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Looking Into Courtland Place

Urban Archaeology in the Rainier Valley

An unusual crowd filled Courtland Place for five days in October 2002. This tiny street that runs behind the Rainier Square Shopping Plaza was the site of an urban archaeological dig, performed by 4th and 5th graders from nearby John Muir Elementary School, under the guidance of professional archaeologists from the UW's Burke Museum. The area was a city dump in the early part of the 20th century until it was capped in 1939. The children uncovered a treasure trove of old bottles and other containers, broken dishes, car parts, bones, and even a porcelain doorknob!

Donald Fels, artist-in-residence at Courtland Place, organized the project, bringing together RVHS, the Burke, and John Muir in a unique and wonderful collaboration. Courtland Place is a small, often neglected neighborhood, and very little is known of its history. So the students did original research, discovering things no one has ever bothered to find out before. To learn about the neighborhood, kids conducted oral histories, examined historic photographs, and analyzed the artifacts they dug up during the archaeological dig. All of this material, plus the kids' own writings and drawings, was used to create an exhibit about the history of Courtland Place. The exhibit opened in December 2002 at the Rainier Valley Cultural Center and stayed up through June of that year. It was then installed at the Museum of History and Industry for a two-year run.

A huge list of thanks: to the Burke Museum staff and graduate students for organizing the dig; to the students and teachers at John Muir for their fabulous work on the project; to the neighbors who volunteered to be interviewed (including RVH's own Buzz Anderson and Claude Forward); to the Hugh & Jane Ferguson Foundation and the King County Office of Cultural Resources for funding the project; and to Don Fels for dreaming up the whole crazy scheme in the first place.


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