Local history: construction project in Magnolia uncovers Seattle's multicultural past

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A pair of Pince-Nez (“pinch-nose”) glasses,
a style made popular by Teddy Roosevelt.

Text and photos from King County Wastewater Treatment Division

Construction workers on a clean-water project in Magnolia unexpectedly discovered a window into Seattle’s past.

Shortly after construction began on an underground storage tank for the South Magnolia Combined Sewer Overflow Control Project, backhoes began turning up a number of boardwalk pilings and glass bottles.

State archaeologists at work 

As is required by law, we contacted the Washington State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation, who then transformed the site into an archeological dig. The site turned out to be the remnants of Finntown, a low-income, multicultural community along the tideflats of Smith Cove around 1920-1930.

More than 2,400 artifacts were recovered from the Prohibition-era site, including a large number of alcohol and other beverage bottles.

1921 Japanese beer bottle

A bottle from the Nippon Beer Kosen Company in Japan, manufactured around 1921.

Two types of artifacts recovered indicate a Native American presence: a chisel or wedge, constructed from the femur of a large animal, and pieces of historic glass that appear to have been intentionally flaked (creating small glass tools).

Other artifacts include medicine bottles, pants suspenders, a Seattle Municipal Railway token, and a food-serving vessel with a willow pattern.

Qian Long coins from the Ch’ing Dynasty.

Other artifacts suggest the presence of Japanese, Chinese, and European-Americans. Notable artifacts include a Chinese coin from the Qing (Ch’ing ) Dynasty, dating between 1644 and 1911; a toy fork, suggesting the presence of children; and a Nippon beer bottle, manufactured between 1921 and 1933.

Archeologists are still working in the area, and believe they could find even more historic or even prehistoric artifacts. After the archeologists complete an official report, the artifacts will go through an extensive process of verification and assessment. Some of the artifacts are expected to go on display at the Burke Museum on the UW campus later this year.


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