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Mullanphy Park Site (23SL2274)

Mullanphy PlaygroundLocated in the center of the new I-70 Interchange—part of the New Mississippi River Bridge project in St. Louis—the Mullanphy Park site underwent archaeological testing in December 2008. Based upon the results of the initial testing and historical research, additional testing followed by selective data recovery was conducted in the summer of 2011.

The Mullanphy Park site is interpreted as a multi-component, mixed-use historical site dating to the mid-19th through early-20th century. The site encompasses an entire city block, and is divided by an alley running east-west. Approximately two-thirds of the site lies north of the alley; this portion of the site contains remnants of the Schulenberg and Boeckler Planing Mill, the Maxwell and Crouch Mule Stable, Mullanphy Park (also referred to as Mullanphy Square and Mullanphy Playground), and three late-19th-century double houses.

Mullanphy Park was established on a lot of land owned by the Mullanphy Emigrant Relief Fund sometime around 1900, and leased to the city in 1904. In 1907, the Civic League of St. Louis prepared a report titled A City Plan for St. Louis in which Mullanphy Playground was proposed as part of a community “civic center”. Recommended improvements included a gymnasium, bathhouse, and library. The park property was purchased by the city in 1909, and many of those improvements were later implemented. In addition to these amenities, Mullanphy Park also contained a “children’s garden”, a bandstand, and an open-air swimming pool (which was later enclosed).

The relationship of Mullanphy Park to the community, especially to the children of the neighborhood, makes this property of special interest, and warranted further research. An attempt was made in April 2011 to uncover evidence of the “children’s garden”. This was an area of the park in which children were provided a small plot of ground to grow a plant. They took care of their plant through the summer, and then in the fall would pot their plants and take them home. If the plants survived the summer, the children were allowed to replant them the following spring. This seems to be a relatively unique social experiment, and one that could have left archaeological evidence. A small area (approximately 60 m2) was stripped in order to look for evidence of the garden (e.g., planting holes). The results of the excavation identified features relating to some of the businesses that occupied the site previously (i.e. the planning mill and mull barn); however, no obvious signs of the garden were seen. Subtle changes in the soil—possibly a result of planting—were noted and have been tentatively attributed to the garden.

South of the alley was a series of buildings, constructed in the 1860s and occupied into the mid-20th century. These buildings consisted of a row of houses and storefronts lining Cass Avenue and the alley. Excavation of this portion of the site was conducted over four weeks from late June through July 2011, and was accomplished through a combination of mechanical trenching and hand excavation. Approximately 475 m2 of grass and pavement was stripped with a backhoe, uncovering a concentration of residential features. In all, 39 features were identified including limestone building foundations, wooden posts and post molds, brick pavement and piers, trenches, spoil pits, a well, a large cistern, 3 water closets, and 2 privies. Hand excavation was conducted on the cistern, privies, and 2 of the water closets.

ExcavationThe hand excavated features each contained a range of artifacts spanning the 19th and 20th centuries. The water closets had primarily modern (i.e. 20th century) artifacts, though one of the features had a zone of late-19th-century artifacts including a free-blown wine bottle. This depositional zone is curious and unexpected because some of the artifacts appear to be older than the feature itself; this suggests that the artifacts were actually redeposited from another feature—a nearby privy, perhaps—and then covered over by more recent trash. The oldest features excavated were the 2 privies and the cistern. The upper portions of the privies contained material from the 1970s—primarily debris from the demolition of the houses; however, continued excavation revealed older and older deposits. Eventually, the lowest zones of each feature produced artifacts dating to the original occupation of the site: late-1860s and 1870s. Artifacts recovered include a complete kaolin tobacco pipe, stoneware cider and beer bottles, hand-painted tableware, patent medicine bottles (e.g., “MRS. WINSLOWS SOOTHING SYRUP”), porcelain dolls, bone toothbrushes, clothing fragments, shoe leather, chamber pots, and food remains (e.g., peach pits and butchered bone).

In contrast to the excavation of the privies, the cistern contained material dating almost exclusively to the early 20th-century. Although the cistern was probably constructed at the same time as the houses on Cass Avenue, it appeared to be in active use—and therefore remained clear of refuse—until sometime after 1900. At this time, it was quickly filled with a combination of building debris and household trash, and sealed. The cistern is relatively large, having an interior diameter of approximately 2.5 m (8 ft. 2 in.), and a depth in excess of 3.2 m (10 ft. 6 in.), and served as a water source for multiple households. Excavation of this feature was accomplished with a combination of mechanical trenching and hand excavation. Because cisterns are designed to retain water, the lower levels of the feature were flooded, creating a potentially hazardous working condition. To ensure the safety of the archaeological field crew, the lowest deposits were removed using a backhoe; the soil was brought to the surface and then hand-sorted in order to recover temporally and functionally significant artifacts. Artifact analysis is currently underway, and a technical report will be made available when completed.

Mullanphy Park artifacts

Artifacts recovered from the Mullanphy Park Site include a decorative kaolin pipe, and fragments of a Franklin proverb plate (“Silks and satins, scarlet and velvets have put out the kitchen fire”).

Board of Education
  1919  Sixty-Fifth Annual Report of the Board of Education of the City of St. Louis, Missouri. Board of Education, St. Louis.

Civic League of St. Louis
  1907  A City Plan for St. Louis. Woodward and Tierman Printing Co., St. Louis.

Missouri State Archives
  1909  The Mayor’s Message with Accompanying Documents to the Municipal Assembly of the City of St. Louis. Buxton and Skinner Printers, St. Louis.


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