Friday, June 3, 2011

DSCQHR -The Road to Wellsville or Water as Artifact 2

The southeastern well and pump house - drilled 1918.

Historical research in support of an archaeological project is characterized by frequent dead-ends, false leads, and dealing with holders of records with priorities far removed from the target of our investigations – the DSCQHR site. I am pleased to report that a partial success has been achieved in establishing some dates for activites directly related to features on the DSCQHR site. I am even more pleased that this information comes to hand from the records of the Dominican Sisters themselves.

Before moving into further detail, however, it is worth pausing for a moment to consider why historians and archaeologists, when working historical archaeological sites, really need each other.

The historical data I have derives from the DSCQHR treasurer’s account ledger for expenses since the congregation located to San Jose. I was specifically interested in determining the dates for any activity related to drilling water wells on our property since one such well may still be clearly seen on the property to the south and east of our assigned reasearch area. Furthermore, the 1897 Sanborn map provides interesting details regarding the arrangement of water storage and the transfer of water between Linda Vista Winery and the DSCQHR complex. It was further hoped that obtaining some valid dates for the well activity might indicate possible dates for the macadam asphalt features that hold promise to give a solid date for the site’s strategraphic sequencing.

Here are my notes from the DSCQHR ledger courtesy of Sister Evangela:
In 1914, a San Francisco well-drilling company drove two wells on the property, one to a depth of 63 feet and a second to a depth of 68 feet. These wells utilized three high power motors (one presumably served as a back-up in the event a primary motor failed).

In 1918, a San Jose Drilling company drove a 105 foot well and installed an new pump and motor.
In 1923, the ledger records, “well capped and one moter sold.”
In 1931, well and pump destroyed by storm.

Having walked and surveyed the DSCQHR site, and knowing of the location of the well on the southeastern section of the property, these ledger enteries were slightly puzzling: the southeastern well definitely matched the 1918 entry for there is a San Jose Motor Co. motor still on the floor of the pumphouse; however, there was no sign of any other capped shafts for the 1914 well. Furthermore, why would a well be capped within the span of five years?

I set these notes aside and drove north to the make-up day lab where the cataloging of our assemblage is proceeding. Here I discussed these ledger entries with Professor Hartley.

He held the missing key elements for a more clear interpretation of the DSCQHR ledger data. Prof. Hartley and David B. had met with Curator Galvan last week in order to determine the fate of the human tooth excavated the preceeding week. During this meeting, Prof. Hartley and David B. explored the extreme northeastern area of our general site (immediately north of the concrete foundation). There, among other interesting elements, they located the likely remains of the pylon and wood-joist foundation for a large water tank.

Archaeology is really the most fascinating and rewarding of intellectual team sports, if I may be permitted to word the activity this way. I was busy torturing the historical evidence by cramming all the wells into the southeastern site (hydro logically unsound). I did not immediately grasp that there were multiple wells using the similar technology at different locations on the DSCQHR property. Reviewing and correlating my data against Professor Hartley and David B’s report achieved a much more valid result. Thus, to summarize:

It appears that in 1914, two wells were drilled in the northeastern sector of the DSCQHR site to depths of 63’ and 68’ respectively. It is likely that these were the wells capped in 1923 (giving them about a ten year useful life). The southeastern well was drilled in 1918 by the San Jose company and this is the well that was destroyed by storm in 1931.

Here is a possible general location for the 1914 wells immediately north of the concrete foundation (based on information proved by Prof. Hartely and David B.). As a side note, the slope marked A is steep enough to allow for sheet-wash deposition of materials from A to the area marked B (an observation also made by Prof. Hartely and David B.)

Water, and particularly the engineering of getting water, is of immense importance to understanding and interpreting aspects of California history and the picture emerging at the DSCQHR site is quite vivid. It is likely that these hydrologic artifacts relate to other activities that have modified our site substantially, perhaps even suggesting the date range and purpose for the macadam surfaces unearthed during the course of our dig.

In developing a working hypothesis for the macadam, it appeared plausible that the asphalt system dated to the early 20th century and, given the method of construction, was not later than the 1920s. The DSCQHR well drilling activity was concentrated in the years 1914 and 1918.

It would be useful to determine if the artifacts found below the macadam layer antedate 1918.

Interior of the 1918 well pump house. The motor manufactured in San Jose is in the foreground. This well was destroyed by a storm in 1931 according to DSCQHR records.

A close up of the wooden joist frame and concrete pylons (note the metal plates)of the foundation that supported the water tank storage system. This construction dates to 1918.

A view looking south over the multiple concrete slabs of a foundation configured into an open square. Immediately north of this feature are the probable remains of the 1914 well systems capped in 1923.


  1. Again amazing research skills you have!!! Perhaps the construction of these wells can account for some of the "fill" dirt I have been hearing about? Obviously they had to put the dirt from the wells somewhere...maybe they stuck it on/near our site area.

  2. Hello Kristen: thank you for the comment. Sister Evangela, who took time from her pressing schedule to navigate through the records to these entries, is the real person to thank. I was only trying to connect some features on DSCQHR site to some actual dates.

    This site is interesting, as we have all remarked, in the number of artifacts that came to light, and the great puzzle of the deposition.

    Speaking as an historian for a moment, I can say that this excavation represents a wonderful opportunity to explore archaeology on the very edge of living memory - or just beyond it.

    The sisters’ are a wonderful source of oral history and their story has been virtually untapped. Many of the senior sisters remember the topography of our site back into the 1960s. And these same sisters also harbor stories of happenings on the property from sisters of the previous generation. Such recollections bring human memory to the very edge of our archaeological horizon (which appears to be late 19th early 20th century).

    I should note that there exists an abundance of photographic material displayed on the walls of the Dominican Sisters of San Jose complex that capture some or a large portion of our site from earlier periods. All this goes by way of saying that it is indeed rare to have a site such as DSCQHR Vineyard/Orchard wherein so many general disciplines, anthropology, archaeology, and history, may be brought to bear in the course of research: oral history, field archaeology, archival history, cultural anthropology, public history, etc. Each has a definite role to play toward contributing an understanding to a complicated site.

    The Local Area Historical Society has located a resident who, in her childhood, picnicked on the grounds near our site when the area to the east became a park in the 1920s. Her memories perhaps reach back to the late 1930s or early 1940s.

    I still have archival requests out for data that will come in during the week and perhaps after - if we keep the blog going I will continue to post.

    Let us see how our archaeology supports or contradicts human archives and recollections. In balancing these different bodies of evidence, we may derive a clear picture of DSCQHR Vineyard/Orchard.

    Here's to a second season... Cheers!

  3. Amazing post. I have learned so much from your posts this quarter. Keep up the good work!

  4. Wonderful! I found your information on the well projects very interesting. I worked it in a bit into my report when I discussed that we may have found pieces of a concrete path.If I understand your post, it seems like our trench was in between the NE and SE locations. So, I was just wondering out of my own curiosity, does this research make you more or less likely to think what we found may be a path to one of these well houses?

  5. Hello Elizabeth. Thank you for the comments. The path (or macadam feature) is problematic. We were not able to determine dimensions. A width would have been very useful.

    That said, the asphalt layer is a bit thin for a road or pathway designed from start to finish (based on contemporary engineering sources). The dimensions we were able to retrieve suggests that perhaps the calcerous sandstone base was an original road, path, or area, and that the asphalt represents a resurfacing prior to the mid-1920s.

    I privately favor the view, based on the present data we possess, that the macadam feature represents a path, road, or tarmac, along the eastern 19th century boundary of the DSCQHR property. The eucalyptus stand along the eastern boundary appears to be about a century old (there is another eucalyptus stand on the southern edge of our field). The path or macadam feature and the eucalyptus stand could therefore be contemporary with each other.

    My report has gone down a bit of a eucalyptus tangent for which I hope to be forgiven.

    That this eucalyptus stand marking the property line has a macadam pathway along it is natural. It is also practical to have the same road serve as access to one of the well houses. The wells were drilled at the highest feasible elevation on the DSCQHR property situating them close to the east property boundary. The water supply system took advantage of the elevation (it was gravity fed).

    I will share my report if there is an interest next week.

  6. So yes, Elizabeth - I agree with your assessment and hold a similar view. Very Best to you and thank you for all the help this quarter. - David P.


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