Dallas County Administration Building

From December 1987 to February 1988, SMU’s Archaeology Research Program conducted the first ever archaeological investigation in the Central Business District of Dallas. The excavation at the Dallas County Administration Building, better known as the Texas School Book Depository, was undertaken ahead of the construction of the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza by co-Principal Investigators David Jurney and Randall Moir. While the project was completed for a museum commemorating John F. Kennedy, archaeologists found that the Dallas history preserved beneath the surface went back a century before his presidency. The site encompasses Dallas Block 10/13 and contains evidence of occupation from about 1850 to 1882. What archaeologists found in the area excavated were the backyards of Black slaves, tenants, and laundresses on land owned by George and Mary Baird, as well as part of the dwelling of the Guillot family. The site offers a look into Dallas in the years following the Civil War, a time of growth and change as Reconstruction policies and the introduction of the railroad started Dallas on its path to the bustling city it is today. To read more about the site’s history and SMU’s involvement in the excavations, click here.

Dallas Then

This map shows Dallas in 1872, with the Trinity River on the left-hand side. Drawn by Herman Brosius, the map was made into a color lithograph through paid subscriptions from the people of Dallas.  This portion of the map includes the Baird house, on the northwest corner of Houston and Elm (second street from the left, fourth street down).

Dallas Today

This more recent image shows the Dallas County Administration Building today. It stands exactly where the Baird house once stood, on the northwest corner of Houston and Elm.

Panel Bottle


This medicine bottle was made by a druggist named Milton H. Hickox. Medicine bottles came in a wide variety of shapes, but this particular bottle was made in the Blake style and has the name of the druggist embossed vertically. This style was very popular from the 1880s well into the 20th century.


Toothbrush Fragment


Unlike the plastic toothbrushes commonly used today, earlier toothbrush handles were often made of bone or wood. The bristles did not preserve because they would have been made of animal hair, however the holes that originally held the bristles are clearly visible.

Dinner Plate


This plate was produced by Crown Pottery Company and would have been part of a simple and inexpensive dining set. Ironstone was widely used because it was a durable ceramic that was easy to mass produce, making it cheap and long-lasting. This plate has a stamp on its base called a “maker’s mark”; these marks help archaeologists identify when and where the ceramic was produced.


Bronze or Brass

This type of padlock, called the “Cast Heart” due to its shape, became popular in the mid-1800s and was a competitor to the Scandinavian padlock. Its spring-loaded “drop”, a cover that moved to protect the keyhole, prevented water and dirt from damaging the lock mechanism. Made of sturdy bronze or brass, this lock was largely considered the stronger and more secure option.

Door Handle

Iron or Bronze

This is a lever latch, a type of handle that originated in Europe and later became popular in the United States. Lever latches were often used for interior doors because they didn’t need to be locked. Though metal oxidation has made it harder to see, there is a simple decoration on the handle that would have been popular in the 1870’s.

Cloth Fragments


It is rare for archaeologists to find well-preserved fabric because it often deteriorates when exposed to the elements. However, this site revealed a couple pieces of fabric that helped identify the home of a laundress. The larger fragment appears to be rug or carpet.

Fabric Strap

Rug Front

Rug Back

References Cited

Baird, Robert W.

2010 George Washington Baird (16 December 1821 – 12 March 1876). Bob’s Genealogy Filing Cabinet.

Davidson, James M.

2004 “Living Symbols of their Lifelong Struggles” In Search of the Home and Household in the Heart of Freedman’s Town, Dallas, Texas. Juliette Street.

Davidson, James Michael

2004 Mediating Race and Class Through the Death Experience: Power Relations and Resistance Strategies of an African-American Community, Dallas, Texas (1869-1907). University of Texas at Austin.

Lockhart, Bill

2015 A Tour Through Time in Vaseline Jars.

McDavid, Carol, Rachel Feit, Kenneth L. Brown, and Fred L. McGhee

2013 African American Archaeology in Texas: A Planning Document. The Community Archaeology Reasearch Institute, Inc.

Prior, Marsha and Robert V. Kemper

From Freedman’s Town to Uptown: Community Transformation and Gentrification in Dallas, Texas. The Institute, Inc.

Scott, Jannie Nicole

2016 Constructing Place, Building Community: The Archaeology and Geography of African American Freedman’s Communities in Central Texas. University of Texas at Austin.


About the Digital Exhibit Creators

Barrett Stout is graduating from Southern Methodist University in May 2020 with degrees in Anthropology and History, minors in Spanish, Human Rights, and European Studies. She is graduating with Honors as a member of Lambda Alpha Honors Society for Anthropology and Phi Alpha Theta Honors Society for History. After graduating, Barrett will move to Galicia, Spain, for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship award, where she will facilitate language learning through art engagement. Her long-term goal is to earn a PhD in Anthropology, focusing on the bioarchaeology and funerary archaeology of Latin America, in order to work in the museum field. She is most interested in developing a career as a curator in a major museum setting.


Christina Donovan will be graduating in December 2021 from Southern Methodist University with a Bachelor of Science in Anthropology and a minor in Ethics. Christina is a member of SMU’s chapter of Lambda Alpha National Collegiate Honors Society for Anthropology. During her time at SMU, Christina was the Vice President (2020) and President (2021) of SMU’s Anthropology Club, a Peer Leader in Student Wellness Champions, and an active member in Armstrong Commons Council. Christina also worked in the SMU Archaeology Research Collections as an undergraduate research assistant, where she organized and curated artifacts and designed website exhibits for their virtual display. After graduation, she is interested in pursuing a graduate degree in Archaeology.