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Cypress/West Oakland Historical Archaeology Project

Introduction | Part I | Part II |Part III |Part IV |Appendixes & Reports

~ Chapter 5 Detail ~
Oakland map

Beyond bric-a-brac and the other goods the marketplace had to offer, there were a variety of options open to the resourceful residents of West Oakland. In Chapter 5 we examine information from the wells and privies of the project area that attests to the self-reliance of 19th-century residents. This 1870-71 bird’s-eye view of the project area shows the early rural neighborhood, with its large tree-filled lots and gardens and empty parcels, perfect for roadside gleaning—all just a short walk to the estuary’s shellfish, fish, and waterfowl. Later, families continued to use their smaller home lots and the available open space for grazing cows, raising chickens, and harvesting wild foods—both for sustenance and culinary variety—as is demonstrated by the study of faunal remains and the project area’s huge seed assemblage. Recycling bottles and clothing, and sewing a respectable wardrobe on a shoestring were among the other strategies used. Dwellings were often owner-built, with sometimes idiosyncratic solutions to housing needs, and to the age-old problem of managing waste—in this case the convergence from privies to water closets. Rather than replacing outmoded dwellings, frugal landowners chose to improve residential properties by making interior and exterior alterations, lifting buildings, moving them, erecting ancillary structures, and reconfiguring social uses. (Detail of Snow & Roos lithograph, courtesy of Bancroft Library.)

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