Hotel Indigo Excavation Update: Rail Lines and Walls

September 2015 archaeological discoveries at 220 S. Union Street relate to the 19th century Bryant Fertilizer Warehouse and other 19th-century warehouses, rail lines, and fires.

Page archived as of March 11, 2019

Note: The information on this page reflects the state of knowledge when this update was written. Information may have changed. 

Rail Lines and Walls

September 2015

The Bryant Fertilizer Factory caught on fire and burned down in 1897.  We see evidence of this catastrophic fire across the entire site in the form of this upper dark black burn layer in the wall of an archaeologically excavated trench.  This stratigraphic layer acts as a boundary that we know dates to 1897; therefore, everything below this layer must date to before the fire and everything above the layer must date to after it.  In addition to the 1897 fire, two other fires burned down buildings on this lot, one in 1810 and the other in 1854.  The lower dark black burn layer may represent one of these other two fires.  As archaeologists, each of the layers here tells us something about a specific time period on this lot.  Some, like the upper layer of broken brick and mortar, are related to the destruction of structures in the mid-20th century.  Others, like the brown layer separating the two dark black burn layers may represent layers of accumulation and fill as activities take place through time.  

Rail linesRail Lines

We first see these rails on the 1902 Sanborn Fire Insurance Company Map.  They leave the main rail line, which ran down Union Street beginning in 1851, and enter the Bryant Fertilizer building in its southwest corner; this configuration remains unchanged on the 1907 Sanborn  map.  They do not appear in the 1896 edition of the Sanborn map and some time before the publication of the 1912 edition, these rails disappear—giving us a fairly tight date range for this feature.  By 1912, instead of loading rail cars inside the factory, it appears that the Bryant Fertilizer Company built a platform along the west side of their factory into S. Union Street to load rail cars directly on the main line.  The cement footers seen running on top of the rails here are built directly on top of this spur line and would have supported the weight needed for loading onto railcars from the platform.                     

Brick FeatureBrick Feature

This brick feature was one of the first encountered during the excavations at 220 S. Union Street.  It is underneath the upper burn layer, which means it is older than, or pre-dates the fire of 1897. Because this burn layer rests directly on top of the brick feature, it was probably in use in the factory at that time. It runs north/south—parallel to S. Union Street—several feet inside what would have been the Bryant Fertilizer Factory. 

It was first uncovered in an archaeological trench, which was subsequently expanded through further excavation to expose the entire intact surface.  The brick feature is three-courses thick, providing a fairly robust surface for the industrial activities of the factory.  Documentation suggests that at one point this portion of the factory is being used for mixing and the unusual stepped-shape of the edge of the feature and the stratigraphic profile of the burn layer here suggests there may have been a pit or vat for mixing fertilizer before loading it onto rail cars.  A fourth course of brick on the top of this feature may indicate structural support for either the factory building or for heavy machinery used in the manufacture of fertilizer.  Likewise, a small hole extends through the brick floor and may have been an anchor point for the machinery.   

Cinder BlockCinder-block Wall

This relatively modern cinder-block wall is sitting on top of a brick footer.  By 1959, a warehouse had replaced the Fertilizer factory on this lot, of which this wall is probably a part.  While the base of the wall is under approximately a foot of fill, the cinder block wall extends up through the surface of this fill.  This warehouse stood until the current construction began at 220 S. Union Street.                 

Concrete SlabConcrete Slabs

Under some of the mid-20th century fill on the site are these concrete slabs and/or foundations.   These are similar to the concrete footers resting on top of the rails along S. Union Street and probably also date to the early 20th century activities of the Bryant Fertilizer Factory.  As this fill comes off, much more of this concrete slab becomes apparent.