NCC has had the unique opportunity over the past five years to be the primary consultant for two major archaeological undertakings happening at Fort Snelling.
Fort Snelling was initially an early 19th century frontier military post built at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers, known to the Dakota as Bdote. Begun in 1820, the fort secured the fur trade for American companies, strove to prevent conflict between Ojibwe and Dakota Indians, and likewise initially kept European settlement out of Native American lands in the newly acquired Louisiana Territory. During its 125 years of active service, the Fort underwent a number of physical changes emblematical of the army’s growth and change through the Civil War, Spanish American War, and World Wars. First constructed only at the very bluff tip over the confluence, the Fort spread both south and west encompassing more and more prairie. Fort Snelling is arguably the most well-known historic and archaeological site in Minnesota.
Fort Snelling itself is divided into an upper and lower post. The lower post, or Historic Fort Snelling is maintained and operated by the Minnesota Historical Society. The Society has been in the process of a revitalization effort for the past several years including the removal of its existing visitor center, built in the 1980s, the renovation of an extant 1905 building into a new visitor center, and changes to the historic park’s landscape and visitor orientation.
Beginning in 2018, NCC was hired by the Minnesota Historical Society to complete identification and evaluation efforts ahead of revitalization construction efforts. This fieldwork was coordinated with other cultural experts, including Archaeo-Physics, who completed multiple geophysical investigations throughout the next two years. NCC’s identification efforts stretched from the historic fort itself all the way beyond existing parking along the bluff. Ultimately, 110 shovel tests and 32 excavation units were completed over two seasons of excavation. During this work, 1000s of historic artifacts from the fort’s past were recovered an analyzed. In addition to these materials, multiple foundations and features from previous buildings, some of which had never been identified, were also documented. Collectively, these efforts helped inform and shape how construction efforts have moved forward.
Fort Snelling itself is divided into an upper and lower post. The upper post of Fort Snelling stretches all the way to the airport and is managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Still standing structures in this area are primarily from the early 20th century and include officer homes, infantry barracks, and administration buildings including a post headquarters, gymnasium, hospital, morgue, jail, and band building.
Fort Snelling Leased Housing Associates I, LLLP is proposing to develop several buildings and sites on the upper post, utilizing federal and state historic rehabilitation tax credits, to make homes for low-income veterans. NCC was hired ahead of these efforts to assist stakeholders in better understanding the below ground, cultural resources present in the area. Archaeological efforts were completed through a combination of in-depth research, geophysical investigation, and archaeological excavation. Ultimately, over 200 shovel tests and a dozen formal units were completed.
Artifacts documented two primary occupation periods consisting of modern and historic soils overlaying an Archaic prehistoric site. The Archaic component was recommended as eligible to the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion D. Additionally, four historic features: a privy for 1879-1970s NCO Family Housing, the 1931-1965 Reserve Officers Quarters Building 177, the 1889-1932 Chapel, and the 1889-1930 Schoolhouse were recommended as contributing to Fort Snelling’s National Register existing status under Criterion D.
After completion of archaeological efforts, NCC was asked to design a comprehensive construction management strategy. As this project moved forward in the late spring of 2021, NCC was on the ground with numerous monitors completing mitigation efforts and making sure archaeological resources are not adversely impacted by renovation efforts. As of fall 2022 this project is still underway, making the Fort Snelling Upper Post Flats project the longest, continually working project NCC has ever attempted. Over the course of the past year and a half, NCC has documented dozens of previously unknown archaeological features including temporary buildings, garages, and privies. Our understanding of the archaeological components related to the Upper Post has never been more complete than it is today.