Saturday, February 12, 2011

Edwards Trace - articles in Chicago Reader and Illinois Times

Harold Henderson, “Trace Evidence,” Chicago Reader June 5, 2003

Robert Mazrim is haunted by a highway that no longer exists. Tantalizing bits of evidence that it served travelers for thousands of years keep disrupting his regular work as a historical archaeologist. Even the interstates he drives between Saint Louis and Peoria appear to follow the same ghostly corridor, a mile or two wide, through which the old road ran.

"This found me," he says, sounding a bit like a dog with a burr in its paw. "I have no agenda here. I've got plenty else to do." He's director of the Sangamo Archaeological Center and a historical archaeology consultant for the Illinois Transportation Archaeological Research Program at the University of Illinois. "I'm not really interested in studying old roads or putting up a sign saying '3,000-year-old rut.'"

Hardly anything is left of this road, trail, trace, or path. Never paved, it vanished wherever farmers plowed the prairie. The three fragments that appear to have survived did so because they're in areas that were never plowed. One fragment is southeast of Springfield; two are on private property on Elkhart Hill next to the tiny town of Elkhart, Illinois. What remains isn't even a rut. It's just a strip of flat ground roughly a yard wide that's a foot or so lower than the adjacent land, tramped down and eroded over the centuries. Even this much is hard to spot once the weeds grow up in midsummer.

But the trail won't go away. About 15 years ago Mazrim began studying how European-Americans settled the Springfield area in the 1810s and '20s. He found that they frequently used this trail. Over time he managed to uncover documents showing that it had been used by French settlers and missionaries as early as 1711. When he mentioned it to friends who work in prehistoric archaeology, they added to the shadowy story by telling him about prehistoric sites in the corridor that had always puzzled them.

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William Furry, "Barely a Trace" Illinois Times Oct. 4, 2001. Rpt. Sangamon County Historical Society

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