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1870s Artifacts Dug Up in West Town Include Animal Bones, Hot Sauce Bottle

By Alisa Hauser | July 1, 2016 9:52am
 Unearthed bottles found during a dig in West Town.
Unearthed bottles found during a dig in West Town.
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Eric Nordstrom/Urban Remains

WEST TOWN —  Bottles, signs, shoes and thousands of small animal bones were unearthed during a dig on Wednesday at an 1870s era building.

"I am doing the best I can to present the most accurate narrative based on the stuff I was able to recover at the job site," said Eric Nordstrom, an urban archeologist and founder of Urban Remains, a West Town firm that recycles and re-sells objects from old buildings.

Nordstrom's latest project took him to 1532 W. Chicago Ave. in West Town.

Previously home to Rothschild Liquors, the building was sold for $750,000 in December. It is being partially demolished to build a new three-story structure with retail on the ground floor and eight apartments upstairs and a rooftop deck, permits show.

In a blog post, "Historically Important pre fire Chicago Saloon in West Town partially demolished," Nordstrom writes that the ongoing partial demolition and redevelopment has significantly altered the existing building.

"The 3-story red brick facade has been shuttered for some time and notably suffered the removal of an iconic neon sign earlier this year. now, without the lit up 'rothschild liquor mart' signage protruding onto the street, and the interior gutted to the point where only exposed brick walls and sub-floors and supporting joists are visible on each floor, the building is a shell of its former self," Nordstrom wrote.

So far, Nordstrom has unearthed at least 30 fragments of beer mugs, and while he might sell some on his website, he plans to keep a green pepper sauce bottle from 1867 for his personal collection. 

That bottle is called a cathedral style for its shape and gothic motifs, he said.

In the late 1860s, a saloon keeper/alderman named Nicholas "Nick" Neckhardt built the building, which bears his last name on the facade.

Nordstrom said he believes the animal bones uncovered were thrown out after the pigs, chicken and cows were cooked in stews at the saloon.

Nick Neckhardt ran the saloon from 1867 until his death in 1901, and then his son operated it through 1936, Chicago Now reports. The name of the saloon is unknown, though a crumbling cobalt blue and white sign advertises a spot called "The Traders," according to Nordstrom's blog.

Neckhardt was born in Germany in 1832 and came to Chicago at age 17.

He was a carpenter before becoming a saloonkeeper and represented the 15th Ward in City Council, after having been elected in 1872 on an independent ticket, according to Nordstrom's research via "The Great Revolution, A History of the Rise and Progress of the People's Party in the City of Chicago and County of Cook," published in 1874 by M.L. Ahern.

"This was a remarkable find," Nordstrom said.



Bottles from the late 1868-1875 unearthed at 1532 W. Chicago Ave. [Eric Nordstrom]

Three privies, or outdoor bathrooms that predates indoor plumbing, were also uncovered on Thursday.

Along with human waste, Chicago residents often used their privies to dispose of broken plates, doll heads and other items, Nordstrom said.

Back in the 1800s, there were "night scavengers" who would get paid to clean out privy pits.  The privy pit at 1532 W. Chicago Ave. has not been "dipped" yet, which is the term for cleaning it.

The privy is expected to be opened or "dipped" soon. Visit Nordstrom's blog for updates. 


Bottles unearthed. [All photos by Eric Nordstrom]

Animal bones.

Another bottle.

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