Archeological Excavation of Baird Lots in Dallas


George and Mary Baird were early owners of several lots in downtown Dallas.  John Neely Bryan had laid out the town on the site of his original 1847 grant. George and Mary Baird bought two lots from Bryan in 1849, as did Mary’s father, William Traughber.  George and Mary Baird bought two more lots in 1852.  Neely’s survey identified the location of these lots as “Block 13”, but the official city maps later identified it as “Block 10”.  A map of the owners of the lots on these blocks is shown below.

DALLASThe now-infamous Texas Book Repository, from which Lee Harvey Oswald shot John F. Kennedy, was built on Lots 7 and 8 – the original site of the Baird’s house.  George and Mary Baird owned most of the block in the 1850s – they had bought Lots 3, 4, 7 and 8 and inherited Lots 5 and 6 from her father, William Traughber.  George Baird built a house on lots 7 and 8 about 1856 and the family lived in it until well after George Baird’s death.  He may have operated his grocery store on the western side of the block, and evidently rented the house(s) on the other lots or used them for his slaves.   After George Baird’s death, Mary sold Lots 3, 4, 7 and 8 to the Texas and Pacific Railroad for $6,000.  (The railroad had just filed to run track through the block.)  The railroad resold lots 7 and 8 just four months later to Maxime Guillot’s widow, the neighbor to the north, who appears to have used the Baird house as a boardinghouse. In 1894 the Rock Island Plow Company acquired lots 7 and 8 from Mrs. Guillot, tore down the original Baird house, and built a large building covering nearly all of lots 7 and 8.  The building burned in 1901 and was immediately rebuilt in brick.  This building had several uses over the years, but in 1963 was the Texas Book Depository.  The building was purchased by Dallas County in 1977, restored, and is used today as the Dallas County Administration Building.

In 1987 the Dallas County Historical Foundation proposed to build the John F. Kennedy Memorial on the north side of the building, on parts of Lots 1 and 2.  Realizing that this was one of the first settlements of Dallas, Southern Methodist University archeologists performed an excavation of the area marked on the map below.  The western edge of this excavation covered part of the “backyard” of George and Mary Baird’s rented lots.

When the Texas Schoolbook Depository building (or its predecessor) were built, material removed from the site was apparently deposited onto lots 1 and 2.  From this material thrown out of the original excavation for the building, the archeologists concluded that the original house on lots 7 and 8 was built about 1857.  This is consistent with what we know about the family which moved from Record Crossing onto this block about 1856.

The following is quoted from the report.  [Areas “G” and “H” refer to the western edge of the excavation, the portion covering the easternmost part of lots 3 and 4. Area “G” is the portion of the excavation covering Lot 3 and Area “H” is the portion covering Lot 4.]

SMU Report

The material culture assemblage from Dwelling G (i.e., from Areas G and G/J) is directly related to the occupation of a one-story, board-and-batten shotgun-style dwelling shown on Brosius’s (1872) map. The dwelling was probably built in 1853, or soon thereafter, by George and Mary Baird, who had probably built their home on the southeast quarter (i.e., Lots 7 and 8) of Block 10/13 in 1849. (Window glass from sealed strata within yielded an estimated initial construction date of 1857). Since archival data demonstrate that the Baird’s domestic servants lived in dwellings on Lots 7 and 8 outside of the excavated area, the occupants of Dwelling G (i.e., in Area G) were instead tenants of the Bairds.

The ceramic assemblage from Areas G and G/J is similar to that of Dwelling A (i.e., Area A) and Dwelling B (i.e., Areas B-E, inclusive, and Area J), as it includes hand-painted floral, cut sponge-stamped, and edged motifs on English transitional ironstone and ironstone wares (dating ca. 1830s-1860s) as well as transfer-printed ironstones (dating ca. 1860s- 1890s). The tablewares in the Areas G and G/J ceramic assemblage include 36 flatware and 57 hollowware forms, indicating a somewhat lower economic status than that displayed by Dwellings A and B (Miller 1980:1-40). Maker’s marks identified within the Areas G and G/J assemblage include a “Edwards [Dalle Hall” Burslem, a pottery which operated 1851-1882 out of Staffordshire, England. Other notable items from Areas G and G/J include bone, shell, porcelain, black glass, and ferrous metal buttons as well as porcelain doll parts and a toy tea cup, a marble, writing slate, rubber composition comb fragments, wool and cotton cloth and shoe leather, straight pins, a kerosene lamp damper, a padlock, one .38 caliber shell and one swan shot, an agate doorknob, a spigot or keg tapper, and a lock plate.

Although no foundation remains of Dwelling G were encountered during the present investigations, the presence of several cultural features and a primary outbuilding provide firm evidence of at least one proximal dwelling. The outbuilding, a privy contained a nearly complete ironstone/whiteware (dating ca. 1850-1910) chamber pot within its fill. Other features indicating at least one nearby domestic structure include perimeter fences surrounding Area or Dwelling G and a dense ash deposit in Areas G and G/J. The abundant wood ash in this latter feature may have been generated from fires used to boil water in kettles as part of an commercial laundering operation. Adult- and child-related artifacts are equally represented in the material culture from this portion of the site, which is generally consistent with the sort of young, procreative household dominated by women’s activities which one would expect from the archival data available for the household of Julia Thomas and Jane Cross.

The archival data for Area H and peripheral Areas G/H and H/I indicate multiple occupations by numerous, apparently unrelated African Americans, only one of whom is listed in the 1875 City Directory. Brosius’s (1872) bird’s-eye map of Dallas shows a one-story, board-and-batten, shotgun-style dwelling (i.e., Dwelling H) within a portion of Area H that lies outside of the 41DL279 study area. Its presence on Brosius’s (1872) bird’s-eye map, and an estimated initial construction date of 1872 obtained from chronometric assay of window glass from sealed strata, indicate that Dwelling H was probably built in the 1870s by George and Mary Baird. Although the Brosius (1872) map shows no fences around this dwelling, they were undoubtedly present in 1872. The relatively large number of African Americans enumerated along Pacific Avenue on Block 10/13, all of whom are listed below the 106 Pacific Avenue entries for Julia Thomas and Jane Cross in the 1878-1879 City Directory and the 1880 manuscript census, appear to have resided at and/or in the vicinity of Dwelling H. The portion of Area H that lies within the present excavation area at 41DL279 represents the accumulated midden deposits in the corner of Lots 3 and 4, which presumably originated with this household and its apparently successive residents. This group seems to have little close kinship and were either all boarding at the same address or at one of the three addresses listed in the 1875 City Directory (108, 110, or 114 Pacific Avenue). Since archival data indicate that the Baird’s domestic servants lived in dwellings on Lots 7 and 8, the occupants of Dwelling H were undoubtedly Baird tenants.

The ceramic assemblage from Dwelling H (i.e., Areas H. G/H, and H/I) includes a nearly complete redware (ca. 1830-1860) mug, a Bennington (ca. 1840-1880) spittoon, blue-tinted (ca. 1850-1910) ironstone sherds, and imported (British or German) mineral water or ginger beer bottles. The single maker’s mark identified in the Dwelling G assemblage is a black transfer-printed Lion and Unicorn motif with the inscription “Best Ironstone China Warranted.” Ceramic tablewares in the assemblage include 12 flatware and eight hollowware forms, indicative of relatively low economic status. Also recovered from this portion of the site were a hand-finished bottle (ca. 1875-1920), fragments of the green “[Congress and] Empire Spring Co. Saratoga N.Y.” bottle noted in Area C, and a panel bottle embossed “Hickox and House Drug Co. Dallas” (ca. 1881-1883). Other notable items from Dwelling H (i.e., Areas H. G/H, and H/I) include bone, shell, and porcelain buttons, and one composition rubber button engraved “N. R. Co. Goodyear’s PT,” writing slate, a reed-stemmed elbow pipe, and a cake server with floral decoration. Adult-related activities and service-related professions are indicated by the material culture assemblage, which parallels the young demographic profile for those individuals listed on the 1880 census.