When the Heffernans bought their 500-acre Rocheport farm in 1990, they had no idea the land sat on top of a 19th- century settlement that played a significant role in early Boone County history.
“The day the sale went through, I was working at the historical society and started looking it up,” said Lisa Weil, Bill and Judy Heffernan’s daughter. “I called my father and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this.’ ”
Starting today, the Boone County Historical Society and the Missouri Archaeological Society will begin to uncover the history of the Heffernan family farm.
In a two-week excavation, the group hopes to learn more about five acres that were once the site of the oldest known settlement and post office in Boone County. The site, called Lexington, is about five miles northeast of present-day Rocheport and dates to about 1818.
“Doing a dig like this really captures people’s imaginations and helps them understand the people that came before them in their own community,” Weil said.
Earl Lubensky and David Sapp will lead the group of about 40 volunteers in the excavation.
Lubensky, an adjunct research associate for anthropology at MU, has led similar projects in the area, including a 2003 excavation at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park.
During the Rock Bridge project, Lubensky said, the excavation uncovered about a ton of sheet metal that was probably the roof of the post office and general store for the Rock Bridge community. He has similar hopes for the site at Lexington.
“We’ll undoubtedly bring back bags full of artifacts,” he said. “But I don’t know what we’re going to find there. That’s the fun of archaeology.”
Sapp said he also hopes to verify the location of 180-year-old Boone’s Lick Road, which he thinks runs through the Heffernan farm, because it has many historical ties.
Boone’s Lick Road, Sapp said, “was there before Columbia was ever thought of. It leads us to a much better understanding of the settlement and the history of this area by realizing it started outside of what is now the major city in Boone County.”
The road is also thought to be the connector between trails that came into St. Louis and St. Charles and trails that went west out of Franklin, the eastern terminus of the Santa Fe Trail.
“It’s kind of a mystery that a lot of people don’t talk about how people got from St. Louis to Franklin and beyond,” Weil said. “We know through research the vast majority came through Boone County.”
Bill Heffernan said his family is delighted to host the excavation. While farming their land, he said, they often turned up pieces of glazed clay and other bits of artifacts.
Weil said her parents have always thought the farm and its history belong to the greater community.
“It’s bigger than any one family,” she said.