At the site of the Exploreum Museum of Science and Imax Theater in downtown Mobile, excavations have uncovered aspects of the city's riverfront hidden over the past two hundred years.

Some of the most impressive features of the Exploreum site were the layers of wooden beams used to fill in the river’s marshes. These beams are thought to have come from Fort Carlota (the Spanish name for Fort Condé). In the 1820s the old fort was dismantled, with many of the bricks and other demolition debris used for landfill. These short pointed logs were probably fraising, sharpened stakes used in the moat to deter attackers. Once the beams were placed in the marsh, layer upon layer of fill material was piled on top to produce a stable building surface.

Much of the debris found in this location consisted of broken wine bottles discarded from a nearby tavern sometime in the early 1820s.

The wood, which normally would deteriorate in the ground, was preserved here because of the high watertable. We used pumps to lower the water level, then sopped up the remaining moisture with a vacuum cleaner -- an unusual archaeological tool!

Midway across this city block, where the Admiral Semmes statue now stands, was the original edge of the city; to the east were marshes bordering the Mobile River. Between 1780 and 1850, first Spanish and then American settlers filled in those marshes to reclaim land for new construction. Now modern development gives us an opportunity to examine the history of Mobile’s colonial and antebellum waterfront.
Part of the Exploreum Museum will be housed in the historic Matt Sloan Building, the east facade of which was originally the entrance to the City Market complex, built in 1855. During some preliminary site work, the firm of Holmes and Holmes Architects found the remains of an old brick wall under the floor of the Sloan Building.

The brick wall, built directly on the recently filled marsh, is the foundation of an 1820s cotton warehouse. Such "cotton palaces" were huge structures that housed the wooden presses used to pack cotton into 500-pound bales, ready for shipment to Europe.
This archaeological project was funded by the Alabama Historical Commission, the Exploreum Museum, and the City of Mobile.

Copyright © 2013 by The University of South Alabama
Last Updated:
Thursday, July 23, 2015 8:59 AM