(Left:Intact brick beer caves from 1855 beneath Brewery Square on Linn Street in Iowa City. Right: The interior of the newly discovered beer cave in Cedar Rapids, University of Iowa)
About a year ago the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) discovered a potentially dangerous sinkhole near Interstate 380 in Cedar Rapids. As they explored the area they found the sinkhole was the site of an old beer cave. A cave that is approximately 150-years old that is. Back in the 1850s Iowa City and Cedar Rapids built extensive beers caves where beer could be aged and stored under the breweries. Large factories utilized a gravity system where fluids drained from the upper to lower levels. The caves fell into disuse or were abandoned when the beer factories when out of business following Prohibition. While the interstate itself and its supporting abutments have not moved, the Iowa DOT is planning to seal up the cave. The space is partially filled with debris and poses safety risks if people who may try to explore this relatively recent rediscovery. Most importantly, officials don’t want the sinkhole to get bigger.
Researching Iowa’s beer caves is exciting because it enables archaeologists to study the community’s past. The brewery caves, the history of their use, and their construction provides information about 19th century industries, immigrant lifeways and populations, and the ongoing social and the economic evolution of Iowan cities (University of Iowa). For our interview today, the Indy team is joined by Brennan Dolan, an archaeologist with the Iowa DOT. He will be enlightening us about the project and how the DOT may plan to fortify the sinkhole as well as find ways to preserve the archaeological site.
Brennan is a cultural resources project manager and archaeologist for the Iowa Department of Transportation (Iowa DOT). Previously, he worked for the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) in Iowa, the Louis Berger Group, and the National Park Service (Midwest Archeological Center). He enjoys being in the field as well as all aspects of cultural resources management. His professional research interests include the proto-historic period, faunal analysis, experimental Woodland period ceramic replication, fire studies, and site preservation. As a cultural resources manager Brennan has worked on a number of projects that span the identification, evaluation, mitigation spectrum. He has also worked on a number of “other” projects including the Iowa DOT Statewide Historical Sites Management Plan and the 2014 Iowa Tribal Summit on Cultural Preservation and Transportation. His educational background includes undergraduate work at the University of Northern Iowa and the University of Iowa, and his graduate work was at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.