A team of students from the SIU-C Archeological Investigations was doing research during late July and early August at the historic Bridges Store/Tavern in Johnson County.
The former store/tavern is located inside a 1940s-era barn on the farm of Lisa and Steve Thompson. The location is west of West Vienna, north of route 146. The store/tavern was built sometime after 1820, when John Bridges settled his family there.
The National Park Service had requested of Dr. Mark Wagner of SIU-C to do additional research on the building, to provide proof that it figured in the Trail of Tears. A portion of the trail crosses the farm and parallels the nearby route 146.
Although descendants of the Bridges family have shared oral details of the Cherokee passing the homestead and store, during the severe winter of 1838-39, there is no written proof. It is also presumed by local historians that portions of the Cherokee entourage may have camped on the property.
Said Wagner, “We can’t prove it, but it could have been. We were requested to dig and describe in detail what we uncovered.”
David Birnbaum was one of three graduate students involved in the most recent dig, along with four other SIU-C students.
He told of the excavating on all four sides of the barn, as well as inside the barn, and under the floor of the log store. “We did six tests inside and eight tests outside the building.”
The team uncovered some hand-forged cut nails, along with some 19th century broken pieces of pottery, that included both red ware and white ware. The most unusual item that was discovered was a whole clay smoking pipe, formed with a design, but with no holes through the stem. It was determined that it was useless, which is why it was discarded. “It could date to the 1830s,” Birnbaum pointed out.
A part of July and August, for a total of three work weeks, found the students perspiring in the steamy weather. As well, there were a couple of severe rain storms, with the vintage barn providing protection
Birnbaum said it was a learning experience for all involved in the summer field school class.
Wagner told of an SIU-C forestry student, who in 2005, cut a log section from the store/tavern, and said the tree ring showed it was cut in 1831. Wagner concluded, “It could have been here. We can’t prove it, and whether it was or not, we can’t say definitely.”
He added, It’s conceivable, but not conclusive.”
However, local historians and the Bridges descendants maintain that the store/tavern played an important part in the lives of those on the infamous Trail of Tears.
It is anticipated that the National Park Service will place signage at the location some day.