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The
Minnesota
Archaeologist
Vol. 48, No. 1-2                                1989

ARCHAEOLOGY OF THE
CENTRAL MINNEAPOLIS RIVERFRONT

PART 1: HISTORICAL OVERVIEW AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL POTENTIALS

Scott F. Anfinson
Minnesota Historical Society

© 1989 Minnesota Archaeological Society



TABLE OF CONTENTS


Preface
Table of Contents
Introduction
Sources
Historical Background
Archaeological Site Inventory

- Bassett's Creek
- Gateway
- West Side Mill District
- Gasworks Bluff
- Brewery Flats
- Milwaukee Road
- Boom Island
- Hennepin-Central
- Nicollet Island
- East Side Mill District
- Interbank

Historical Figures and Photographs  (big thumbnails)   (medium)   (small)
References Cited
Chronology Chart


Archaeological Site Inventory
Bassett's Creek

This west side area extends along the river west of 1st Street from Plymouth Avenue to the foot of First Avenue North (Figure 8). Much of the eastern half of the area is now occupied by the West River Parkway. Along 1st Street, the late nineteenth century - early twentieth century brick warehouses are being converted into shops, offices, and apartments. The long, low Omaha freight depot, now remodled into fashionable apartments, is one of the few surficial remainders of the area's railroad heyday.

At the beginning of the West River Parkway project in 1983, the area was a flat, largely featureless terrace with woody vegetation around the mouth of Bassett's Creek surrounded by intermittent patches of grasses and weeds extending across abandoned railroad yards. A few cement block railroad buildings, now gone, were located north and east of the Itasca Warehouse complex.

At the time of white settlement, the area was wooded with elms, maples, and other native trees. The trees were soon removed by early settlers. The river shallows at the creek mouth were filled-in with refuse from the sawmills in the 1880s. Bassett's Creek was put into a culvert in 1890. The creek mouth is now about 600 feet east of the mouth at the time of settlement. Three small islands off the original creek mouth have been incorporated into the fill.

The area was a residential district for the first twenty years of west side settlement, but steampowered sawmills began to line the riverfront in the late 1860s and railroads invaded the area behind the mills in the 1880s. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the area featured an electrical power plant, an ironworks, fuel yards, stone-cutting yards, and several sawmills. The open spaces between the factories and the railroad tracks were filled with stacks of lumber.

By the turn of the century, the railroads had largely taken over the area and by 1910 their domination of the area was complete. The area was abandoned by the railroads in the 1970s. A small park was established at the mouth of Bassett's Creek in 1974, but it was soon left untended and the park improvements fell into disrepair until the West River Parkway construction began in 1986.

    BC-1. Washington House Residential Complex (1856-1887) Bassett, Case, and Moore's Addition, Block 38, Lots 1-12.

This multifeature site is located east of 1st Street North between Plymouth Avenue and Bassett's Creek. The site originally fronted directly on the river, but over a century of filling has moved the river bank out about 250 feet east.

The area was probably cleared of natural vegetation in the early 1850s by J.B. Bassett for agricultural purposes. It is shown as fields on the original land survey map of 1853. Bassett sold his land north of the creek in 1856 to Bradford and Garland to be platted into lots.

A few small houses show in this vicinity on the 1867 Ruger Panorama, the earliest clear view of the area. The 1879 Ruger panorama shows a crowded cluster of small buildings. The largest building at this time was the Washington House Hotel built about 1870 by Peter Burfening and run by his family for the next quarter century.

The Sanborn Insurance Atlas of 1885 (Figure 9) shows the Washington House and its attendant buildings at the south end of a residential complex. The Washington House fronted on 1st Street and was an L-shaped, two-story structure with several small additions.

The Washington House Residential Complex was a product of the sawmilling expansion in north Minneapolis. The Washington House let rooms to sawmill workers and the saloon was no doubt visited by the workers at day's end. Many of these workers left for the pine lands in the winter to cut the next year's timber for the mills. Some of these lumbermen had small houses of their own near the hotel.

Just south of the Washington House in 1885 was a square, two and one-half story dwelling with an ornate roof. Next to this house was a small stone cutting shed. North of the Washington House extending to Plymouth Avenue was an irregular assortment of one-story dwellings. A few small shops fronted on 1st Street at Plymouth Avenue. All of the buildings in the Washington House Residential Complex were frame structures.

In 1887 the residential complex was torn down to make way for the northern expansion of the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha railroad yards. Only a few buildings along Plymouth Avenue and the stone-cutting shed at the south end survived, but those too were torn down at the turn of the century. The Burfening family purchased the nearby Plymouth Hotel at the corner of Plymouth and 10th Avenues and renamed it the Washington House.

The area was used for railroad yards until 1971 and then abandoned. Most of the site is west of the West River Parkway and northeast of the Itasca Warehouse Complex. It was largely undeveloped until the Cowles Media Plant was built in 1986 which destroyed the site of the Washington House Hotel. The eastern edge of the associated residential area may still remain.

References: Original Government Survey notes and Map (1853); Ruger (1867, 1879); Cook (1872); Sanborn (1885, 1885/90); City Directories (1865-1895); Rascher (1892/1905); Atwater (1893:34).

    BC-2. C, SP, M & O RR Bassett's Creek North Yards (1887-1971)
The Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Omaha Railroad built yards and a freight depot south of Bassett's Creek in 1880. Two trestles were also built across the creek, terminating in a single switch track which stopped just south of the Washington House.

In 1887 the C, SP, M & O began constructing yards north of Bassett's Creek. Over ten switching tracks were laid down where the Washington House Residential District formerly stood. Along the east side of the tracks, frame storage buildings, coal sheds, and an oil house were built. Trestles over the creek were replaced by a culvert in 1890 and the river bank moved east due to intensive filling.

Additional tracks were laid down on top of the former river bank over the next decade and brick buildings were built on the east and north sides of the yards. The buildings at the north end of the yards were demolished by 1923. The tracks were torn up in 1971. Part of the site was destroyed by the West River Parkway and Cowles Media Plant construction in 1986.

References: Sanborn (1885, 1885/90, 1912, 1912/23); Rascher (1892/1905); Atwater (1893:565).

    BC-3. J.B. Bassett Farmsted (1852-1856)

Joel B. Bassett arrived in St. Anthony from Maine in 1850. In the spring of 1852, he homesteaded the land at the mouth of the creek that bears his name. He built his first house north of the creek on a small knoll near the mouth. Here he established a farm and lived until 1856 when he sold the land north of the creek. He subsequently built a new house south of the creek.

No maps or descriptions of Bassett's first house have been found. It can be surmised that it was a small, frame structure located just south of the foot of 8th Avenue North, east of 1st Street. After Bassett moved, the house and perhaps any outbuildings, may have been used by the Unrath Tannery. Any remaining buildings were probably removed by 1880 when the C, StP, M and O Railroad spanned the creek. The site is currently under abandoned railroad grade just east of the Itasca warehouses.

References: Warner et al. (1881:374); Atwater 1893:34); Stevens (1890:137); Shutter (1923:96, 331).

    BC-4. Bassetts's Creek North Landfill (ca. 1895 - ca. 1925)

During the 1880s, the sawmills in the vicinity of Bassett's Creek dumped large amounts of refuse into the river shallows at the mouth of the creek. By the 1890s numerous acres of dry land had been created and much of this land was used for lumber storage. From the mid-1890s until the mid-1920s another landfill episode took place with trash from various locations throughout the city being deposited over the sawmill refuse. Due to the unstable nature and poor compaction of the sawmill refuse, the area is poor foundational material for large buildings.

The site was archaeologically tested during the West River Parkway excavations in 1983. These excavations found extensive trash deposits dating to the turn of the century.

References: Tordoff (1983).

    BC-5. Pommeroy, Bates, and Company Sawmill (1856-1859)

Located at the foot of 7th Avenue North just south of the mouth of Bassett's Creek, this sawmill was built in 1856 by Pommeroy, Bates, and Company. It was opertated by J.B. Bassett and his brother-in-law, Joseph Canney. It was the first steam-powered sawmill and first sawmill equipped with a circular saw on the west side. It also contained a muley saw.

The building was damaged by a boiler explosion in 1856 soon after it went into operation. It was destroyed by a fire in 1859. Talcott (1857) shows the building as approximately 100 feet x 130 feet. It was a frame structure with a brick foundation for the boiler.

The site area was taken over by railroad yards in the 1880s and used by the railroads until the early 1970s. Today the area is largely undeveloped located between the West River Parkway and the 1st Street warehouses.

References: Talcott (1857); Weekly Minnesotan (11/29/1856); Warner et al. (1881:377); Stevens (1890:151, 284, 294, 334); Bromley (1890:40-41); Atwater (1893:539, 542, 544); Mississippi Valley Lumberman (2/1/95); Hudson (1907:297).

    BC-6. Atlantic Sawmill (1870-1872)

Probably built in 1870 by Joseph Dean and Company, this steam sawmill was in approximately the same location as the Pommeroy, Bates and Company Sawmill according to the 1872 Cook map. The Atlantic Sawmill is first listed in the 1871/1872 City Directory. At the same time, J. Dean and Company took over the sawmill of Stanchfield and Company which was located just west of the Atlantic Mill and converted it into a planing mill according to the Cook Map. The Atlantic Sawmill burned in 1872 and was not rebuilt.

The area was used for railroad yards from the 1880s to the 1970s. It is currently undeveloped land between the West River Parkway and the 1st Street warehouses.

References: Cook (1872); Atwater (1893:494, 496, 499); Hotchkiss (1898:542).

    BC-7. Minnesota Stone Company (1883-1892)

Incorporated in 1883, the Minnesota Stone Company engaged in cutting and laying stone for buildings, sidewalks, and streets. The company's cutting sheds and yards were located at this site near the intersection of River Street and 7th Avenue North. They had offices in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. They provided the stone for the old Minneapolis Post Office built in the mid-1880s and built the sidewalk around the old city hall. Most of the stone was imported from other states. Newton Winchell, who eventually became the State Geologist, was the company's secretary. The 1885 Sanborn Atlas shows a frame cutting shed (20 feet x 60 feet) and several small outbuildings (Figure 10). The buildings were probably torn down in 1892 for railroad expansion. The area today is at the edge of the West River Parkway.

References: Sanborn (1885); Rascher (1892); Foote (1892); Morrison (1885:112).

    BC-8. Eldred Shingle Mill (1868-1878) Lots 1-3 of Block 5.

Built in 1867 just south of the mouth of Bassett's Creek, this shingle mill was run by Eldred and Spink. Eldred eventually assumed sole ownership and by 1873 the mill was called the North Star Shingle Mill. Cook (1872) shows a complex structure about 50 feet x 30 feet. The Andreas (1874) panorama pictures a long building with a log slide to the river. The mill burned in 1878, perhaps after it had been abandoned. The site is partially within the West River Parkway limits near the C,SP,M and O roundhouse site.

References: City Directories (1867, 1873-74); Cook (1872); Stone (1878:4); Atwater (1893:556).

    BC-9. O'Neil's Stone Yard (1885-1892)

David O'Neil was a Minneapolis stone mason who built his yards at the site of Eldred's Shingle Mill in about 1885. There are no earlier listings for O'Neil in the City Directories. The buildings consisted of a frame cutting shed (15 feet x 35 feet) and a frame tool shed (15 feet x 20 feet) according to the 1885 Sanborn Atlas (Figure 10). It was probably torn down about 1892, although there is no listing for David O'Neil in the 1890-91 City Directory. The area is at the west edge of the West River Parkway near the C, SP, M and O roundhouse site.

References: City Directories; Sanborn (1885); Rasher (1892); Foote (1892).

    BC-10. Watkins, Perkins, and Forrest Cedar Block Sawmill (1884-1890)

First listed in the 1884 City Directory, the firm of Watkins, Perkins, and Forrest were paving contractors. Their sawmill was located at this site from 1884 to 1890. Many city streets were paved with cedar blocks as illustrated in Stipanovich (1982:100). The sawmill was a frame building (15 feet x 40 feet) with a boiler room in the northwest corner (Figure 10).

Railroad yards expanded over the site in the 1890s and occupied the site until the early 1970s. Roundhouse construction may have impacted any ruins. The site is now just west of the West River Parkway in undeveloped land.

References: Sanborn (1885, 1885/90); City Directory (1884); Shutter (1923:123).

    BC-11. C, SP, M, & O RR Bassett's Creek South Yards (1880-1971)

Incorporated in 1880, the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railroad built these yards and a freight depot south of Bassett's Creek, east of 1st Street the same year. The depot still stands and is the oldest surviving structure in the area. Between the depot and the sawmills along the river, multiple lines of track were laid. These developments were critical in stimulating the growth of the 1st Street warehouse district.

In 1891 a brick roundhouse was constructed in the center of Block 5 with a gashouse adjoining on the south (Figure 10). The gashouse complex was expanded between 1915-23, but the roundhouse and some associated sheds were torn down. In about 1930 the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy RR built coach yards with several small buildings along the river at the foot of 5th Street North. These yards and buildings were expanded over the next thirty years by the Great Northern Railroad. The yards and buildings west of the 1880 freight depot were torn up in 1971. The freight depot was remodeled for apartments in 1987 and is now known as Riverwalk.

Much of the area today is still undeveloped although the proposed Sawmill Run residential complex would impact most of the site. Extensive archaeological excavations were undertaken in 1983 and 1986 at the roundhouse site.

References: SAFR (1980:29, 122); Sanborn 1885, 1885/90, 1912, 1912/27); Rascher (1892); Chicago Aerial Survey (1970); USGS (1972); Tordoff (1984), Tordoff and Clouse (1987).

    BC-12. J.B. Bassett Residence (1856-1880) Lots 7 and 8 of Block 7

After selling his land north of Bassetts Creek in 1856, Joel Bassett built a house just south of the creek. The house was on the corner of 5th Avenue North and River Street, two blocks south of the steam sawmill Bassett and others also built in 1856. Daniel Bassett, Joel's brother, and several other early prominent citizens such as J.L. Pommeroy and Benjamin Bull built houses nearby on 1st Street.

Joel Bassett's house as shown on the Talcott map (1857) had a rectangular main section on the front approximately 40 feet x 50 feet with an L-shaped addition 70 feet long and 20 feet wide. As the sawmills began to take over the nearby river front in the late 1860s, the noise and air pollution began to bother the homeowners south of Bassett's Creek. Bassett moved to Nicollet Island in 1870. The house may have stood until 1880 when the railroads took over the area.

Some of the house foundations were destroyed by the construction of the Omaha freight depot. The area today is occupied by the freight depot (Riverwalk) and undeveloped land.

References: City Directories; Talcott (1857); Atwater (1893:34-35,41 540-542); Warner et al. (1881:374); Shutter (1923:96); Stevens (1890:137, 294).

    BC-13. North Star Sawmill (1868-1907)

One of the most important sawmills during the heyday of the Minneapolis lumber industry was located at the foot of 4th Avenue North. This sawmill was actually several sawmills with complex structural and ownership histories. Out of the many names, the name North Star is used to designate the site because it is easily remembered and does not single out any particular owner.

The first mill at the site was built in 1868 by Silas Moffit and was known as the Moffit Mill. The mill was primarily a planing mill and by 1869 is listed as the Moffit Brothers and Russell Mill. That same year a pump dealer is also listed at the Moffit Mill under the name of Spooner, Phelps, and Buel.

In 1871 the mill was purchased by Bedford, Boyce and Baker who converted it into a sawmill. They, in turn, sold out to Goodnow and Hawley in 1878 who enlarged the mill, renaming it the North Star Mill (Figure 11). By 1885 it could produce 110,000 feet of lumber, 60,000 shingles, and 30,000 laths per day.

The North Star Sawmill burned on June 18, 1886. It was immediately rebuilt by Stephen Hall and Thomas Shevlin who supplied lumber for the Hall and Ducey Lumber Company. In 1893 H.M. Carpenter bought part of the sawmill and it became known as the Shevlin-Carpenter Mill. The mill made its last run in the fall of 1906 and was dismantled in 1907.

No descriptions of the Moffit Mill were located, but the structure owned by Bedford, Boyce, and Baker was a frame structure 60 feet x 80 feet. The enlarged version of this mill was 135 feet x 50 feet with a 50 foot x 50 foot brick boiler house on the east side. After 1886, the rebuilt sawmill was slightly larger than the old structure and the boiler house was 84 feet x 100 feet. Photographs of the new mill show a water tower just south of the mill and numerous piers along the riverfront supporting a deck and ramps.

The site area today is largely incorporated into the West River Parkway east of the roadway. Archaeological testing in 1983 found sawmilling artifacts and a massive limestone base for a gang saw.

References: City Directories (1869-72); Cook (1872); Warner et al. (1881:403-404); Atwater (1893:557,572,640,683-684); Sanborn (1885, 1885/90); Rascher (1892/1905); Morrison (1885:93); Hudson (1907:298); Shutter (1923:344); Mississippi Valley Lumberman (6/25/86, 7/23/86, 8/10/88, 2/1/95, 11/23/06, 1/4/07); Tordoff (1983).

    BC-14. North Star Planing Mill (1877-1907)

Located just north of the foot of 3rd Avenue North, this mill was built in 1877 by H.T. Welles. It was leased to Joy and Erb in 1879 and by 1885 Joy owned it outright. The mill then contained three planing machines, one siding saw, one resawing machine, and one rip saw (Figure 11). Shevlin and Carpenter bought the mill in the late 1880s and ran it in conjunction with their nearby North Star Sawmill.

There were significant structural changes between 1885 and 1890. The original mill was of frame (50 foot x 40 foot) with a slightly smaller brick boiler house just north. By 1890 a new, much larger planing mill was in place north of the boiler house and the old planing mill was either torn down or converted into a lumber shed. The new mill was torn down in 1907.

Archaeolgical testing in 1983 exposed a mortared limestone foundation. The site is currently outside of the West River Parkway boundary in undeveloped land.

References: Warner et al. (1881:404); Sanborn (1885, 1885/90); Mississippi Valley Lumberman (8/4/88); Tordoff (1984).

    BC-15. West Side Power Company (1884-1907)

In 1884 the Minnesota Brush Electric Company built a steam-powered electrical generating plant just south of the foot of 3rd Avenue North (Figure 11). They moved the generators from their pioneering Upton Island hydroplant to the West Side Power plant because the water flow at the Falls varied so much seasonally. This was the first steam-powered electrical generating plant built in Minneapolis.

It originally burned sawdust, but as the use of thin bandsaws grew the sawdust became too fine to burn and the plant switched to coal. Additional generators were installed in 1886. The building was a one story brick structure 135 feet x 60 feet with a brick addition on the north (50 feet x 40 feet) housing additional boilers. The generators were moved to the east side Main Street station in 1895. The old building was converted into a lumber shed used by the Hall and Shevlin mills. It was probably torn down in 1907.

Archaeological testing in 1983 located extensive remains of the building including an unfilled basement room. Monitoring of the West River Parkway construction in 1986 documented additional foundations which were then partially destroyed for the construction of a retaining wall. In 1989, an NSP power tower was carefully located just southeast of the site avoiding foundational remnants.

References: Sanborn (1885, 1885/90); Rascher (1892/1905); Atwater (1893:665-666); Hudson (1908:520); NSP (1958:2-4); Tordoff (1984); Tordoff and Clouse (1987).

    BC-16. Great Northern Power Plant (1913 - 1978)

Built in 1913 north of the foot of 2nd Avenue North, this plant provided power and heat for the Great Northern Depot located two blocks south. The plant was a brick building 184 feet x 66 feet. The west end was 60 feet high and the east end 40 feet high. A brick chimney for the boilers was in the southwest corner. The building was torn down in 1978 along with the Great Northern Depot.

Construction on the West River Parkway in 1986 encountered extensive concrete foundations causing a considerable increase in construction costs.

References: Sanborn (1912, 1912/23); City Inspectors Card (10/8/13).

    BC-17. McCabe Sash, Door, and Blind Factory (1857 - 1860)

A good-sized building (ca. 80 feet x 70 feet) is shown on the Talcott Map (1857) at the foot of 2nd Avenue North. The legend indicates it was built in 1857. On the map, the structure is divided into three rectangular sections of equal size. John McCabe built a small sash, door, and blind factory on the river bank north of the suspension bridge in 1857 or 1858. There is a good possibility that the Talcott Map structure is this factory, although the 1859-60 City Directory lists McCabe's factory near Bassett's Creek. The factory burned in 1860 shortly after McCabe sold it to L.D. Parker.

The area today is at the west edge of the West River Parkway.

References: Talcott (1857); City Directory (1859-60); Atwater (1893:639).

    BC-18. North Star Ironworks (1868 - 1888) Lots 1-6 of Block 1

In 1868 the firm of Harrison, McGaughey, and Depew moved their ironworks from St. Anthony to the west side, building a plant on River Street between 3rd and 2nd Avenues North. W.W. Harrison and J.W. Johnson were the owners by 1870 and Johnson took over sole ownership in the late 1870s. In 1880, Johnson sold out to the North Star Iron Works Company. The firm manufactured steam engines, boilers, flour milling machinery, sawmill machinery, architectural elements, hot air furnaces, steam pumps, pipe, water wheels, and numerous other items.

By 1885 the North Star was the largest iron works west of Chicago, having a ready market in the nearby Minneapolis flour mills and sawmills. The plant was a sprawling complex taking up half a city block (Figure 12). A good illustration of the factory appears in the 1874 Andreas Atlas (Figure 13). Most of the buildings were of stone construction. In 1888 the land was purchased for railroad purposes and the firm moved to Chicago.

The site area is located in undeveloped land just west of the West River Parkway.

References: Andreas (1874:45); Cook (1872); Warner et al. (1881: 406-407); Atwater (1893:644-645, 649); Sanborn (1885); City Directory (1873/1872;46); Morrison (1885:108); Minneapolis Tribune (11/28/1875); NW Miller (3/24/76, 9/21/79, 11/10/82, 7/29/87, 5/11/88).

    BC-19. Pioneer Fuel Company Yards (ca. 1880-1891)

The Pioneer Fuel Company was established in Minneapolis in 1870. By 1885 they had seven supply yards located throughout the city and their wagons loaded with wood and coal were familiar sights on city streets. The yards at the foot of 2nd Avenue North may have been established about 1880.

The 1885-86 City Directory lists C.E. Wales as president of the firm with offices at 27 Washington Avenue South. The 2nd Avenue North yards had a frame building 190 feet x 30 feet (Figure 12). The yards are also listed as Saunders and Walkers and Lehigh Coal Company. The yard was torn up in 1891. The site area is in undeveloped land just west of the West River Parkway.

References: Morrison (1885:99); Sanborn (1885, 1885/90); Hopkins (1885), Foote (1892).

    BC-20. Pacific Sawmill (1866-1887)

In 1866, Joseph Dean and Company built a large steam-powered sawmill east of River Street between 2nd and 1st Avenues North. This was the first major sawmill to be built outside of the St. Anthony Falls Milling District. It started a trend toward the use of steam power and a north Minneapolis location.

The original Pacific Mill included a frame sawmill (20 feet x 80 feet), a frame planing mill (50 feet x 100 feet) and a stone boiler house (40 feet x 80 feet). An impressive brick smoke stack considered to be "the finest in the west" was 162 feet high with a 14-foot diameter base excavated into the limestone bedrock. The sawmill contained two circular saws, a double-steam gang of 38 saws, a lath machine, two shingle machines, two edgers, and a wood saw. The planing mill contained a large double flooring machine, a siding machine, a double surfacer, and a splitting saw. An illustration of the sawmill appears in the 1874 Andreas Atlas (Figure 13).

In 1877, the Pacific Mill was sold to Camp and Walker. That same year the storage yards burned in a spectacular fire. The mill itself burned in 1880, but was rebuilt by the next year. The new mill was a 66 foot x 132 foot frame structure (Figure 12) and contained "the largest gang saw in the west." In 1887 the Pacific Mill machinery was purchased by Bovey-DeLaittre Lumber Co. and moved to a new mill at Shingle Creek. The Pacific Mill was then torn down for railroad expansion.

Archaeological testing in 1983 and 1986 found extensive remains of the sawmill foundations and the log slides. The eastern part of the site is preserved within the West River Parkway, while the western part is beneath undeveloped land.

References: Andreas (1874:46); Warner et al. (1881:403-404,652); Atwater (1893:496,544,556,565-566); Hudson (1907:298-299); Sanborn (1885, 1886-90); City Directory (1873-74:52); Shutter (1923:339,341-342,346); Mississippi Valley Lumberman (1/5/77, 6/14/78); NW Miller (8/21/77).


 
Vol. 48, No. 1-2  © 1989 The Minnesota Archaeological Society

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