Historic Fort Snelling
Objects from the Short Barracks of Fort Snelling, at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers
The United States government established Fort Snelling at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers in 1820 to protect American fur trade interests in the region and to gain a foothold in the western territory that would become Minnesota. The fort served various military functions until 1946 when the army decommissioned the site.
Proposed construction of a highway through the middle of the historic fort in 1956 created a public outcry. Although only four original structures remained standing, interest in the site prompted the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) to hire an archaeologist who determined that significant deposits remained below ground. MNHS acquired the property to serve as a living history museum by restoring the fort to its 1820s appearance based upon evidence collected from archival and archaeological research.
Between 1965 and 1981, MNHS staff conducted what may be one of the largest archaeological excavations of a military installation in the United States. Every building that stood within the walls of Fort Snelling in the 1820s was excavated. Field records document an excellent state of preservation for below-grade building remnants. Basements contained demolition debris but were otherwise consistently intact.
MNHS archaeologists collected over 600 cubic feet of artifacts and samples during sixteen years of field work. Project staff created paper documentation for maps, field notes, photographs, and catalogs. Because the restoration research necessarily focused on structural remnants, most of the collections received only cursory examination before curation. Most of the reports written about the site have only been distributed internally.
A grant-funded inventory project conducted between 2013 and 2017 resulted in the creation of the first comprehensive digital catalog records for the Fort Snelling collections. (Funding was provided by the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund of Minnesota’s Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment.)
The Short Barracks (aka the Stone Barracks)
Completed in late 1820, the Short Barracks was a limestone building originally constructed to provide housing and dining facilities for two companies of 40 men each. The building measured 190 by 21 feet had two cellars consisting of two rooms each at the east and west ends. This barracks was converted to use as ordnance storage by 1885 and it was demolished in 1903.
Excavation of the building began with a test trench on the west end in 1968. Based upon this work, a front loader was brought in to remove demolition rubble from inside the foundation. Archaeologists then created a grid consisting of 10 foot squares aligned to the structure. The 1971 excavations used the grid squares as excavation units except when dense artifacts deposits were encountered, then the units were divided into 2 or 5 foot strips. Standard practice at this time allowed for control of vertical provenience by preserving two foot square control baulks at the intersections of grid lines to measure depth from surface. Research on this building was completed in September 1971.
Contact InformationMinnesota Historical Society, Archaeology Department
Historic Fort Snelling
200 Tower Avenue
Saint Paul, MN 55111
P: (612) 726-1171
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