Monday, June 12, 2006

Downtown dig reveals Tucson of 1880-1915

[Source: Garry Duffy, Tucson Citizen] -- Tucson's past is being unearthed downtown as a prelude to the city's future. Two archaeological digs offer slices of life in the Old Pueblo, circa 1880 to 1915, adding to the relatively skimpy knowledge available about commercial establishments from territorial days up to and through statehood in 1912. While we can expect more digging as redevelopment progresses, archaeological work won't necessarily uncover everything downtown. That's because such work, required when federal dollars are involved, is not required when projects are done with purely private funds. That makes the current digs more significant, archaeologists say. "This was a block that had saloons and restaurants, an opera house and billiard halls," said Homer Thiel, dig project manager for Desert Archaeology, the private firm gathering data from the site, which is just north of the Martin Luther King Jr. apartments and just east of the Ronstadt Transit Center downtown. "People would get off the train across the street and come here" for food, drink, entertainment and a place to sleep, he said.

The location is directly south of the Historic Train Depot on Toole Avenue, a site being prepped for a major new mixed-use development for Depot Plaza, which is to be a cornerstone of the city's ambitious Rio Nuevo downtown rejuvenation. The new development will house residential, retail, restaurant and other commercial enterprises, an upscale version of the small commercial node that Thiel and his team of archaeologists have probed for the past three weeks and will continue to study for 2 1/2 weeks. What they are finding offers insight into the daily lives of merchants and customers of the businesses at the dig site: bottles; pottery, both intact and in pieces; a corroded ax head - odd bits and pieces that were parts of people's lives. Excavation pits dot the site, unearthing old foundations, even the remnants of an old orchard, that researchers believe will tell them about the nature of the buildings and architecture of that period. "We're hoping to find samples of materials from the restaurants and saloons and other buildings that were here," Thiel said.

[Note: To read the full article, click here. Photo source: Norma Jean Gargasz, Tucson Citizen]