Merrie Way: An Archeology Case Study

historic photo of amusement park by Pacific Ocean
Sutro Pleasure Grounds, circa 1896



In the late 19th century, Adolph Sutro establshed an amusement park called the Sutro Pleasure Grounds, located at Merrie Way at Lands End. Between 2004 and 2011 archaeologists working with the National Park Service surveyed and excavated the Merrie Way. Their aim was to learn more about the history of the site, about the people who visited and worked there, and about the material remains they left behind.


“Archaeology” and “Historical Archaeology”

The discipline of archaeology can be broken down in to different sub-disciplines.

Archaeology is the study of the past as it is revealed in material objects. Archaeologists survey and excavate places where people have lived in order to better understand their history, customs, and culture.

Historical archaeology is the study of sites that were occupied in historic times, that is, since the use of writing. For this reason historical archaeologists are able to rely not only on artifacts in order to interpret the past, but also on written records. They conduct surveys and excavations at sites, but they also read maps, newspaper articles, books, and other documents- anything that will give them information about the people and places they study.

The archaeological work done at Merrie Way was historical archaeology. Archaeologists working with the National Park Service began their study of Sutro’s amusement park by looking at the written record. They analysed historic maps to identify the park’s historic location. They read historic studies and biographies of people associated with the site. They gathered historic photos and even video footage from old films shot in the area. Archaeologists used these and countless other documents to build as complete a picture of Merrie Way as possible, before they even picked up a shovel.

workers leaning over open archeological pit using tools and brushes
Volunteers working at the Merrie Way archeological dig

courtesy of Tim Spillane


Learn From the Merrie Way Work

The National Park Service invites you to follow the trail of archaeologists digging at Merrie Way and to get a firsthand look at the discoveries they made. Visit the following links to learn more about the history of Sutro’s amusement park and discover what pieces of history were unearthed at Merrie Way.

Brief History of Sutro Pleasure Grounds

The Rides at Merrie Way

The Stands at Merrie

Methods used at the Merrie Way excavation

Artifacts found at Merrie Way

Archeology Feature Findings

Interpreting Merrie Way: Learning from the artifacts

Archeological Stewardship Program: The Role of the Volunteers

Other archeology projects at Golden Gate National Recreation Area


To learn more about the History of Merrie Way, please download and read "The Merrie Way & The Lands End Street Railway Abbreviated Cultural Landscape Report”.

To learn more about the history of Lands End and visitor information for this area, please visit our Plan Your Visit page for Lands End.

To learn more about archaeology within Golden Gate, please visit ourArchaeology at Golden Gate page.

Last updated: February 28, 2015

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