When many people think of archaeology, they think of digging up items hundreds or thousands of years old, like arrowheads or pottery. But archaeology also looks into the lifeways of the more recent past. (Known as historical archaeology). One very interesting example is the Tremont House Hotel. This territorial-era inn was located on Blake Street near present-day Auraria Parkway in lower Downtown Denver. It was destroyed in 1912 following that year’s Cherry Creek flood, when the building was condemned as uninhabitable.
In the early 1990s, the site was excavated and the foundations of the old hotel were discovered. A major archaeological dig revealed many fascinating clues to how Coloradans lived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Trash was buried on site, so archaeologists were able to find out what people ate (many fish and chicken bones were found), how they groomed (toothbrushes and other personal items were located), what kind of china they served on, and much, much more. The items not only tell of what kinds of things were used at the time, but also told the story of the hotel’s decline from luxury hotel to flop house – this was revealed by the much more elaborate, expensive china dating from the hotel’s early years, to the cheaper, mass produced and institutional-type dishes of the early 1900s.
You can read a fascinating account of the dig and the hundreds of items discovered there in three state publications available from our library: Exploring the Colorado Frontier: A Study in Historical Archaeology at the Tremont House Hotel, Lower Downtown Denver and The Tremont House: Historical Archaeological Investigations of an Early Hotel in Denver, Colorado, both from the Colorado Dept. of Transportation; and Denver: An Archaeological History, from University Press of Colorado. The latter publication also explores other interesting archaeological investigations, including Denver’s Four-Mile House, Rocky Mountain Arsenal, and paleo-Indian sites.