Heritage, Volume 12, Number 2, Spring 1994 Page: 23
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Archaeology Helps Preserve Moore-Hancock Farmstead
by Karen S. Collins and Michael B. Collins
It has taken five years to transform
the three condemned structures
on Sinclair Avenue in Austin
into a historical landmark
recognized by the City and by the
Texas Historical Commission.
This was done with the help of
professional contractors, an historical
architect (Jim Bigger of
Austin), city officials, and a legion
of volunteer archaeologists,
mostly from the Travis County
Archaeological Society. When
we began in 1989, little information
was available on the history
oftthe place, and many aspects of
the buildings were unclear.
To piece together the data to support a
credible rehabilitation, we integrated three
approaches - architectural history, history,
and archaeology. Each of these approaches
contributed information needed
to rehabilitate the three mid-19th century
structures (log house, log outbuilding, stone
outbuilding) and hand-dug well. In this
project, archaeology played a major role in
the preservation process because no other
sources provided such essential information
as the functions, original form, and relative
ages of the outbuildings.
Along with Jim Bigger, we dismantled the
additions, examining and documenting the
architectural evidence for clues to the timing
and sequencing of changes. Little things like
nail holes or stains ("ghosts) hinted at building
elements long since removed and incrementally
contributed to the story. A remarkable
amount of writing was found on
the walls, including several names.
Concurrently, we researched the history.
Because this place and its people were relatively
obscure through much of its existence,
research meant locating deeds, censuses,
court records, and newspapers, and it
meant interviewing people. Identifying the
people whose names we found on the walls
proved to be a valuable adjunct to the usual
records relating to the chain of title.
Archaeological excavations were conducted
in and around the buildings and
well. Such features as an ash-dump and
several privies were revealed and documented.
Thousands of artifacts were recovered
that reflect changing social status of
the residents over time, identify activities
that transpired on the property, and provide
details not to be found in written records.
Archaeology did much more. Excavations
helped determine the form of the
fireplaces missing from both ends of the log
house. Architecturally, the small log outbuilding
would be called a crib, but archaeological
evidence showed that it had
also served as a blacksmith shed, store room,
and hen house. The stone building had
been in ruins by the 1940s, informants told
us, and a part of it incorporated into a house
moved to the site in 1952. It was through
archaeology that we determined its original
dimensions and learned that it originally
had a frame structure connected to it.
Records revealed that Franz Fiset owned
the property from 1899 until 1901, but
nothing could be found to indicate what
Fiset did with the land; we only knew that
he lived elsewhere. Architectural ghosts
told of a masonry flue built under the porch
on the house and later removed. Excavation
revealed a large limestone block that served
as the foundation for that flue,
and on it were carved the names
of W. (for William) Peterson
and Gust (for Gustav) L.
Peterson with the date 1899
(pictured, this page). These were
names that nowhere else were
linked to this property but were
well known as neighboring
landowners. The flue accommodated
a metal stove, and it appears
that the fireplaces were
removed at this time. Obviously,
someone was fixing up the place
for living there in 1899. Through
interviews with Peterson descendents
and other clues, we
infer that the Petersons leased and farmed
the property for the time that it was owned
by Fiset - a part of the history that would
have been lost were it not for the archaeological
Many historical preservation efforts are
undertaken without benefit of archaeological
investigations. Integrating archaeological
findings with those from architecture
and history would enhance the
results in many cases. This is one of the
reasons that historical structures should
not be moved unless absolutely necessary.
This project would have been completely
overwhelmed by the mass of archaeological
materials recovered were it not for the volunteer
efforts of TCAS members. This load
was lightened last year by a grant from the
Texas Historical Foundation that brought
on board two professional archaeologists
versed in 19th and 20th century archaeological
materials. By June of this year, the
collection should be processed, sorted, inventoried,
organized according to standard
curation guidelines, and ready for comprehensive
analysis. That analysis will certainly
add more to the contribution that
archaeology has made to this project.
Karen and Michael Collins spearheaded the
restoration efforts on their property.
HERITAGE * SPRING 1994 23
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 12, Number 2, Spring 1994, periodical, Spring 1994; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45413/m1/23/: accessed September 19, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.