July/August 2009 issue

Eagleton Courthouse Artifacts Display

by Joan Voelker, Archives Librarian

In 1994 contractors conducting excavations for the foundation of the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse uncovered backyard cisterns, wells, and latrines dating to the 19th century which had been filled in with old pottery and glass bits, dirt, and other household debris. An archaeological survey was performed, and the artifacts recovered provide a glimpse into a historical microcosm of one block in the city of St. Louis during the mid to late 1800s.

Dinnerware used during the period, as well as a large number of food, medicine, and beverage bottles were unearthed at the site. A .32 caliber vest derringer from the 1840s, a brooch decorated with a painting of a young lady, an inkwell, a clay pipe stem, an oil lamp with chimney, and a porcelain doll's leg were also among the items recovered.

The block was populated by a mixture of rich and poor, with the rich living in large single-family homes on the street and the poor living in tenement buildings along the alleys. Among the more notable residents were a steamboat agent, who was also a U.S. Marshal and slave owner, and Captain Peter Blow, a relative of Taylor Blow, the man who signed the emancipation papers for Dred Scott.

For more on the history of Block 205, as it was known in the mid-19th century, stop by the first floor jury assembly room to see a selection of the artifacts and read its story.