|Vol. VII, No. 2, Fall 1993 / Winter 1994|
by Jan and Terry Primas
The clang of a farrier's hammer. The coughs of Civil War soldiers. Chicken sizzling. Nervous talk of litigants on Law Day. A boisterous crowd gathering for a hanging. The strange syllables of immigrant track hands. The rough talk of construction workers building Fort Wood--to beat Hitler. These, the sounds of travelers and Pulaski County citizens for a hundred and thirty years reverberated through the Old Stagecoach Stop on Waynesville's public square. In the building's walls and in the soil under it lies much Pulaski County history.
The Old Stagecoach Stop fell silent in the 1950s and was under threat of demolition in 1980. In 1982, a group of citizens heard the ring of history echoing through the silence. They formed The Old Stagecoach Stop Foundation and purchased the building to restore and preserve it.
Before the building could be restored, it needed to be stabilized. The Foundation secured a matching grant from the Department of Natural Resources for structural work. The grant allowed stabilization of the building by placing piers under the perimeter sill joists, replacement of some windows, and a coat of paint. The Old Stagecoach Stop was also placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The next step was to shore up the interior log floor joists. A contractor bid more than the Foundation could afford. The most expensive part was removing enough dirt to allow for the installation of piers under the joists. It would require laborious hand digging because 18 inches or less separated the floor joists from the ground. In addition, if the excavation were done by machine, any artifacts in the soil would be lost.
In the Fall of 1989, the teachers and students of Waynesville R-VI Schools' Learning Enrichment and Acceleration Program (LEAP) were asked if they would be interested in digging under the Old Stagecoach Stop. John Jarrett, President of the Old Stage coach Stop Foundation and social studies teacher at Waynesville Middle School, knew some of the LEAP classes had spent time in Illinois studying archaeology. He also knew they had volunteered to dig at the Dead Deer Site in Phelps County, a prehistoric dig by the University of Missouri and the Forest Service. He knew students would be much cheaper dirt movers than a contractor and would take care in retrieving artifacts. He also thought students would finish the job before money could be raised to hire a contractor.
On the first count John was right. Students and teachers work cheap. On the second point, he was not so right. The students work very slowly and carefully. In 1994, they are still excavating, conducting salvage archeology--salvaging whatever artifacts they can in work that has to be done. However, The Old Stagecoach Stop Excavation Project includes much more than digging and screening dirt and trying to identify artifacts. It has evolved a structure of its own that has guided five years of work by the LEAP students. The Project Plan has four parts.
On afternoons when the temperature is at least 50 degrees, one can find students sifting artifacts, through 1/4 inch mesh, from the dirt. This year over 80 students in grades 5-8 have worked in the excavation.
Nearly 200 students have dug since the project began. In the spring fourth grade students are introduced to the exciting work. They have cataloged over 600 items and have twice that many to process. Some of the artifacts are obvious--a 1926 license plate, a straight razor, bottles, percussion caps, Minie balls. Less obvious objects require intensive detective work.
Cataloging of all artifacts includes careful prove-nience--assigning to each artifact a series of letters that tells the location under or around the building where the artifact was found. The catalog is a comuter data base and hard copy, which allows for electronic sorting by provenience, type of artifact, material, and other characteristics. For instance, by noting the location of the artifacts, the crew has determined where the horseshoeing was done. They have located several trash dumps and fire pits and the bones of butchered animals. They have found several marbles, mostly clay, and discovered from newspaper research that J.L. Johnson, owner of the building from 1890-1894, was not only a State Representative but a marble player who traveled to other towns for matches.
Dr. Michael O' Brien, Curator of the Archaeology Museum, University of Missouri-Columbia, said in a lecture to the crew that one of the greatest differences between prehistoric and historic archaeology is that historic archaeology often has records which explain the artifacts. What the students quickly found was that,
to find the right records, they had to rely on the research skills of experts. Under their guidance, the students focused not only on the building itself but, more interestingly, on records of people associated with it. This has led them to construct family trees and to explore various paths in local, state, and national history. Focusing on related documents has led them backward to the Mexican War where the person believed to have built the building, W.W. McDonald, served; to the Civil War; to E.G. Williams, a Virginian who owned the building from 1888 to 1890, and who not only served the South but lost a leg at the Battle of Drewry Bluff. It has led them forward to World War II when the old station bustled as a hotel with Fort Leonard Wood activity.
Another asset to historic archaeology is that some of the people associated with the site are still alive. The students have begun collecting oral histories of people who have either lived in the building or have particular knowledge of it. These oral histories are on videotape and audiotape.
This final aspect of the project concerns public awareness and understanding of the excavation and, most importantly, the place the Old Stagecoach Stop holds in Pulaski County history. The students have undertaken several ambitious interpretive efforts.
Memories in the Earth- an original musical-historical drama written by the students, with period music by the Children's Choir, spanning the 130-year history of the building.
Pulaski County Flashbacks - 35 two-minute radio programs featuring people and events related to the building and county events, written by students, underwritten by local businesses, and broadcast on KJ PW Radio.
The Trial of Eliza Black - a courtroom drama about the last Pulaski County hanging in the Old Courthouse, based on local lore and trial documents.
Old Courthouse Museum - a collection of artifacts in three large table cases and wall displays.
History Begins at Home - a kit of curriculum materials about Pulaski County history. These materials are ready-to-use by teachers and distributed throughout the county to fourth grade classrooms. The On the Square Historic Site Tour is an offering that accompanies the unit. LEAP students, dressed in period costumes, conduct tours of the Old Stagecoach Stop, Old Courthouse, new Courthouse, and the site of the Civil War Waynesville Fort.
As the archaeological excavation begins to wind down, the possibilities continue. Attention is now being turned to interior restoration that will represent a variety of periods in the building's history. This will require more research, more skills, and more care. It may be the biggest challenge.
The connections and directions, like history itself, never seem to end. Likewise, the enthusiasm of the students has not diminished. They continue to be committed to determining and telling the story of the Old Stagecoach Stop. The students embrace the challenge of helping the Foundation in its express purpose: "preservation and restoration of the historical structure known as the Old Stagecoach Stop in Waynesville, Missouri, in order to preserve its educational value for future generations." Of course, they are part of those "future generations."
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