Introduction to the Highway Archaeology Program
The University of Iowa maintains a contract services agreement with the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) to conduct the Highway Archaeology Program as a public service providing cultural resource assessments on transportation projects statewide. Archaeological sites in project areas are examined for their integrity and significance, as are historic buildings proposed for acquisition or removal. Additionally, cultural resource evaluations are available to local governments and preservation organizations applying for SAFETEA-LU (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act—A Legacy for Users) transportation enhancement funding or project planning assistance. Project Completion Reports are submitted to the Iowa DOT Office of Location and Environment in Ames and contain project descriptions, background cultural and environmental data, archaeological and historic architectural survey and testing methods, results, and recommendations, and include maps and photographs. Archaeological collections are curated at the Office of the State Archaeologist in Iowa City, and historic architectural documentation is curated with the State Historic Preservation Office of the State Historical Society of Iowa in Des Moines.
How the Program Works
The Highway Archaeology Program coordinates archaeological and historic architectural surveys with transportation planners and engineers to provide cultural resource evaluations early in the planning process. In the past decade nearly 800 transportation-related projects have been evaluated, including surveys across 10,100 acres (4,100 hectares), providing assessments of over 430 archaeological sites and 580 buildings or farmsteads affected by transportation improvements. In many instances, highway planners are able to successfully design projects to preserve significant historic properties eligible to the National Register of Historic Places.
One unique project last year involved the investigation of a submerged historic archaeological site in the Iowa River. Proposed dredging activities associated with the U.S. 65 bridge replacement in Iowa Falls in Hardin County were close to the underwater remains of the mid-nineteenth century White’s Mill and Dam. The remains of this mill were flooded in the early twentieth century following the construction of a hydroelectric dam. A water drawdown event in the hydroelectric dam pool in 2008 exposed the mill site remains. These remains were in close proximity to an area that needed to be dredged to facilitate the launching of barges needed for bridge repairs. Maintaining close cooperation with city engineers and hydroelectric company officials, archaeological investigations were scheduled during a second water drawdown a year later. During this second temporary drawdown the scattered mill foundation remains were mapped and tested while exposed on a sand bar. Ultimately, it was determined that the submerged mill site has no archaeological integrity remaining and was not eligible to the National Register of Historic Places.
Iowa's Historic Automobile Roads
The study titled Iowa’s Historic Automobile Roads, a National Register study of pre-1948 arterial highways, was completed earlier as part of a Memorandum of Agreement between the Iowa DOT and SHPO stemming from the mitigation of the removal of archaeological site 13MC133, an early automobile road segment. The study examined two highway corridors of multi-county length and opposite directions. The focus of the study was to stay within the right-of-way and not include ancillary elements except where pertinent. The intensive survey chose two study routes, U.S. 34 and U.S. 218. A total of 1,452 highway-related structures were identified, analyzed, and evaluated. Eleven principal historic themes related to arterial highway construction in Iowa were identified. These overlapping themes outlined specific historical, technological, and political trends and periods specifically related to highway context development. These themes provide the baseline means for applying historic contexts during the study period that dates from 1900 to 1948. Using the two study routes as examples, the report presents information on how to identify, survey, and document historic roads in Iowa, and evaluate their significance under the criteria of the National Register of Historic Places.
The Iowa’s Historic Automobile Roads report is available for download from the Iowa DOT’s website. The historic roads study team members Carl Merry, Marlin Ingalls, and Maria Schroeder were honored to be selected as the recipients of the 2011 Excellence in Consulting Award presented by the National Council on Public History (NCPH). This prestigious award for “outstanding contributions to the field of public history through consulting or contract work” is presented at the NCPH Annual Meeting.
Concluding Remarks About the Highway Archaeology Program
The Highway Archaeology Program meets professional standards and guidelines for archaeological and historic architectural fieldwork and reporting, with the goal providing counties, municipalities, and the Iowa DOT with complete preservation coverage on transportation projects. This work gathers useful historical and archaeological information that is of significant research and educational value. The program has had a long and successful tenure, and due to its comprehensive nature, is equipped to provide efficient and professional cultural resource evaluations.
Carl Merry, RPA
Director, Highway Archaeology Program