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Central Plains Archeology


Volume 3, Number 1 (1993): 250 pages, reprinted 2005

The Archaeology of the Lincoln Pottery Works
by Christopher Schoen and Peter Bleed

During the summer of 1986 and early spring of 1987 the University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Department of Anthropology conducted major archaeological excavations at the site of the former Lincoln Pottery Works (25LC42). The company made domestic crockery on the western edge of Lincoln, Nebraska, from 1880 until sometime after 1902.

Excavations at the Lincoln Pottery Works (LPW) were undertaken because the site was in the direct path of the "K and L Street Connector," now called "Capital Parkway West," a major new highway on Lincoln's west side. To mitigate the impending destruction, the Lincoln-Lancaster Railroad Transportation and Safety District, with cooperative assistance from the Nebraska State Historical Society, contracted with the University to investigate the site. This report describes the work done at the site and the materials and information that resulted.

The LPW project presented an unusual research opportunity. Since industrial sites like the LPW have only recently attracted the attention of American archaeologists, techniques for their investigation are not well established. There is also no well-defined research agenda for them. Industrial sites have never been studied in Nebraska, although Rapp and Beranek (1984) have called attention to their importance and have begun to inventory them. Thus, in investigating the LPW, we lacked the benefit of previous historical or archaeological research into the role and technology of the first generation of industry that moved into the Great Plains region. In a real sense, then, excavations at the LPW site were exploratory.

Four specific research areas were proposed to guide investigations at the site. First, it was hoped that excavations would reveal information on the history of the firm in order to show how the company and its products changed through time. Second, since nothing was known about the appearance or construction of the LPW buildings, plans were made to identify how they were built. Third, in order to compare the LPW with other 19th century pottery companies, the description of kilns and other industrial facilities was a special focus of the research. Finally, we hoped to use the excavated materials to reconstruct the inventory of products made by the LPW.

Beyond these explicit research goals, excavations at the LPW site yielded many unexpected results. Most notably, we were surprised by the wealth of archaeological materials and features left behind by the people who lived on the site after the LPW was demolished. Between 1906 and 1986 the site was in the backyard of several private residences in Lincoln's "South Bottoms" neighborhood (Figure 1). Since the early 1900s, the South Bottoms area was overwhelmingly occupied by German immigrants from the Volga region of Russia (see Williams and Stroh 1916; Sawyers 1986). We termed this later residential material the "German-Russian" component of the site.

For two reasons, we have not emphasized the post-LPW assemblage in this report. First, the focus of this report is the pottery-making operation. The later materials from the site are not directly pertinent to that topic. Second, although the later component of the LPW site is an interesting and virtually unique archaeological sample, it is so thoroughly mixed with residues of the LPW that it is not an ideal archaeological reflection of Lincoln's German-Russian neighborhoods. Archaeologists interested in German-Russian material culture would do better to collect materials from some other part of the South Russian Bottoms neighborhood.

This report presents the results of our research in a way that emphasizes the operation of the LPW. The rest of this chapter describes the history, schedule, and operation of the LPW Project. Chapter 2 draws historical sources together to describe the social and technological contexts of the LPW along with what is known about its founding, operation, and closing.

Chapter 3 describes the archaeology and architecture of the site. It presents the excavation methods used and describes the stratigraphy and features which were discovered. Features are linked together in functionally related groups which reflect structures and other portions of the pottery-making operation.

The operation of the LPW is the focus of Chapter 4, which describes the tools and facilities used by the LPW workers to make their wares. It also describes the litter and residues that resulted from their work.

Chapter 5, the largest part of the report, describes the huge ceramic collection which was recovered from the site. The goal of this chapter is to both describe the archaeological assemblage and to reconstruct the production of the LPW. This chapter starts with a description of the analytical methods applied to the LPW ceramic collection. The stoneware and terra-cotta goods produced at the LPW are described.

Chapter 6 draws together the diverse information available on the LPW into a concluding statement. This chapter gives us a chance to record both our summary judgments about the LPW and to lay out issues that might be addressed in future research on potteries and other late industrial sites like the LPW.



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