A recent archaeological dig on the property at Oak Street and Thompson Boulevard in downtown Ventura yielded various artifacts, mainly English tableware dating back to the 1890s. The dig is one of the preliminary phases of the Encanto Del Mar project, which is a new construction, 37-unit affordable rental development with an estimated total project cost of approximately $17 million, according to the Housing Authority of San Buenaventura.
Archaeological deposit from an 1890s home found during construction of the Encanto Del Mar project.
by John M. Foster, RPA
Each of these artifacts is part of a story and when put together, they provide us with a glimpse of history on an individual level but also speak of broader trends in our state and national history.
Most of the tableware is English and was widely imported into the United States during the 1890s. It was cheaper and better quality. In general the artifacts represent an upper-middle-class collection. The majority of items are related to tableware, and for the most part, there is not much else. There are several different sets of dishes present but mostly of the same quality. The specificity of the artifacts suggests that the deposit might be the result of some type of unique event. In particular, the large number of items representing several sets of dishes suggest some type of catastrophic occurrence that affected the glass and ceramic tablewares. It was mentioned by one investigator that the damage/breakage may have occurred through moving/transport. Some of the artifacts include heirloom items (e.g., a Spode dish from the 1850s, elaborately decorated Asian dishes, and a large Japanese vase), which suggests that such possessions were stored or displayed together when breaking occurred. It is also possible that the deposit may represent household clearance such as might follow the death of an occupant, a new owner, or the discard of old and perhaps no longer fashionable goods.
Preliminary research on the parcel indicated that Henry M. Stiles was the owner of record in 1900. Effort was made to identify Mr. Stiles but no data were found.
From the standpoint of science:
The artifacts represent a highly specific set of data regarding a period of time in Ventura when the Euroamerican population was rapidly expanding. It is likely that the information potential of this assemblage could support comparisons of upper, middle and lower classes in the city as well as ethnic patterns of consumption, display and possible gender preferences. It is our opinion that the artifacts represent a model for comparisons for other collections that will assist in determining significance and evaluating issues of integrity in the City of Ventura.
From the perspective of those living today in Ventura:
It is very rare to find intact the everyday items that people used in the mid-1890s. In particular, there is very little in the way of data on the middle class. The people of the time didn’t think such particulars were of any importance and simply didn’t record them. In this case, we have a snapshot of their tableware, which indicates a preference for meat and potatoes, very little alcohol, and no soup bowls. This suggests that soup was not eaten at this house, which is an indication of a well to do family. This information provides a raw uncolored view of life during the 1890s. With this information, we can learn about our past and how that past has changed through time to get us to where we are today. More importantly, this is the personal history of your own community.
John Foster is the lead archaeologist at Greenwood and Associates, which is conducting the digs at the Palm Avenue/Main Street and Oak Street/Thompson Boulevard sites in Ventura.