Bridges Site Investigation

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In August 2013, the CAI conducted investigations for IHPA at the Bridges Tavern site in Johnson County, which is located directly on the Trail of Tears. The site currently consists of the archaeological remains of the Bridges family tavern and a one-room log structure called the “Wayside Store.” Oral histories (ca. 1818–1940) collected in the 1930s stated that Cherokee traveling along the “Trail of Tears” purchased alcohol and other supplies at the Wayside Store while journeying through southern Illinois in 1837–1839. The goal of the investigations was to determine if the structure indeed could date to that period. Archival research revealed that the Bridges family indeed were selling alcohol and operating a store at the site as early as the 1840s, supporting the oral history. Architectural analysis of the Wayside Store also revealed that it was a pre-1800 structure that potentially could date to the 1830s.

Image of Bridges Tavern

Bridges Tavern, ca. 1934

Archaeological investigations around and within the structure recovered early nineteenth-century artifacts and indicated that it represented an outbuilding (such as a store) rather than a residence. Our conclusion is that the combined lines of evidence—oral history, archaeological, architectural, and archival—indicate a strong likelihood that the Wayside Store indeed does date to the Trail of Tears (1837–1839) period. As such, it represents one of the only structures still standing in southern Illinois associated with this event.

wayside store excavations

Excavations adjacent to log “store” building (left) at the Bridges Tavern site.