Reporter's Notebook: Snooping Around the River Street Archaeological Dig 

Student Rie Misaizu sifts through rubble searching for artifacts near the Hayman House on River Street. - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Student Rie Misaizu sifts through rubble searching for artifacts near the Hayman House on River Street.

At 10 minutes to noon, University of Idaho Associate Professor of Anthropology Mark Warner walked from dig site to dig site at the urban archaeological dig taking place near the Hayman House on River Street in downtown Boise. The six participating students would have to clear debris and tools from the square meter excavation areas before they could sit and eat under a white shade tent.

In their first day at the site, students had already uncovered what may be foundation stones for an outbuilding in the Hayman House's yard, and sieves had been erected in an adjacent lot where students sorted through buckets of rubble for artifacts. Warner and the students are looking for evidence of day-to-day life—the bones of animals eaten, ashes from fire pits, even human waste from outdoor toilets—that will expand knowledge and awareness about Boise's early history from the standpoint of what Warner described as a neighborhood "where the relatively disenfranchised were living."

"The history is here in Boise, and there's history beneath your feet that people just don't think about. It's history that's largely forgotten," he said.

That would include the Hayman House itself, which BW readers learned about in April. Made almost entirely of Boise sandstone, the 900-square-foot building on the corner of River and Ash streets was built in 1907. Arguably its most famous resident, Erma Andre Madry Hayman, lived there until she was 102 years old. Her grandson, Richard Madry, sold it to the Capital City Development Corporation, which has allowed Warner and fellow site manager, William "Bill" White, a Ph.D student at the University of Arizona, to conduct their archaeological survey. 

click to enlarge John McClellan and clan were River Street's first family - IDAHO STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY
  • Idaho State Historical Society
  • John McClellan and clan were River Street's first family
Between now and Friday, July 3, Warner, White and the students will have to select their dig sites carefully. They have access to the Hayman property and the adjacent lot, but a limited amount of time in which to conduct their excavations. Add to that community events including working with College of Western Idaho students and faculty on an oral history/ethnography workshop, and the high odds of passersby dropping in to learn more about the project—Warner said he expects approximately 50 people per day to do so—and you have what White described as a "very public project."

White, a Boise native, said the dig and resulting materials were always meant to be public. His Ph.D dissertation so far has included archiving available historical materials on the neighborhood, interviews with the people who lived there and photo collections online, making it available to all. This dig, he said, is the next phase in his research.

"My goal is to find out everything I can about this working-class neighborhood," he said.  

Archived in photo albums and written histories of the neighborhood tell the stories residents want to tell, but Warner told BW that it's much harder for people writing those histories to remember what games they played in their back yards in the early 20th century, what their mothers planted in their flower pots or how their diets changed during WWII. It's those lost details that archaeologists participating in the project are hoping to recover. White, pointing to an exposed square of dirt in the middle of the green Hayman House lawn, said that each such square will unveil a different aspect of the house's residents' lives—"tell a different story."

"It's the story that isn't written about," he said.

The public is invited to participate in the dig, and may register through the Idaho Archaeology Society.

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