Archaeologists have returned to the painstaking job of unearthing “La Pila,” a century-old fountain remembered as a social hub for the former Hispanic neighborhood around St. Francis on the Brazos Catholic Church.

Using a $25,000 grant from the Rapoport Foundation, they are sifting through dirt a layer at a time, picking out and cataloging “artifacts” ranging from broken beer bottles to old cotton bale tags.

“We’re probably about a third of the way finished,” lead archaeologist Katherine Turner-Pearson said. “There’s an unbelievable amount of broken glass and metal objects. That’s why we’re not inviting the public out to help. It’s just way too dangerous.”

The dig is expected to wrap up this year, but sorting and analyzing the artifacts and writing up a report could take several years. Still, local backers of the archaeology project say they hope to get a state historical marker for La Pila and the long-vanished “Calle Dos” neighborhood long before that work is done.

Louis Garcia, president of the Waco Hispanic Museum, said the group plans to apply for the marker by September and hopes to have it in place some time in 2020. Turner-Pearson said the group should have no problem getting the historical marker given the richness of the area’s history.

Garcia said the group’s vision for the La Pila project has expanded as the work has proceeded. He said Burditt, a Conroe-based planning and landscape architecture firm, has donated its services to help reclaim the site at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and University Parks Drive as a community space.

“We’d like to have a sitting area,” Garcia said. “We’d like to have sidewalks up and down Jefferson. We’d like to have signs that tell the story of our neighborhood, of St. Francis and La Pila. … The way we look at it, it’s not just about Hispanics anymore. It’s about having a place to come visit in Waco.”

J.B. Smith is the the Tribune-Herald managing editor. A native of Sulphur Springs, he attended Southwestern University and joined the Tribune-Herald in 1997. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Waco and have two children.

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