Interpreting Merrie Way: Learning from the Artifacts

historic photos of ferris wheel, low buildings and decorative Cliff House
Sutro Pleasure Grounds at Merrie Way, circa 1896



A community of archaeologists, historians, and volunteers converged at the site of a lost San Francisco landscape to face the challenge of stewardship. Using the methods of historical research and archaeology, they gathered the pieces of a mosaic- part memory, part material- to begin to restructure a place in time that had been shapeless for nearly 100 years. From their research, the archaeologistss pieced together a colourful impression of the many facets of Merrie Way- as hodgepodge pleasure ground; as sometimes frivolous, sometimes brutal place of business; and even as secluded makeshift home. There is still much to learn about the history of Merrie Way. Archaeologists continue to process retained artifacts and new insights will arise as this work continues.

Alcohol Consumed on Premises

Archaeology shows us that Merrie Way, as a center for recreation, likely catered to a more adult crowd than the youthful Firth Wheel and roller-coaster rides might suggest. The number and variety of alcohol bottles, as well as beer mugs, chaser and shot glasses, leave little doubt that the park stayed “merrie” thanks in large part to its steady supply of drink. Historical research refines our understanding of the rides at Merrie Way, providing insight into their technology and type even when their material remnants have been removed from the archaeological record.

On-site cooking preparation and souvenirs

After analysing concession Stand “P” excavation and the artifacts from the four quad piles, archelologists gained a better understanding of the level of businesses at Merrie Way. The presence of recovered small copper and brass trinkets and the unworked metal and ceramic crucibles supports the hypothesis that concession stand employees may have produced souvenirs on site. The array of kitchen supplies, milk bottles, and multiple layers of burnt rubble at the location of Stand “P” suggests that owners there were in the precarious business of cooking. The Stand’s cramped spaces and highly flammable construction seemed to have made the stand itself as much a liability as an asset to the business- it burnt down more than once. When brought together with historical information, a case can be made that the Antipas owned the stand for a time and that they cooked and produced candy there.

Living at Merrie Way

The huge amount of lamp glass and a number of personal items that the archaeologist recovered on site suggest that some people actually lived at Merrie Way. The presence of lamps suggests routine activities took place at Merrie Way after dark. The distinctions between the varieties of tableware, between the significant amounts of heavy commercial dishes and the few delicate pieces of Sika patterned transferware for example, help paint a picture of a simple domestic life separate from the business operations of the amusement park.


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 page for Lands End.

Last updated: February 28, 2015

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