VIRGINIA CITY - An archaeological dig at the former site of the Boston Saloon could get started as early as June.
Funds have been found to allow the state Historic Preservation Office to dig into one of the more important sites in Virginia City. The saloon was a popular refuge for the African-American community.
Ron James, Nevada historic preservation officer, said the state preservation office has acquired permission to use $25,000 from its grant program, supported by the state and the National Park Service, to fund the excavation during its first few weeks.
"We are very grateful to Karen K. Wells of Reno for a donation that will allow us to hire equipment to peel back the upper layers of the site to expose an important chapter of the state's past," said Kelly Dixon, administrator of the Comstock Archaeology Center.
Archaeologists are seeking more donations so that the site can be professionally excavated.
"With this funding, we will have the excavation open in July," said Dixon. "And we are inviting the public to visit us as we work."
James and Dixon stressed that there may be nothing like the Boston Saloon site throughout the West.
"Westerners moved around quickly during the 19th century," said James, "and most businesses failed or changed location within a few months. A site like this, where an African-American business stayed in one location from 1866 to 1875 is a world-class discovery. Its survival makes it a one-of-a-kind resource."
"This site has an enormous potential to give us new insight concerning an important group and about a highly significant national landmark," said Dixon. "We have gleaned all we can from the written record regarding the African-American community living on the Comstock. Now we must turn to archaeology to complete the story."
Dixon also pointed out that archaeologists have worked for decades on African-American sites east of the Mississippi, but work like this in the West is rare.
"This is partly because professional archaeological excavations are extremely costly so that all the artifacts and the information they contain can be carefully removed and studied," said Dixon. "And that is why we are still seeking private donations so this excavation can be completed."
The Comstock Archaeology Center, a private nonprofit organization, still needs $250,000 to complete the excavation and artifact analysis. Dixon said that even modest donations will make it possible to continue the project.
"A small contribution could help us with basic things such as replacing the asphalt parking lot for the private property owner or buying plastic bags and containers to hold what may be tens of thousands of artifacts," said Dixon. Her recent excavation of John Piper's Old Corner Bar in Virginia City yielded more then 100,000 artifacts occupying nearly 100 cubic feet of material.
The center will announce when the site is available for public tours after preliminary work is complete. "Because of the significance of this site, it should attract national attention," said James.