A Rainier Beer bottle. A kitschy ceramic cup and a silver spoon. Thirty-one men's, women's and children's shoes. No one would be shocked to find these things in any Seattle family's basement. But it's a little more surprising to find them packed under 38 feet of dirt downtown.
A Rainier Beer bottle. A kitschy ceramic cup and a silver spoon. Thirty-one men’s, women’s and children’s shoes.
No one would be shocked to find these things in any Seattle family’s basement. But it’s a little more surprising to find them packed under 38 feet of dirt downtown.
A construction crew this week came across these and other historical artifacts, likely from the late 19th century, just east of the Paramount Theatre as they were digging a large pit in preparation for tunneling in Sound Transit’s University Link Light Rail project.
The biggest surprise was the crew’s discovery of a long piece of boardwalk that once ran along the original Pine Street.
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“When we developed the plan for looking at this site, we anticipated we would hit infrastructure, but we thought it would be in pieces,” said Paula Johnson, an archaeologist with Paragon Research Associates who was at the construction site when the artifacts were unearthed. “But it’s in such good shape — we never thought we’d find a whole 33-foot stretch still intact.”
The boardwalk is so well-preserved that the Museum of History & Industry and Sound Transit will each take sections for exhibits.
Most of the other artifacts — the Rainier bottle, the assorted leather shoes, dining room chairs and bits of German and Hebrew newspapers — will be displayed at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.
Johnson said almost all the artifacts look to be from the 1880s based on appearance, and her early guess is that they were all from one residential basement. In the late 19th century, she said, city maps show the area was made up mostly of houses with outbuildings, such as chicken coops or storage sheds, on large parcels of land.
It was all buried, Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray said, sometime between 1905 and 1910 during the Denny Regrade project. Before the turn of the century, the city’s South Lake Union neighborhood was a steep hill above downtown, not very conducive to city expansion. Over the course of many years, crews dug away the hill by and piled the earth elsewhere.
The area at Ninth Avenue and Pine Street, where modern-day crews came across these 130-year-old items, was just one of the places where structures were demolished and covered over in earth.
Burke Museum archaeology curator Peter Lape said he’s pleased to see “they’re taking care of this stuff well” and is excited to have the items on exhibit.
“We don’t have a lot of stuff from the Denny Regrade,” he said. “One of the things about Seattle is that not much has been done about its history archaeologically. So much of that area has just been bulldozed, and historical stuff just goes in the Dumpster.”
Seattleites know little about the past two centuries of the city’s existence even though so much of it is just beneath their feet, Lape said. Current construction projects have unearthed some of that history. Last spring, archaeologists discovered parts of a late-19th-century neighborhood by the water as part of the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project, he said.
“There were squatter settlements and brothels and opium houses and all kinds of crazy stuff, and all of it is just sitting in the mud, 10 feet underground,” Lape said.
Jill Kimball: 206-464-2108 or firstname.lastname@example.org