An Archeological Survey of Development Projects Within Grand Portage National Monument, Cook County, Minnesota
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Chapter 4

Since the late 1930s, numerous teams of researchers have conducted archeological research intermittently within Grand Portage National Monument. Almost all of the controlled excavations have taken place within and immediately about the trading post to provide data for its reconstruction and interpretation. Considerable survey and testing, however, has been performed throughout the Monument to elicit locational information on associated structures and activity areas. Furthermore, in the last decade several smaller scale investigations have been necessitated by the initiation of various NPS developments.

The Woolworths, in their historical inventory and overview of cultural resources, ably summarize the research efforts carried out at Grand Portage between the years 1936 and 1975 (Woolworth and Woolworth 1982). That work is briefly reviewed in the remainder of this chapter, along with additional information on the archeological research that has taken place in subsequent years.

The first real archeological research performed at Grand Portage began on June 10, 1936, under the direction of Ralph D. Brown. Those Minnesota Historical Society excavations sought to delineate the stockade line of the North West Company depot. Toward that end, the researchers cut a series of exploratory trenches through the depot, intersecting the palisade trenches at several points. This method effectively outlined the depot, enabling near-total excavation of the palisade remains before it was reconstructed. Brown also established a grid system and systematically investigated various areas within the stockade. Numerous structural features were thereby discovered (Woolworth and Woolworth 1982:225-226).

Brown continued work at the Grand Portage depot in 1937, specifically in search of the watch towers and the Great Hall. Not only were those features located and investigated, numerous other structures were partially excavated. Evidence showed that several different building techniques had been used on various structures and that some buildings had been superimposed over the remains of earlier ones (Woolworth and Woolworth 1982:228).

Archeology within Grand Portage National Monument did not resume until the 1960s, when several individuals directed various projects in and around the site of the North West Company depot. In 1961, Eldon Johnson directed a five-week field school for the University of Minnesota east of Grand Portage Creek and north of County Road 17. Forty-eight test units were excavated in that area, and a few more were placed on the south side of the road. James Stoltman excavated a series of exploratory trenches near the northeastern Monument boundary in August of that year, and Alan Woolworth continued work in that same area during September. All of those excavations sought to locate archeological resources for National Park Service management. Most of the remains encountered were identified as dating from the turn of the last century, though some fur trade related materials were also found (Woolworth and Woolworth 1982:230-233).

Woolworth returned in 1962 to explore for remains of the XY Company post east of Grand Portage Creek and south of County Road 17; that area had been designated a possible location for the construction of a visitor center. Trenches and gridded excavations were employed, revealing four historic Ojibway burials and several other important structural features and activity areas. Those significant finds eliminated this area from consideration as a construction site (Woolworth and Woolworth 1982:234-235).

In 1963 and 1964 Woolworth directed larger scale excavations at the depot to provide information that would be used in furthering its reconstruction. In several instances, this simply involved relocating structural remains first observed during the 1937 excavations. Much new information on the structural arrangement of the depot, however, also was gathered, including more precise delineation of the palisade and gate locations (Woolworth and Woolworth 1982:236-239).

A week-long project occurred in late September, 1969, again under the direction of Alan Woolworth. The investigations focused on an area northeast of the reconstructed depot, where new water and sewer lines were to be installed. No significant cultural resources were present, and the development was given clearance. Earlier that year, Jake Hoffman monitored trenching for a new sewer line that was installed after the reconstructed Great Hall was struck by lightning and burned. His observations contributed some interesting new data on the interior of the depot (Woolworth and Woolworth 1982:241-242).

Work inside the palisade was directed by Woolworth in 1970 and 1971. Efforts in those years centered on remains of the Great Hall and a nearby kitchen building. In addition, two drainage trenches were partially investigated, and the date of construction for the central palisade trench was interpreted from excavated evidence (Woolworth and Woolworth 1982:244-249).

Minor exploratory excavations were conducted by Woolworth in 1973 and 1975. In both of those years, investigations sought to inventory any cultural resources that might be present within areas of the Monument scheduled for development. The year 1973 saw efforts west of the newly reconstructed Great Hall, at a service road "Y" northwest of the depot, next to the eastern side of the main parking lot, and north of the depot's main gate. In 1975, work resumed in the area east of Grand Portage Creek and south of County Road 17. Parts of that area had already been examined in 1962. This time, however, the primary purpose was to search for remains of the so-called "Boucher's Little Fort." A fur trade era enclosure was found, but the identity of those remains is still in question. In addition, the foundations of a BIA Indian School were mapped, and several other structure locations were found (Woolworth and Woolworth 1982:250-255).

The past decade has seen relatively little archeological research within the Monument, owing to the fact that few additional structural restorations have been initiated. Accordingly, survey and excavation efforts have been limited almost exclusively to the investigation of areas where other types of development are scheduled to occur, such as the utility line surveys undertaken in the early 1970s.

One such project occurred in the first week of November, 1984. At that time, MWAC Archeologist Susan Monk surveyed several proposed road alignments without discovering any significant cultural resources. However, she also examined parts of the area proposed for construction of a visitor/maintenance facility (the same general area identified as the visitor/administration parcel in 1988). There she recorded a large, turn-of the-century refuse dump, which is apparently the same dump noted during the present survey and discussed in the following chapter. Further investigation was recommended for the dump site (Memorandum on File, MWAC, 11/5/84).

A year later, two other proposed road alignments were surveyed by MWAC personnel. No cultural resources were discovered within either right-of-way, though it was noted that one alignment came extremely close to a cemetery. Since there was a possibility that unmarked graves were present even closer to the right-of-way, it was recommended that the alignment be shifted slightly. Additional survey was performed at the request of Monument staff, including parcels that were then being considered for construction of personnel housing and the visitor/maintenance facility. No cultural resources were found; however, the investigations were rather cursory, owing to time constraints (Memorandum on File, MWAC, 10/ 15/85).

In 1986, Monk returned to Grand Portage for investigations related to the stabilization of eroding creek banks east of the reconstructed depot. In mid-August, she monitored stabilization efforts along Grand Portage Creek, making observations of the stratigraphic profiles and artifact distributions. She also photographed materials that had been collected by Monument staff during earlier stabilization of the Lake Superior shore line in front of the depot (Monk 1986).

In May of 1988, only a few months before the present survey was initiated, Regional Archeologist Mark Lynott surveyed yet another proposed road alignment. Since the road would cross Monument lands administered by the National Park Service, as well as reservation lands administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the survey was a cooperative venture. The 1,000-ft right-of-way passing through the northeastern sector of the Monument lies just north of the land parcel identified as Maintenance Alternate #1 in this report. Three small prehistoric sites were identified, all of which are located on reservation lands east of the Monument boundary (Lynott 1988).

It is also worth noting that a proton magnetometer survey was performed across the site of Fort Charlotte by MWAC personnel in 1978 (Huggins and Weymouth 1979). Another team of archeologists visited that site in 1979 to map historic features previously documented by Dewey Albinson in 1922. That MWAC crew also extended the Fort Charlotte proton magnetometer survey begun in 1978 and conducted a systematic archeological survey north of Snow Creek in conjunction with a proposed primitive campground (Jones 1980). Furthermore, during a 13-year period underwater archeologists representing several institutions recovered numerous fur trade artifacts from the border waters west of Grand Portage (Wheeler et al. 1975).

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Last Updated: 15-Jul-2009