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John C. Kupferle Foundry Site (23SL2295)

Kupferle Foundry SiteIdentified during the archaeological survey for the New Mississippi River Bridge project in St. Louis, the John C. Kupferle Foundry site has been determined to be historically significant at the local level. The site has the potential to provide unique information on industry, in particular the development of brass manufacturing in St. Louis during the last quarter of the 19th century. Brass was not widely manufactured in the United States until the second half of the 19th century, and then primarily on the east coast. Kupferle and Boisselier were among the earliest brass foundry operators in St. Louis, and their second foundry at the corner of Mound and N. Second streets typifies the development of the industry in the region.

The Kupferle Foundry partially overlaps the extents of a prehistoric site: Big Mound (23SL3). The earliest detailed account of Big Mound from the 18th century describes it as a ridge mound, 319 feet long and 158 feet wide. The mound was part of the St. Louis Mound Group, located approximately 1,460 feet north of the other mounds. Big Mound was the last of the St. Louis mounds to be destroyed, with the final vestiges of the mound removed in 1869. In 1866, a wagon shop (the Gestring Wagon Factory) was built where the western half of the mound used to be, and in 1882 the Kupferle foundry was built on the eastern half.Archaeological excavation

Excavation of the site focused on the identification of structural remains and the recovery and analysis of raw materials, tools, and production items in order to provide information on the industry and technological developments within the site’s period of significance (1882-1910). The technology employed by brass founders, though similar at a gross level, varied widely and remained largely undocumented. As Gordon and Malone (1994:12) state, the study of industrial sites, such as the Kupferle Foundry site, has the potential to provide critical information “because few participants in industry left written records of their experiences and because some aspects of technology cannot be expressed effectively in words”.

Excavation of site 23SL2295 was conducted over a three-week period in June and July, 2009. The foundry is comprised of three sections built around a central courtyard. The western building housed the iron foundry, the northern building the brass foundry, and the southern building the machine shop. Archaeological excavation focused on portions of the machine shop, the courtyard, and the northern foundry building. Fifty-one features were identified, most of which related to the foundry or to a furniture factory immediately north of the foundry. In addition to building foundations and pier stones, identifiable features included multiple machinery platforms (including the steam engine platform), a furnace, a cess pit/water closet, a refuse dump, the courtyard midden (composed of highly-compacted cinders), and post-molds from various frame buildings located across the site.

MoDOT archaeologistBelow the remains of the foundry, archaeologists discovered several older historic features. Of greatest interest was a brick clamp, located partially under the northern wall of the foundry. Newspaper articles during the 1870s note that the dirt from Big Mound was purchased by the North Missouri Railroad to be used for fill, though some of the mound may have also been used to level nearby city lots. However, there is one reference (Scharf 1883) claiming that mound fill was fired into bricks, which were then used to construct a market building (possibly Mound Market formerly located at the intersection of N. Broadway and N. Seventh streets). An examination of city directories shows no documented uses of the east half of the block until 1882, with a single exception. In 1870, Conrad Beck is listed as a brick maker, having a brickyard at the corner of N. Second and Brooklyn streets; this corresponds with the location of the excavated brick clamp.

Artifact analysis is currently underway, and a technical report will be made available when completed.



Gordon, Robert B. and Patrick M. Malone
1994         The Texture of Industry: An Archaeological View of the Industrialization of North America. Oxford University Press, New York.

Scharf, J. Thomas
1883         History of St. Louis City and County. 2 Vols. Louis H. Everts and Company, Philadelphia.


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