Excavations at Agate Bay’s Whiskey Row

One of the largest archaeological excavations taking place in Minnesota this past summer was at Whiskey Row on the north side of Agate Bay.  This has been a multi-year project done in advance of the proposed construction of a Safe Harbor and Marina in Two Harbors.  Agate Bay was the precursor settlement to Two Harbors with a notorious district known as Whiskey Row.  Whiskey Row was reported to have consisted of 22 saloons, several hotels, and a smattering of other businesses at its peak in 1883.  In the late 1880s the area was abandoned, leveled and capped to become a coal storage facility.  The wood, then concrete cap has served to protect the remains of this early community from later disturbance creating a time capsule. 

This has been an ongoing project.  In 2005 small sections of the concrete slab were removed to test for the presence of intact deposits.    2006 saw the removal of the entire concrete slab with heavy equipment using methods that limited disturbance to the archaeological deposits.  In 2007 there were some surface collections done on the newly exposed surface and a few test excavations at locations identified as places of interest by the remote sensing resistance survey completed in June of that year.  2008 saw little additional excavation and in late 2009 excavation began in earnest until stopped by winter weather.   This year a crew of 10 archaeologists spent the entire summer working at the site.  (Lakes Country News Chronicle) 

A very clayey soil and lots of rain have been hindrances throughout the project.  Analysis of the artifacts excavated in the last couple of years hasn’t started yet, but analysis of the material from earlier excavations at the site is complete.  In 2007 whiskey and other alcohol bottle fragments were the most abundant artifact class.  Leather boots and shoe parts as well as ceramics, clay pipe fragments, stemmed cordial glass fragments, wooden clothespins, and a penny dated 1858 were also recovered from the earlier excavations.   As with most excavations the goal is to shed some light on the real past.  Local tradition holds that all of Whiskey Row was burnt to the ground in 1885.  Excavations have yet to uncover a burn layer or any evidence of a fire……

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *