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The 2014 And 2015 Archeological Surveys And 2018 Testing Of The Arsenal Block For The Elysian Viaduct Bridge Replacement Project In Houston, Harris County, Texas
Texas Historical Commission
This report documents the results of three separate but related projects—two cultural resources surveys and testing at one historic site. All three project areas are within the Elysian Viaduct project corridor just northeast of downtown Houston, Harris County, Texas. The work was undertaken as part of the Elysian Viaduct Bridge Replacement Project sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation, and Prewitt and Associates, Inc., conducted these archeological field investigations in 2014, 2015, and 2018. The Texas Historical Commission authorized these investigations under Texas Antiquities Permit Nos. 6985, 7329, and 7637.
The 2014 survey included six Gradall trenches within a 1,066-ft-long section of the project corridor extending from the north edge of Buffalo Bayou to Nance Street. This trenching was limited to a depth of 5 ft, and only artificial fill deposits were observed. Historic incinerated trash deposits and other observed historic fill materials and artifacts represent an urban dump that was recorded as 41HR1157. This site could not be fully evaluated in 2014 because the subsurface trenching did not extend deep enough.
The 2015 survey covered the portion of the corridor from Commerce Street on the south to Nance Street on the north. This 3,300-ft-long section of roadway was investigated by excavating 27 backhoe and trackhoe trenches. Fifteen of the trenches were in the Frost Town site, 41HR982. Twenty-four historic cultural features were discovered, and hundreds of artifacts were recovered. These findings are briefly discussed in this report, but the details of this investigation will be presented in a future report on the Frost Town data recovery effort.
Seven deep trenches excavated in 2015 were north of the bayou within urban dump site 41HR1157, and six of these were in the same locations as shallow trenches dug in 2014. In the northern end of this site, these trenches revealed deeper and more-extensive incinerated trash fill deposits and exposed the western edge of a former gully that was used as a city dump. Trenches in the southern half of this area revealed extensive artificial fill representing many different dump episodes of excavated sediments and structural debris from nearby urban development projects. In the southern end of the survey area, two trenches encountered the disturbed historic surface associated with the Bayou City Cotton Compress, and a number of railroad-related artifacts were found. In addition, a large in situ concrete block in one trench is probably associated with a concrete plant dating from the 1950s to the 1980s.
Five other trenches excavated during the 2015 survey were in two different city blocks, resulting in the documentation of two historic sites corresponding to these blocks. Two trenches were dug in the Arsenal Block, and the entire block was recorded as 41HR1167. This was the location of the Republic of Texas Armory from 1837 to 1840, and a deep ravine across this block was known historically as the Arsenal Block gully and was used as an urban dump. The trenches in the area revealed disturbed secondary deposits with a substantial amount of twentiethcentury residential artifacts in one trench. This trenching did not extend deep enough to get to the bottom of the gully, and plans were made to conduct additional trenching on a lower erosional bench near the bayou to look for deeper and earlier trash deposits.
Three trenches were excavated in the triangular Peter Floeck tract, all of which was recorded as 41HR1166. This was the location of Peter Floeck residence and Floeck’s Brewery ca. 1859–1867. These trenches revealed thick layers of artificial fill and extensively disturbed remains. Historic residential artifacts and redeposited remnants of brick structures were encountered in some places, and part of one trench was dominated by a disturbance within an area of hydrocarbon-saturated clay soils. The disturbance is a large excavated pit that was lined with plastic and then filled with clean sand. It cuts through the contaminated clay layer and probably represents an attempt to remove contaminated soils. The contaminated soils are associated with a historic gasometer structure (a tank for storing manufactured gas for street lighting) at this location.
The third investigation described in this report was in the summer of 2018 when additional trenching was conducted at the Arsenal Block site. This work involved a series of 10 deep trenches in a continuous north-south line on a lower bench close to Buffalo Bayou. The 2018 trenches started some 12–16 ft lower than the 2015 trenches and were excavated another 9–16 ft deeper into the deposits inside the old Arsenal Block gully. The findings in these trenches were radically different that what was observed in 2015. The 2018 trenches revealed extensive deposits dominated by coal ash and hydrocarbon-saturated soils. Archival research indicates that these are waste materials generated in a coal-fired gas manufacturing plant or a coal-fired electrical generating plant in the immediate vicinity of the Arsenal Block.
Of the four sites examined during the 2014, 2015, and 2018 investigations, only the Frost Town site, 41HR982, is considered eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places and designation as a State Antiquities Landmark. This assessment was made and agreed upon by Prewitt and Associates, Inc., the Texas Department of Transportation, and the Texas Historical Commission based on the results of the original 2004 survey. This assessment was reconfirmed after the 2015 survey, and planning for an intensive archeological data recovery effort at the Frost Town site had already begun. Based on the results of the 2014, 2015, and 2018 investigations, the extensively disturbed and secondary dump deposits at the other three sites have no research value beyond what has been gleaned from the site recording and archival research presented here. Consequently, it is recommended that the portions of 41HR1157, 41HR1166, and 41HR1167 that are within the Elysian Viaduct project corridor are not eligible for National Register listing and State Antiquities Landmark designation. This assessment does not apply to parts of these sites outside the Elysian Viaduct corridor.
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