Our next regular meeting will be Tuesday, March 17, 2020 at 7pm at Santa Rita Cantina's central location, 1206 W 38th St (26 Doors shopping center). Meetings are held on the third Tuesday of each month, except June and December. They are free and open to the public. For those who wish to come early, we gather around 5:45 PM for dinner, drinks, and fellowship. The short business meeting starts at 7:00 PM, followed by the guest speaker's presentation.
The March program will feature Douglas K. Boyd, of Cox|McLain Environmental Consulting, speaking on
Buried Bottle Garden Borders: Archeology and Oral History Investigations of a German Immigrant Tradition in Texas.
In 2015 and 2016, a group of archeologists digging at the historic Frost Town site (41HR982) near downtown Houston discovered and investigated two unusual features consisting of rows of buried, upside-down bottles. Only one other similar feature has been reported archeologically in Texas, and it too was discovered in the downtown Houston area back in the 1990s. All three of these “buried bottle alignments” date to the latter half of the nineteenth century and were located at households that were owned and occupied by first-generation German immigrants. The largest of these was an L-shaped bottle alignment found Frost Town, and it contained more 40 in situ bottles dating to the latter half of the nineteenth century, including ceramic ale bottles, glass beer bottles, glass wine bottles, and glass liquor bottles.
These findings launched me on a research quest to discover more about these odd features. I went to meetings of German-Texas heritage and research groups, and I made a flyer and sent it out to these groups. I started talking to anyone who would listen to my ramblings and sent out more flyers to spread the word about my research. I began scouring online literature and historical newspapers looking for examples. Since 2015, I have gathered a few published accounts of these features and a few dozen oral recollections from people who remember these features in the twentieth century. The most common recollections are from people who remember them from visits to their German-speaking grandparents’ homes when they were kids. Invariably, they remember the upside-down bottles that were used to line garden plots, flower beds, and walkways. As a decorative tradition, these bottle borders survived well into the twentieth century. Some informants speculated that the disappearance of glass bottle borders coincides with the common use of motorized lawnmowers in the mid-twentieth century. More recently, decorative bottle borders are experiencing a resurgence in popularity in backyard gardens thanks to social media.
Inverted bottle garden borders have been recreated at a few historic sites that I know of, and one national park plantation site still maintains an amazing array of garden bottle borders that were laid out a century earlier. Historically, the use of inverted bottles as decorative garden borders is strongly linked to German households in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Texas, but it is not exclusively a German tradition and it appears to have spread to other groups (e.g., African Americans) in the twentieth century.
In this program, we will look at the archeological examples of bottle borders, review the oral history evidence, and look at the modern reconstructed and maintained bottle garden borders. The program will end with some speculative thoughts and an interactive discussion on why people created these buried bottle garden borders in the first place. Were they created only for aesthetic reasons? Did they serve some practical function? Was the tradition brought to Texas from the Old World, or was it a local response in which frugal German immigrants reused old bottles rather than discarded them (as many people have suggested to me)? And finally, was there some hidden meaning behind this nineteenth-century tradition…perhaps a holdover from some ritual context that has been lost over time?
Photos courtesy of Douglas K. Boyd.
Douglas K. Boyd is a senior archeologist with Cox|McLain Environmental Consulting (who recently purchased Prewitt and Associates). He has been doing archeology a long time…more years than he would like to admit. He received a BA degree from West Texas State University in 1983 and an MA degree in Anthropology from Texas A&M University in 1986. For the last 30 years he has served as a project archeologist, project manager, or principal investigator on many cultural resources management projects in Texas, and has published many CRM reports and articles for books, professional journals, and popular magazines. Boyd’s most recent big CRM project is directing the archeological investigations at the historic Frost Town site in downtown Houston, a large-scale data recovery project for the Texas Department of Transportation.
March 14: Llano Uplift Archaeological Society regular meeting: James Ramsey on Bonfire Shelter Bone Bed 2.
March 17: Regular meeting: Doug Boyd (Cox|McLain Environmental Consulting) on "Buried Bottle Garden Borders: Archeology and Oral History Investigations of a German Immigrant Tradition in Texas"
March 28: Llano Uplift Archeological Society Fair, 10am-3pm. Nightengale Archaeological Center, 1010 Circle Dr., Kingsland, Texas.
June 13-20: TAS Field School, Kerrville, Texas.
October 22-25: TAS Annual Meeting, Katy, Texas.