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Archaeologists to research labor camps at historic railroad site in Sioux City

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Siouxland Historical Railroad Association Railroad Museum

The turntable and the remaining portion of the Milwaukee Road's roundhouse is shown in 2016 at the Sioux City Railroad Museum. Archaeologists this fall will start excavating a site at the historic Milwaukee Railroad Shops for evidence of labor camps dating to when the shops were built between 1916 and 1918.

SIOUX CITY -- Archaeologists this fall will start excavating a site at the historic Milwaukee Railroad Shops in Sioux City for evidence of labor camps dating to 1916.

The Siouxland Historical Railroad Association, which operates the Sioux City Railroad Museum at the site in Riverside, recently received a $32,250 grant from the State Historical Society of Iowa for the archaeological research. The Gilchrist Foundation also awarded the association a grant for the project, which also calls for the creation of of online educational resources about transportation-related archaeology.

The railroad museum and the University of Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist will hold a kick off ceremony at 11 a.m. Thursday at the museum, 3400 Sioux River Road.  A team of three archaeologists will provide information on the scope of work, educational programs, and volunteer opportunities. A meet ‘n’ greet with the archaeologists reception will follow a news conference, where officials will discuss details of the survey scheduled for this fall.

According to museum officials, new historical research findings produced a backstory of two camps for laborers that built the Milwaukee Railroad Shops between 1916 and 1918. 

The archaeology survey will include shovel tests to assess the subsurface for evidence of cultural artifacts not visible on the surface. Archaeologists will take photos of the area, examine historical images, and conduct a reconnaissance survey to become familiar with the environmental, natural and human-altered characteristics of the area.

Built by the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad to house its roundhouse, locomotive and car repair shops, and steam engine terminal for their rail networks in Iowa and the Dakotas, the 38-building repair shop facility was touted as the railroad company’s second largest.

The shops were downsized beginning in the 1950s, with many of the buildings demolished. A local businessman bought the site in 1981 after a bankruptcy.

The 30-acre site, nestled in between the Loess Hills and the Big Sioux River, became home to the Sioux City Railroad Museum in 1995. Today, the museum features 12 historic buildings and structures, 16 industrial archaeological sites, 13 industrial heritage objects and a rail yard. 

In 2018, the National Park Service approved Sioux City's Milwaukee Railroad Shops as a federally-designated Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

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