At Main Street Station: Buried Bar, Secret Streets 

That includes “lots and lots of alcohol bottles,” says James E. Sved, the on-site project manager and architect for URS Construction Services, the contractor for the city’s future downtown transportation hub.

Sved, who has a degree in architectural history, says he’s been uncovering the “spaghetti-like history” buried beneath the century-old train station and the area that surrounds it. “I love this stuff,” Sved says.

There is a piece of pottery dating to 1804, according to URS’s archaeology lab in North Carolina. There is Bell Tavern at 15th and Main streets, buried so deep one of its windowsills is 14 feet underground. There are old walls, plates and coffee cups, hundred-year-old milk bottles and — when workers least expected it — a sewer line.

“It was a surprise,” Sved says. About five weeks ago, workers were digging with a Cat 320 backhoe west of the station at the beginning of Walnut Alley, a barely visible lane that runs between Havana ’59 and O’Brienstein’s, through the 17th Street Farmers’ Market and past Alley Katz.

The backhoe struck something solid, and suddenly water burbled forth. Sved says they had knocked a hole in a 5-foot-wide, 3-foot-deep granite trough. It dates back to at least the 1850s, Sved says, and carries the water from Shockoe Creek, which runs under Main Street Station and down to the James River.

The city’s Department of Public Utilities told Sved it wasn’t on the map, and officially didn’t exist. But map or not, “it’s an active part of the city sewer system,” Sved told them. The city sent environmental officials who discovered that there was no human waste traveling through the trough — only creek and storm water. Now the hole is fixed, and workers are moving on.

“This was a bustling commercial area,” Sved says, “and we’ve hardly been able to put a shovel or spade in the ground without finding something.”

The more significant somethings are being catalogued, cleaned and stored. Some of them will be displayed at the new Main Street Station. Others will be taken in by the Valentine Richmond History Center. —Jason Roop


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