A Territorial Period Site in Dubuque
Michael J. Perry
Part I: Historical Background and Archaeological Surveys
When he was finally able to enter his Dubuque claim, Dr. Langworthy probably was getting on in years, and apparently felt it best to include his son William as co-owner of the claim. William may have been the eldest son still living with his father at the time. Dr. Langworthy may also have been planning for future use of his property by his offspring after his death. By the late 1840s the original house was over 10 years old, and it was time for some major improvements. Dubuque had no brickmaker in the mid-1830s, but with the success of the local lead mining industry and the rapidly growing population, the construction industry and related trades also grew. By the 1840s, local brickmakers, for example, could supply construction brick that previously had to be shipped in from sources east of the Mississippi.
Sometime in the late 1840s Dr. Langworthy replaced or extensively remodeled his original Dubuque house. But once again, first hand accounts of the timing and circumstances surrounding the Langworthy family’s decision to reconstruct their dwelling escape us. What we do know is that much of the NW¼ of Section 11, T89N-R2E continued to be owned by Stephen Langworthy’s offspring until 1862, when transfer records show that the property passed out of the Langworthy family ownership.
The importance of the Langworthy family in Dubuque history was never forgotten. James, Lucius, Edward, and Solon Langworthy each contributed to the development of Dubuque. Their influence also reached well beyond Dubuque when they helped build the military road from Dubuque to Iowa City. The towns of Solon and Langworthy along the route commemorate this achievement. But after 150 years, records of the family patriarch’s tenure in Dubuque are scarce, and memories of Dr. Stephen Langworthy have faded. What was his life like in his senior years? Was he able to afford quality goods for use in his household? Answers to questions like these can only be found in the archaeological record at his homestead.
The history of Dr. Langworthy’s claim started to emerge when modern cultural resource studies began in the northern Dubuque locality. Archaeologist Anton Till was conducting a survey of the locality in 1977 when he visited the occupants of an old house located on a farmstead in a hollow west of the Couler Valley (Figure 2). The two-story brick house with a prominent front gable, stone foundation, and stone lintels above the windows and front door appeared to date to the late 1840s. The residents of the house apparently were unable to provide much information on the early history of the house, and with other archaeological and historic era properties also needing his attention, Till was unable to pursue the history of the farmstead. The house was abandoned a few years later, and fell into disrepair.
In the summer of 1996 the old house and several outbuildings
were torn down. I was conducting an archaeological survey of the lower
reach of Union Park Hollow that season while the demolition was in progress.
I knew that the house was fairly old because it corresponded to the
location of a house on several historical plat maps in the State Historical
Society of Iowa’s collections. The oldest map that showed any structures
in the area was dated 1874. Also, Till’s report had estimated the age
of house, at that time, at about 130 years.
View to the west of the old house taken in 1977.
After the heavy equipment moved on and the dust had settled I took a closer look at the old house site. The house had been built on a terrace remnant at the juncture of two hollows carved into the bedrock west of the Couler Valley. Composed of alluvial deposits laid down late in the last glacial epoch, the terrace remnant stood about 10 feet above the floor of the hollow and covered not more than a quarter acre. The terrace remnant was located just downstream from a perennial spring emerging from the base of the bedrock bluff. A spot of bare ground, surrounded by a weedy bluegrass lawn and a U-shaped driveway, marked the spot where the house had stood. Scattered about were glass and ceramic fragments, and even a few chert flakes, indicating that Native Americans had found this an attractive location as well. My assistant, Beth Steele, and I collected some of the surface artifacts and excavated two shovel tests in the lawn area to provide a sample of material from undisturbed soils. The shovel tests yielded additional glass, ceramic, brick, and nail fragments, and a few more flakes.
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