Archaelogical Feature Findings


Definition: An archaeological feature is a nonportable element of an archaeological site.

A feature finding is always produced by human activity but is distinct from isolated artifacts and structures. A structure, for example, could be the remains of a building, say, the Colosseum in Rome; while an isolated artifact could be a sword, a Roman coin, any man-made object that can be readily moved from one place to another. A drainage ditch, a water well, a staircase or trash pit that are parts of the site's history but cannot be moved are considered features. The archaeological features at Merrie Way provided some of the clearest insight into the day-to-day operations of the amusement park. Below we outline what those discoveries were and how they contribute to our understanding of the park.

historic photo of wooden stands with rounded roof tops and picket fence
Fencing that lined the Stands, photo circa 1910


Feature Findings identified in 2008

The archaeologists discovered the first archaeological feature at Merrie Way during the excavations of 2008. Overall, they identified 31 distinct features during this phase of fieldwork including refuse deposits, piping, and the remains of a wood-lined cesspit.

Water Pipe
The archaeologist discovered a utilities pipe that stretched from east to west across the entire study area. Likely installed by the Spring Valley Water Company, the pipe was 2 inch in diameter and probably supplied water to the area’s buildings.

The archaeologist discovered an uncovered, wood-lined cesspit or engineered dump site for sewage and other refuse, in the northeast portion of the 2008 study area. The cesspit, 4½ inches deep, was made up of vertically placed redwood planks, 1 inch thick, and 2x4 inch planks making up the frame. Over the years, the cesspit had been filled with such objects as Welch’s grape juice bottles and square-cut nails, window glass, shell, animal bone, and a metal sign advertising beer. The cesspit was the largest single feature unearthed during this phase of archaeological investigation and was likely associated with the Oyster and Chop House.

Wooden Fencing
The archaeologist discovered a series of vertical posts and horizontal boards were discovered at multiple locations on site. Archaeologists suspect that these are the remains of various picket fences that once lined the boundaries of the Oyster and Chop House.


Feature Findings Identified in 2011

Archaeologistss identified 20 features during the course of archaeology work carried out in 2011. They discovered an array of refuse pits, flagpoles, an electrical vault, piping, and the burnt remains of concession Stand "P". They found some of the feature findings during controlled excavations and others during linear trenching.

colored map showing pit features along Point Lobos Avenue
Map showing pit features in relation to stand placement and excavation units

courtesy Tim Spillane


Refuse Pits
Archaeologists found 12 refuse pit features. The refuse pits were different size holes that had been dug in the past and filled with all manner of trash and discarded items. For archaeologists the refuse pits represent buried time capsules, containing a mixed bag of archaeological data. By analysing the contents of a refuse pit, archaeologistss can learn significant information about the people who buried them.

Archaeologistss found the first pit feature, which had a greater number of refuse features than any of the others, in Excavation Unit 11. The archaeologistss recorded it as Feature 33 and it is potentially one of the earliest trash deposits discovered on site. The contents, including a large metal cigar sign, bottles, metal tools, butchered animal bone, and other objects, are dated 1880 to 1915.

Also within Unit 11, archaeologists found other pit features 41, 42, and 43, with slightly later dates of 1885 to 1921. Located near concession Stand “Q”, these pits contained a large amount of window glass, sewer piping, a chaser mug, large quantities of bone, and metal fragments. Features 33, 41, and 43 were located directly to the rear of Stand “Q”; they found feature 42 directly to its west. The proximity of these pit features to Stand “Q” suggests that they were associated with the stand’s business. Possibly the contents represent the items sold there, the dates of the stand’s operation and elements of the building itself.

At Trench 1, the archaeologists found two pits, Features 36 and 37, that both consisted almost exclusively of oyster shell. Among the shell was a small variety of whiteware ceramic dishes and glass bottles, all likely associated with the Chop House and dating between 1895 and 1910.

Excavation Unit 13 also contained two refuse pits, Features 44 and 45. Like most of the others, these pits were likely deposited by staff at the Chop House, because they contained a substantial amount of oyster shell, butchered animal bone, a metal plate, glass and metal fragments, and burnt timber. Both pits contained artifacts manufactured between 1895 and 1900.


Archaeologists identified the remaining pits, Features 39, 40, 47, and 51 separately. Feature 39 contained a unique iron pole with an ornamental onion shaped ball on top which may have been one of the many small flagpoles that lined the park. Feature 39 also contained window and bottle glass, shell and bone, square-cut nails, and structural elements such as brick and mortar. Features 40 and 51 are probably associated with the Chop House, both having a high volume of bone, shell, and bottle glass. Feature 47 was by far the largest pit excavated in 2011, measuring over 1 meter deep and 1½ meters wide. Certainly related to the Chop House, this pit contained a staggering amount of window glass, some painted, some a deep shade of red, as well as oyster and clam shell, ceramic dishes, and a chef’s sharpening stone.

illustration of artifacts including glass goblet, medicine bottle and harmonica and their locations within the pit
Feature 27 diagram with pit in profile and artifacts

courtey Tim Spillane


Stand "P"

Without doubt the single richest discovery made during the 2011 excavation was the charred foundation of concession Stand "P". Archaeologistss first encountered it during early shovel testing, announcing itself to archaeologists in the form of structural timber, painted window glass, and delicate sheets of ferrous metal. The narrow view of the stand provided by the test pit was expanded first by one, then two, and eventually by 10 controlled excavation units, each opened up as more of the foundation presented itself. Stand "P" would be designated as Feature 32, and more artifacts would be recovered from it than from all the other features combined.

open excavation site with wooden features stuck in the dirt
Charred foundation of Stand "P"



For More Information:

To learn more about the different aspects of archeological research at the Sutro Pleasure Grounds, please visit Merrie Way: An Archaeology Case Study.

Methods used at the Merrie Way excavation

Artifacts found at Merrie Way

Archaeology Feature Findings

Interpreting Merrie Way: Learning from the artifacts

Archeological Stewardship Program: The Role of the Volunteers

Learn More about Archaeology at Golden Gate National Recreation Area

To learn more history of the Sutro Pleasure Grounds at Merrie Way, please visit these pages:

Merrie Way: The Rides

Merrie Way: The Stands

"Merrie Way and the Lands End Street Railway Abbreviated Cultural Landscape Report" (pdf file, 4.0 MB)

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


Last updated: February 28, 2015

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