by Digger Odell
1998 Digger Odell Publications

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Mid January 1998
"We have to be close to bottom," I said hopefully to Mike. The only alternative, if we were going to dig what was now nicknamed "The Hole From Hell," was to rent a pump. The same place that rented back hoes had pumps. The big question was, would it be powerful enough to pump water straight up from twenty feet down? The answer turned out to be yes, but it took forever. The hose would kink and need to be held by hand. The two inch diameter hose, when full of water and hanging over the edge of the hole, weighed more than one person could hold. Everything and everyone got wet. It was not just the unpleasantness of the cold weather, but the water was clearly polluted. More than once we questioned our sanity, but greed and the drive to know what was in the bottom of this 1830’s privy lured us as a siren calls sailors to be dashed upon the rocks.

March, 1811
Newport had some months earlier been selected as a recruiting station for Kentucky and Ohio. Washington clearly anticipated war. Recruits were arriving daily and townspeople pointed in awe to the near mile long encampment along the Ohio River. Tecumseh was traveling to tribes all over the West inciting them to violence towards the every growing white community. The Fourth Infantry, garrisoned at Newport, participated in the Battle at Tippecanoe, the battle that presaged an Indian uprising if and when Great Britain and the United States went to war.

Residents received a second shock on December, 6, 1811. Houses began shaking from what was probably the most violent earthquake ever to strike the United States. It was centered in New Madrid, Missouri and was estimated to measure 8.0 on the Richter scale. The force temporarily changed the direction of the flow of the Mississippi and was felt as far away as Boston. While Newport suffered little permanent damage, chimneys were shaken and doors swung open.

February 1998
"It’s your turn Tom," I cajoled as I climbed out steaming from perspiration and covered with mud into the cold winter air. Slipping out of the hip waders I took off my saturated gloves and watched Tom prepare to take his turn. I sat on a bucket next to the hole and watched him disappear into the depths. He climbed down the twenty feet of chain ladder and then onto an aluminum ladder that rested on a shelf of muddy dirt four feet off the bottom. Mike dropped the tape measure into the hole, "thirty feet, he announced." Digging was depressing. Water flowed in as fast as you could dig it out. The mucky fill had artifacts but precious few whole items. At this point we were below river level.

October 1814
Since the War of 1812 had ended, Newport’s status as a frontier town changed to one of greater refinement. The citizens replaced their log courthouse with a brick structure forty feet square and two stories tall topped by a wooden cupola capped with a steeple. Log dwellings disappeared in favor or frame and brick homes. Military cutbacks brought a recession that slowed population growth. Before the war in 1810 there had been a 290% increase from the 1800 census to 413 people. Now after the war in 1820 there had been only a 46% increase to 604 persons.

February 1998
At thirty-four feet we hit bottom. It had taken seven men seven days to dig this monster out and besides consuming us and our energy it produced few intact items. The hole was too old and contained mostly puffs and black glass along with a few shards of a beaded edge flask. At the thirty foot level we had dug out about half of the remaining fill before deciding to call it quits. Ted had opened another hole with the back hoe less than ten feet away. The hole was stone lined and not too deep only 12 feet. We found mostly 1870’s and 1880’s bottles including numerous sodas and a "Warner’s Safe Cure".

February 1840
The founding generation of Virginians, including General James Taylor, had shaped the character of Newport in the virtue of the Southern tradition. The community, of 168 dwellings and 1,149 people had now been settled for two generations and attained a level of social sophistication appropriate for a small southern river community. Newport’s elite young men were trained to conduct themselves as outgoing, yet self composed adults capable of taking command and acting decisively. On the other hand the young women were to demonstrate grace, dignity and cultivation with a hint of a quiet sense of strength.

Several years earlier textile and fabric manufacture had begun to dominate the first phase of Newport’s industrialization. There was a silk factory to weave handkerchiefs and other delicate luxuries, a cotton factory and a woolen factory both of which had extensive machinery, power looms and machine shops as well as a hemp mill all steam operated.

February 1998
It was quite a sight -- as clouds of dust rose from the demolition of the five story apartment building. The giant track hoe bit and gouged at the walls until one by one the floors collapsed upon themselves in a jumbled pile of brick and wood. To the East stood a soon-to-be-abandoned car dealership that would shortly meet the same fate. Then we would move back across the street to find the privies long covered by cement.

Meanwhile, we continued our back hoe search for privies around the monster hole. We located five or six wood line holes, one of which dated to the 1850s and produced a dozen or so bottles. Two of the lots east of the substation had been dug years earlier by local diggers. To the West three businesses slated for demolition still operated. Now nearly bare, the entire area had at some earlier time been covered with housing. Only three vacant houses stood nestled tightly between the flood wall and the businesses like ghosts from a time long past. We had dug at least fifteen privies with the promise of much more to come.

February 21, 1849
The 1840’s had given rise to a prosperous community with many elite citizens and a broad middle class, despite its lagging economically behind its immediate neighbors of Covington, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio. The citizenry was overwhelmingly American-born Protestants descended from colonial stock that had fought in the Revolution. The state Legislature had noticed the rapid growth and promoted the community to the rank of city by statute. The population had exploded. The 1850 census showed a growth of 413%. The face of Newport was changing. Now only 22% of the residents were native southerners and just 12% Kentucky born. Newport had become an immigrant city of German, Irish, English, Welsh, Scottish and Italian.

February 1998
Behind the three abandoned houses we easily located six outhouses, one of which was under an addition so would have to wait until the houses were torn down. Again the holes were not too deep, averaging 10-12 feet, but they had water in them slowing the pace. The oldest hole for the middle house produced a number of good medicines including a Shaker Sarsaparilla and some squat soda bottles several marked "Henry Wenzel". Further digging on this side of the street would have to wait until the businesses closed and demolition begun. The digging continued in the South west quadrant just west of where we first started digging. A large building on the corner had been removed and the area had been bulldozed flat. Using the maps we located more digging sites.

April 1860
The flock of immigrants to Newport brought with it negative economic consequences. Higher paying jobs shifted downward as the proportion of laborers doubled. Of the more than 1,100 families living in the city, more than 60% rented rather than owned their homes. The flood of immigrants had health consequences as well. High population density together with a primitive system of waste disposal and a general ignorance of sanitary hygiene lead to annual death rates twice as high as the rest of modern America. Children were the greatest victim with half of all burials in Newport being for children under ten.

The 1860’s were marked by rapid industrial growth. Lumber production increased the manufacture of products such as cigar boxes, wooden moldings and other interior woodwork specialties. An iron works made fancy railings that graced many Newport front yards. Rolling mills and blast furnaces to produced cast iron pipe and other casings.. Manufacturing capital multiplied sixfold. There were cigar makers, sewing machine assembly shops. Two bottling works producing mineral water were opened one by Henry Wenzel the other by Joseph Eichelberger.