A six-week-long archaeological excavation recently concluded in downtown Hastings near the Highway 61 bridge.
The site was once home to the St. John’s hotel and a neighboring saloon. Both were destroyed by one of the largest fires in Hastings history, the Christmas fire of 1899.
Crews from Two Pines Resource Group found evidence of the fire, uncovering brick rubble and burned wood and ash. The hotel was rebuilt and stood on the site until 1983. Many artifacts from the site’s time as a hotel were uncovered, including broken fragments of bottles, dishes and glassware. Crews also found old coffee beans, fish bones, animal bones and egg shell fragments.
Two Pines also found a number of interesting personal artifacts, ranging from a small China cat, marbles, tobacco pipes, combs and buttons at the site.
“The overall integrity of the site was just so good,” said Michelle Terrell of Two Pines. “A lot of times, people think that, especially in a rural area like Hastings, how can things survive as well, and as long, as they do?”
Crews were at the site from May 17 to June 30. They are now busy cleaning and identifying the thousands of artifacts collected.
A complete report detailing the findings will be finished next year. A local display of some of the artifacts from the project is planned.
“There was just so much interest from the community (while crews were at the site),” Terrell said. “We’d like to do something local so everyone can see the artifacts. I think you’ll be able to see some interesting things.”
It will take a few months for the team to complete its work, so any such exhibit is a ways off yet.
“We’re still working our way through the analysis,” Terrell said.
One member of the Two Pines team is combing through the various bones that were found so as to determine what animal they came from. That will help archaeologists determine what sorts of resources were being used to feed guests at the hotel and patrons of the saloon. Thus far, the obvious bones were found, including those from cows, pigs and chickens. There were bones from fish, deer and ducks.
Two Pines conducted a preliminary archaeology dig in 2008 to see what lay below the surface. They found the foundation of the hotel building and a few artifacts. That led federal, state and local agencies to agree the remains were historically significant and should undergo further archaeological investigation prior to construction of the new bridge.