Prospect House Archaeology

The Dig at San Juan by Jay Johnson

James Allison Colehour (he was affectionately called “Cap” or “Captain”) built and operated the Prospect Inn – the first resort in the area of Battle Lake, MN – from 1886 to 1924.

In 1902 he built the house next door to be his home – so he wouldn’t have to stay at the Inn with the tourists. He named this house “San Juan”. Cap was always very supportive of the military and was keenly interested in the 1898 Spanish-American War and Teddy Roosevelt’s performance in the Battle of San Juan.

Cap closed the Inn in 1924 and retired at San Juan. About that time he built a full length porch on the east side of the house, facing Lake Avenue, so he could sit and watch the comings and goings in town.

In October 2011, we removed the old porch in preparation to restore the original front of the San Juan house. My family has always been interested in history. Cap started the first Archaeological Society in the area in 1885 and working with the State Historical Society excavated Indian mounds. Some of the artifacts found are in the Smithsonian. It came naturally to me to want to see what 90 years had left under the old porch.

Dust! Soil so fine and dry that most of it would qualify as dust. Over a foot of accumulation sifting through the floor and blown in from the sides.

A cat perfectly mummified very flat with no hair. Dried eyeballs staring sightlessly.

Glass. I think they threw all the broken window glass under the porch. Hundreds or more pieces, including crocks, bottles and china.

A variety of bones reminiscent of meals long ago. (probably dragged under the porch by one of the family dogs) The jawbone of a pig with saw marks from the butcher shop. They evidently cooked it for what little meat they could get from it. Cap was poor at the time of the Depression and the Dust Bowl.

A small cast iron Santa Claus with arms missing.

An old door latch, a fancy iron hook that fits on a wood stove, a variety of nails, and the top of a tobacco tin – Cap’s for sure – he smoked a pipe all of his life.

One coin, an Indian Head penny, dated 1898, the date of the Spanish-American War. Did Cap put it there on purpose? He would do things like that.

Next season the dig will continue looking for more nuggets of the Prospect House history.