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Archaeological Dig Nets Artifacts from Great St. Louis Fire of 1849

June 08, 2011

Dig site of Great St. Louis Fire of 1849  
Archaeology students and staff from St. Louis Community College conducted a month-long
dig at the site of the Great St. Louis Fire of 1849 on North First Street on Laclede's Landing. Pictured, from left, are Maxine Ward, Mike Fuller, professor of anthropology at STLCC-Meramec, Gavin Bennett and J.J. Forry.

A curious landowner has prodded a St. Louis Community College anthropology professor for about 10 years to excavate near the site of an historic fire that consumed about four blocks of the riverfront in 1949.

The landowner, Jerome Glick, and the professor, Michael Fuller, share a curiosity about unearthing treasures of the past as both are members of the Archaeological Institute of America. The two hoped that Glick’s property, near Lucas and First streets on Laclede’s Landing, would yield artifacts from the Indians who lived near the burial mounds north of where the Gateway Arch is located.

So Fuller summoned students from his field archaeological methods class at Meramec and volunteers to the Landing for a month of painstakingly careful digging at this site of an original brick-and-stone building.  While no Indian relics were found, Fuller and his students did find broken bits of the history from the Great St. Louis Fire of 1949.

Laclede brick  
This brick, stamped "Laclede St. Louis," was found in the
fill debris.

“In the excavation, we found probably close to 1,000 artifacts, the most common being rusted square nails,” Fuller said. “But the most diagnostic artifacts were the some of the glass artifacts and some of the ceramic artifacts that came up from the excavation. If I had to pick my favorite, it’s a little small piece of white clay pipe, a style of tobacco pipe from the early 1700s. It could have been traded to the Indians, but more likely used by one of the first French fur trappers or traders who were settling in this area.”

Charred remnants from the fire, Fuller said, were used a fill the basement. The group also found animal bones.

“Lots and lots of animal bones, lots and lots of steaks, and pork chops and ribs, some chickens, and even quite a few examples of oyster shells,” he said. “St. Louisans in the 19th century dined well in this part of Laclede’s Landing.”

While disappointed that no Indian artifacts were found, Fuller said the fieldwork is invaluable to his students.

“This is archaeological work done by St. Louis Community College to understand the history of St. Louis, but also to train student archaeologists,” Fuller said. “Everyone who has been out here, including me, is working because they love archaeology and they want to have it as part of their career.”

More video from this project: