Home > Grand Forks Notes, North Dakotiana > Small Town Archaeology III

Small Town Archaeology III

On Friday afternoon, Bret Weber (a historian and social worker in the Department of Social Work) headed out to Crookston, Minnesota on a tip that there were a handful of houses there available for salvage.  The house that interested us the most was 19th century yellow brick home.  Readers of this blog know that I have an interest in what I’ve termed “small town archaeology” (more here and here).  This is the archaeological processes visible in everyday life in a small town.  On Friday, we were able to examine abandonment patterns visible in a group of houses slated for demolition as part of the new levy building project in Crookston.  The Red Lake River curls its way through town so a good many historically significant buildings are likely to be effected by this levy building project. 

Red Lake River

The town itself is not inconsequential.  It is the county seat of Polk County, Minnesota and the seat of the Catholic Bishop with a population of around 8,000 people.  In recent years, however, it has suffered economic decline with several local industries closing down.  Fortunately, the local hospital and the University of Minnesota at Crookston provide some economic stability to the town, but it can hardly be considered a thriving place. 

With this context in mind, it is interesting to see how abandonment and salvage processes proceeded locally. 

Driving through town, one of the strangest sights is a brick building from which the bricks have been removed from one long stretch exposing the wood superstructure.  It seems likely that at some point the brick face of the building became unstable and potentially dangerous and was then removed.  It, nevertheless, presents and intriguing example of the kind of small town archaeological visible here, and it, of course, begs the question: where did those bricks go?

Stripped Bricks Stripped Bricks 2

As we approached our goal, it was clear that the salvaging process was well underway.  The local humane society thrift store to whom the city had given salvage rights, had explained to us that the Amish had already been through many of the houses.  One house had sections of its roof removed.  Perhaps the roof had skylights.  It is interesting to note that no one had salvaged the air conditioner from this house or any of the relatively “modern” looking windows.  The former might make sense if the salvagers were Amish (who might not have had any use for an airconditioner).  I am not sure why the windows were left behind.  Maybe they were too difficult to remove?

House Roof

Doors appeared to be popular objects for salvagers.  Next door to the house with holes in its roof was (what appeared to me to be) an early 20th century house which had had doors and windows removed, but then the front door was curiously boarded closed.  It’s hard to understand this practice considering right next to the boarded up door was the gaping hole left by the removed front window.

Doors and Windows


Further down the street, a more ambitious salvage project had occurred.  This house had its siding removed. The presence of black tar paper under the siding (rather than the typical, modern house wrap) suggests that this siding was not of the very recent vintage.  The house next to it seemed to be sided in metal.  Bizarre.

Stripped Siding

Interestingly, they did not remove the satellite television dish from the house.  If this as the work of the Amish, I guess that makes sense.  I can also hear my wife saying something about disposable technology.  Since these dishes are typically part of a service, it may not have been worth the effort to remove it.

Stripped Siding w Dish

We arrived at our destination after this impromptu tour of local abandonment practices.  For our contribution to the salvaging of this houses (a kind of experimental archaeology), stay tuned tomorrow.

Crookston House

For some Crookston on the web, check out this page of olde tyme photos, this interesting blog, this one too, and the work of the Prairie Skyline Foundation.

  1. December 7, 2009 at 9:45 am

    Very nice. BTW, I just clipped a photographic essay on abandonment in Detroit(in Harper’s) and one of the images highlights a satellite dish on a 19th c home. And you’re right. Dish Network installs satellite dishes but only takes back the expensive part, which is a little white plastic thing that gets attached to the dish. Most of the time, people don’t even bother with that.

  2. December 7, 2009 at 9:51 am

    … and I hope you’re listening to “Rag and Bone” by the White Stripes during the project

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