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Kate Kolwicz – Field Notebook Entry 6/17/2013

Today was the first opportunity we have had in field school to get really up close and intimate with our basements.  My group will be working in the basement of a building on the 100 block of Main Street.  Our first task was to measure the space with the intention of creating a map that will permanently document the shape, size, architectural, archaeological, and historical features of the space.  We would also love to be able to answer some questions about the history of this space.  When was it built?  What was it used for?   Who owned it, lived in it and worked in it?  

Some archival maps and old city directories have alluded to the space existing originally as a street level storefront built in a ravine in the latter part of the 19th century,however the ravine was possibly filled in as Missoula grew and thus the storefront became a subterranean space.  A 1958 Missoulian article states that this basement was a Chinese restaurant in the 1880’s and this may be a feasible claim as we have found what appears to be Chinese “graffiti” on the walls.  The space also features 3 high wooden shuttered windows with ornate, antique latches as well as a bricked up doorway at the south end of the basement.  As we took measurements today we found several artifacts just lying on the floor (along with a large colony of spiders who were none too pleased at our intrusion into their home!), including bottle caps, pieces of broken light bulbs and paper tickets which read “Atlantic Barbershop”.  

These items may seem mundane but may help us to identify other uses the basement may have had, and the also help us pin down dates of use (as with the type of light bulbs we found).  So it seems that the more we look, the more questions we have about this space.  Perhaps the bottle caps are from an illicit basement speakeasy?  Or perhaps customers were merely enjoying a Coca-Cola while getting their hair cut at the barbershop?  As we move forward I hope to be able to share photos of some of these nifty little pieces of history we have found with you.  These buildings have fascinating stories to tell if you dig deeply enough.

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