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Walsh’s Row Site (23SL2234)



Layout of excavated structure 1 foundation wallsIn 2004, MoDOT archaeologists conducted a survey of a section of downtown St. Louis, bounded in part by Interstate 64, Cerre Street, Sixth Street, and Fourth Street. The survey identified one archaeological site: the Walsh’s Row site (23SL2234), a mid-19th- to early- 20th-century row house. MoDOT and the Federal Highway Administration, in consultation with the Missouri State Historic Preservation Office, determined that the Walsh’s Row site is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places and that construction of new ramps along Interstate 64 would adversely affect the site.

Mitigation of the site was conducted from 7 December to 21 December 2005. A combination of remote sensing, mechanical stripping, and hand excavation were employed to investigate the northern-most house on the site. Features excavated (partially or entirely) include the house foundations, attached kitchen foundations, privy, a 19th-century sewer line, and a refuse pit. Other features identified by the remote sensing survey, but outside the area of potential effects and not excavated, include two possible privies and a possible cistern.


The conclusions drawn from the excavation revolve around sanitation and waste disposal during the mid- to late-19th century. Historically, we have the perception that after a city-wide public sewer system was adopted by St. Louis in the 1850s and 1860s, sanitation was no longer a critical concern: old fashioned privies and cesspools were quietly abandoned for water closets and indoor plumbing. In older sections of the city, built before the construction of the first public sewer lines, existing privies were adapted to be used within the framework of the new sewer system. However, this assumption ignores the fact that these previous methods of waste disposal could not be easily altered. The excavation of Walsh’s Row showed that these houses, built in the 1840s, did not have sealed privy vaults but rather open cess pits that allowed wastewater to seep out from under the foundation walls. Not only was this a clear violation of later city ordinances, it was universally overlooked by city engineers and public health officials; annual reports refer to broken and leaking sewer lines as one of the chief health concerns of the public sewer system, ignoring the fact that in older sections of the city (built prior to 1880), raw sewage was allowed to flow without constraint. Although it appeared on the surface that St. Louis was making great strides in creating a more sanitary and hygienic living environment, the truth below the surface was decidedly different.


Blue transfer printed whiteware

Additional information concerning the history of Walsh’s Row and the archaeological excavation can be found in the final site report. The report, entitled Below the Surface: Excavation of the Walsh’s Row Site, St. Louis, Missouri (2007), is available on-line through the Missouri State Library.

 

 

 

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