Monday, November 1, 2010

Archeology from a safe distance

Demolition work, Sid Peterson Memorial
Hospital, Kerrville, October 2010
I admit it: I spent some time this week watching the heavy equipment working at the Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital demolition project.
It wasn't just a Y-chromosome thing, either, though the big shovels and scoops do remind me of smaller versions I had as toys many years ago. (Mine were made by Tonka.)
The crew was digging a hole at the corner of Water and Sidney Baker streets, and piling dirt several stories high nearby. It was this pile of dirt that fascinated me.
I wondered what might be hiding in that pile.
The corner of Sidney Baker and Water Streets has seen many things in our community: before the hospital stood there, the site was home to a small restaurant, The Nook. And before that, the storied Saint Charles Hotel. Dr. G. R. Parsons also operated a hotel there, and his hotel building housed post office for a while. During the Civil War there was a school on the site, housed in a frame building.
That corner has been continuously occupied since around the Civil War, mostly by very public buildings (hotels, a post office, a school, a cafe, a hospital).
Surely some of the people doing business there dropped something from their pockets, which fell on the lawn, which, over time became buried under layers of fill.
Who knows how many old things are mingled in that huge pile of dirt now towering near Sidney Baker Street?
Coins and toys, keys and pottery, real Indian arrowheads, and the locket a schoolgirl lost in 1863. Merchant trading coins. A pocket knife, with two blades. An eyeglass case with the initials "CS" in gold letters on the front. Square nails. A fossilized doll. A wedding ring.
It was silly, of course, to think I could see anything from where I watched. I was across the street, at the old parking building, closely inspecting each bucket load as it was brought to the surface.
I noted the different layers the bucket revealed in the wall of the hole -- the dark layers at top above the red chalky layer below. Some of the layers had not seen sunlight for a very long time.
And I'm sure some of the layers were prepared as recently as 1949 when the hospital was built, when the work was done to prepare for the foundation of that building.
But surely some of what I saw excavated that day was pre-1949. It was, at least, in my imagination. I found all sorts of things in that pile of dirt, even at such a great distance. Treasures to no one but me, of course, things so corroded and useless they were better buried. Treasures of Kerrville's past, rarities for my collection.
Then, well before I was ready, my lunch hour was over, and I crossed the street and went back to work.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who spotted for the first time this season a flannel-breasted blanket snatcher, earlier than expected. This column was originally published in the Kerrville Daily Times October 30, 2010

1 comment:

  1. Garrison Kealer, would be jealous of you but then again I'd be arrested by KPD for sneaking down there with a metal detector when I thought nobody would notice.


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