Bear Creek: a case study in locating historic site remains in southeast Texas



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Texas A&M University


In the Gulf Coastal Prairie and Marsh region of Texas, historic archaeological sites are often obscured by dense vegetation resulting in extremely limited surface visibility. In an environment such as this, historic sites can only be detected by the presence of above-ground features such as architectural remains and landscaping. Although not standard among cultural resource management firms, the use of historical aerial photography and informant interviews can be effective and efficient pre-field strategies for locating sites in this region. Identification of such sites is further enhanced by an in-depth understanding of the characteristic remains of pier and beam construction, which was commonly utilized in 19th-century southeast Texas farmsteads. Four 160-acre grants located in the Addicks Reservoir, Harris County, Texas were used as a case study to test the effectiveness and efficiency of these pre-field research strategies. Each of these tracts was associated with the mid 19th-century establishment of the German immigrant community of Bear Creek, and each tract contained the remnants of farmsteads where structures had often been removed or relocated leaving little above-ground remains to be discovered using standard survey techniques. A 1915 topographical map and a 1930 aerial photograph of the area were employed together with accounts of former residents and descendants of former residents that indicated locations of former farmsteads on each of these tracts. Additional archival research, including U.S. Army Corps of Engineers acquisition files for Addicks Reservoir, was conducted prior to a field ??ground-truthing?? survey of the properties. As a result, all six of the historic sites that appear on a 1930 aerial photograph of the area were located and documented. One historic site that appeared on a 1915 topographical map of the area but did not appear on the 1930 aerial photograph was not located.