predated the factory. Nineteen features were identified during the survey of the property; unfortunately, several of those features—including a cistern and 2 privies—were contaminated and could not be hand excavated. Based on the field results, the Leudinghaus Site does not appear to be significant, though portions of the site that will remained buried under the new interchange may have greater research value.

  • The Out-of-Plumb Site (23SL2330) – It is a notation on the 1876 Whipple fire insurance map—describing one of the buildings within the site area as “badly out of plumb”—that provides both the site’s name as well as possible confirmation of the existence of an old sinkhole at that location. As with other areas surveyed within the MRB project, this city block appears to have been physically modified (in this case, filled with a considerable amount of soil and organic material) and subsequently houses were built upon that fill. Extrapolating from city directories from the late-19th century, it appears that buildings on this block were constructed during the late 1860s or early-1870s. Data recovery at the site was conducted in 2012.

  • Big Mound (23SL3) and the St. Louis Mound Group (23SL4) -- In 1819, Dr. Thomas Say and Titian R. Peale recorded 25 earthen mounds or “tumuli” near what is now downtown St. Louis. By the 1850s, the entire mound group with the exception of Big Mound had been destroyed by the rapid exansion of the city. The final remnant of Big Mound, the largest of the St. Louis mounds, was purchased by the railroad and removed in 1869. The location of Big Mound was subsequently the site of several industrial properties including the Kupferle Foundry and the Gestring Wagon factory. Archaeological testing for the mounds—in particular, Big Mound and Mound #26—and for a potential occupation site have yielded only a handful of prehistoric artifacts in disturbed contexts. Extensive mechanical stripping was conducted within the estimated footprint of Big Mound, as well as immediately to the east and west of the mound location; no intact prehistoric deposits or features—including submound features—were identified. Testing did indicate that the ground surface in the vicinity of Big Mound had been graded, removing any pre-1800s deposits, while areas further south have been buried under several meters of historic fill.
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