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Montana Matters


What Lies Beneath: Missoula Underground
March 01, 2013
editor@montanaliving.com


Missoula underground project reveals city's history
After months of researching the facts, folklore and history of the underground features of Missoula’s historic downtown, students in a University of Montana archaeological survey class are ready to present their findings to the public.

The presentation, “What Lies Beneath? Missoula Historic Underground Project,” will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, March 1, at the Missoula Mercantile building. The event is a part of First Friday Missoula and is free and open to the public.

“Whether Missoula, Portland, Seattle, Butte or Havre, the American West’s urban undergrounds are laced with mystique,” said UM anthropology Associate Professor Kelly Dixon, who teaches the class. “By examining archival, architectural and archaeological evidence, along with local collective memories, this archaeology project is dedicated to documenting and understanding the physical remains of Missoula’s historic urban underground landscape that included a mix of steam tunnels, sidewalk vaults and extensive basement spaces.”

Fifteen students in the class teamed up with recently retired Missoula Historic Preservation Officer Philip Maechling to document, photograph and catalog any information pertaining to Missoula’s historic underground.

Friday’s event will include brief presentations of the findings thus far, a slideshow of the many photographs taken over the course of the project and intermittent tours of the Missoula Mercantile basement. People are welcome to come and go at their leisure and are asked to use the building’s rear entrance on Pattee Street.

“The Missoula downtown business community has been so cooperative, sharing whatever information they have and graciously putting up with students crawling around in their basements,” said UM anthropology graduate student Nikki Manning. “We’re anxious for people to join us on March 1 so that we can share some of that rich heritage with the community, and we’re always excited to hear additional relevant stories and experiences.”

Students will continue to work with downtown business owners and with UM’s Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library faculty, including Archivist Donna McCrea, to locate historical maps, photos and other records for their research.
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