© Pioneer Press: Richard MarshallArchaeologist technician John Terrell of St. Paul Park sifts through pebbles on his screen at a dig on the site of a 19th century saloon and cigar factory in Hastings on Monday, Aug. 15, 2011.
A crew dug in the dirt near the site of the new U.S. 61 Bridge in Hastings this week - and they weren't construction workers.

With the High Bridge and City Hall as backdrops, a team of archaeologists and their assistants huddled around a shallow trench off U.S. 61/Vermillion Street, analyzing and sifting through soil for historical artifacts.

The excavation by Two Pines Resource Group began Aug. 7, shortly after a bridge crew tore up a frontage road between Second and Third streets and uncovered pieces of Hastings' buried past.

The 10-day dig, required because federal money is being used for the new bridge, focused around mid-1870s limestone footings from a Third Street saloon and a separate grocery store that fronted Vermillion Street. The work wrapped up Tuesday.

Not surprisingly, said Michelle Terrell, co-owner of Two Pines, the crew unearthed lots of saloon artifacts - pieces of clay smoking pipes, mineral-water bottle fragments and stemware fragments from serving glasses - as well as stoneware crockery and animal bones presumably from the grocery store and an adjacent meat market.

"It's kind of a fluke of history that when these buildings were taken down, the road protected them," said Terrell, who wore a baseball hat that read, "Play in the dirt."

The excavation, which could be seen from an adjacent city sidewalk, drew in residents Harry Brunell and Arlin Albertson on Tuesday afternoon. Watching the archaeologists dig and scrape with trowels, Brunell pointed out a stoneware bottle that protruded from the dirt.

"I think this is fascinating," said Brunell, who lives downtown. "I've seen something like this on TV, but it's been in Egypt or somewhere."

Guns and Alcohol

The dig was the second of its kind in Hastings in as many years for Two Pines, a small business based in Franconia Township.

In 2008, in advance of bridge work, Two Pines discovered foundations and relics from the former St. John's Hotel and a neighboring saloon - both built in the 1860s - that were buried under a gravel parking lot at the northwest corner of Vermillion and Second streets.

Both buildings were casualties of the city's historic December 1899 fire that started in a nearby sawmill and destroyed several businesses on and around Vermillion Street.

"We found this big demolition layer and ash from the fire," Terrell said of the dig, which took place last summer. "And, of course, we found lots of different types of glass bottles and plates that were being served in the hotel and the saloon."

The more unique, personal items they unearthed within the fire debris include a porcelain cat figurine and a lead elk medallion.

Then there was the slice of saloon life that still makes Terrell smile. Apparently, she said, bars of that period had shooting galleries where a reveler could take target practice.

"In one area, we found a collection of .22-caliber shells," she said. "And then we found the lead target that has the .22-caliber punctures in it on the other side of the saloon. Mixing guns and alcohol is never good."

Many Delays

The bridge project has encountered one delay after another in its first full year.

This week, the Minnesota Department of Transportation said the combination of the 20-day state government shutdown and the sustained high water of the Mississippi River could delay completion of the new bridge by as much as a year.

The archaeological dig caused a two-week delay of utility work on the frontage road between Second and Third streets.

But things appear to be looking up, MnDOT spokesman J.P. Gillach said.

On Thursday, it was determined the water level had dropped enough to get workers in the deeper part of the river for the first time. A crew will begin dredging for a pier today.

And now that the dig is done, utility work can begin on the frontage road, which will become an east ramp for the new bridge. That work also could begin as early as today.

"Within the scope of this huge project and the overall delay, the effect of the dig was minimal," Gillach said. "But even small delays can add up. And that's really sort of how things have been going."

Gillach said it's not yet clear how the new timetable will affect the bridge's original $120 million projected cost.

Two Pines co-owner Eva Terrell said the team worked as fast as it could during the dig "so we didn't hold things up." The team worked at least 10 hours for each of 10 straight days.

"This was very fast," said Eva Terrell, who is not related to Michelle Terrell. "We don't often do it quite this fast."

A Taste For Milwaukee Beer

Part of historical archaeology involves a lot of research, Michelle Terrell said.

"We try to get the whole picture," she said.

She learned through a series of maps that William Henkel built the Third Street saloon in 1874. Nels Olson took it over eight years later.

But it certainly wasn't the only saloon in Hastings. The town supported 52 of them in 1882, according to a Waseca Herald newspaper clipping Michelle Terrell stashed in a folder with other old documents.

"Hastings is said to have five cemeteries that are doing their best to keep up with the 52 saloons in that town," the newspaper proclaimed.

An ad for Olson's saloon showed that he kept only Milwaukee lager beer, which to Michelle Terrell "means he was importing beer by railroad and catering to the Germans who had a taste for Milwaukee beer."

During the dig, archaeologists found a glassware fragment they believe to be from Phillip Best Brewing Co. of Milwaukee, the precursor to Pabst. They also uncovered a die from a dice game and a domino both made of bone, and "that speaks to the gaming that was probably going on in the saloon," she said.

Archaeologists will spend the next six months cleaning, identifying and sorting the artifacts, which fill about 18 file boxes, before handing them over to the Minnesota Historical Society. They will also prepare a final report of both digs.

By the late 1890s, the saloon was converted into a cigar factory and later a house and then an office building. It was demolished about 1950 to make room for the High Bridge.

Eva Terrell said the dig was all about uncovering the "life ways" of Hastings.

"It's like holding little pieces of people's lives," she said. "It's the marble that the kids were playing with, and you say, 'Oh, they lost a marble.'...While we all think we have a lot of the history, we don't have it all. And something like this is the only way we can find it."