Most people would never guess that Juneau Park, located along Lake Michigan in downtown Milwaukee, was once home to some of Milwaukee’s founding citizens. While the former homes are no longer standing, over the past four seasons, Discovery World’s staff archaeologist and director of the Distant Mirror archaeology program, Kevin Cullen, has led an archaeological survey in the park to document and excavate the remains of these 19th century affluent residences.
Known as the “Lost Neighborhood” site, this elegant lakefront green space is slowly revealing its buried secrets through hands-on archaeological research and cutting-edge technology. This years participants in the Lost Neighborhood survey included Milwaukee Area Technical College civil engineering instructor David Langhoff, two of his students, eight Bay View High School students who are part of a semester-long program with Discovery World called “The Art & Archaeology of Me”, several Milwaukee-area residents, a re-enactor and scholar (Rob Nurre) of the 19th century scientist Increase Lapham, as well as members of the Juneau Park Friends.
This years survey focused in former block 106, located in the north third of Juneau Park. We began work in this section of the park last year, yet, because of the potential for intact buried features it was decided to refocus our attention this season in this area. The survey began on a sunny Friday, May 20th, with the establishment of the former lot boundaries inside the park, from which we could then determine the location of the former houses inside these lots. Once these former lots were reestablished, three archaeological survey grids were overlaid inside these lots corresponding to the hypothesized house locations. The intention for these grids were for the use of ground penetrating radar (GPR) to map the buried remains inside these grids using Discovery Worlds’ Noggin 500 smart cart.
Saturday May 21st began as an overcast Spring morning with the threat of sustained rain. Despite a subsequent soaking rain, we forged on and began collecting GPR data, soil coring, test excavations, as well as GPS and compass mapping. Our first test excavation was placed on the western edge of former lot 20 in block 106. Deed research revealed that this property was first purchased by Charles Church from James Kneeland in the 1860s, but it wasn’t until the early 1870s that Timothy and Mary Dore built a two story brick veneered house and a two story brick veneered carriage house in the rear of the property. In December of 1876 the Dore’s sold the property to Hugh L. and Margret Johnston for $16,000. The family owned the property until 1926 when the City purchased it for $68,000 in order to demolish it for the expansion of Juneau Park.
As we began excavating a 50 cm X 50 cm shovel test above the former carriage house / garden shed, we began finding 19th century ceramics, brick fragments, etc. in the first 20 centimeters below the surface. Below this we encountered a strata of clay between 20-60 cm below the ground surface. Then all of a sudden we hit a layer of earthenware flower pots, square nails and brick fragments. This pottery “midden” persisted for another 25+ cm until we hit a limestone base at 85 cm below the surface, which then filled with water. This halted our excavation, but in all we had uncovered a surprisingly immense amount of late 19th-early 20th century artifacts. Several of the flower pots were still intact, some of which were nested inside one another. In all we recovered about 18 earthenware flowerpots, some with visible finger prints of the potter on the exterior! This was a very exciting find for the students and everyone involved.
We completed our survey on Sunday May 22nd with another interesting discovery. In another shovel test excavation, we discovered an unassuming prehistoric artifact. It was a chipped-stone “flake” that is the result of manufacturing a stone tool, likely a spear or arrow point. While we cannot date this flake accurately, we do know it was made prior to European’s arrival in this area. Soon we had completed our GPR survey and test excavations, packed up the site and headed back to Discovery World to process the GP data. The image below is the resulting GPR map of the grid we collected over the pottery midden feature in former lot 20. The middle depth slice clearly shows the presence of several dense concentrations of artifacts, likely more pottery and construction material.
Overall, everyone was very surprised with what we found and all deserve credit for contributing to the discovery of the Lost Neighborhood of Juneau Park. After all, communities that document and protect their own cultural histories are more conscientious about the importance of preserving the past, which results in a greater appreciation for one’s own sense of place in time and space, particularly in the ever-changing human-built environment. A final report on the past four seasons of survey will be available following laboratory analysis of the artifacts and GPR data obtained this season.