Irene: History surfaces as result of flooding

Michael Roets gently scooped a shovel of dirt into a pail Tuesday, taking care not to damage the sto

Michael Roets gently scooped a shovel of dirt into a pail Tuesday, taking care not to damage the stone wall beneath it.

That wall — one of several unearthed when the Schoharie Creek scoured the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site in Fort Hunter last month — may be part of the actual “Fort Hunter” the hamlet was named after.

Built in the early 1700s, Fort Hunter was a stockaded fortress in the vicinity of a Mohawk Indian village protected by the British during a period of uncertainty in the Mohawk Valley. It’s a rare find that was buried beneath a parking lot 24 years ago as part of the state’s effort to bring to public view some of the few original Erie Canal remnants left in the state.

In addition to the distinctive stone aqueduct built in 1842 to carry canal traffic over the unpredictable Schoharie Creek, it’s the only place in the state that offers a view of all three stages of the Erie Canal’s development, according to Tricia Shaw, the site’s education director.

For the first time in decades, the half-mile

stretch of the original “Clinton’s Ditch” was again filled with water in late August as the creek pushed into the hamlet, flooding the visitor center and homes and putting the tiny post office out of commission permanently.

But the disaster is prompting an investigation that was put off back in 1987, when during the site’s development staff found one piece of a stone wall.

“We knew about that one wall, but in ’87 there wasn’t a lot of money and funding and the idea was to get the [Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site] open to interpret the canal features,” Roets said.

So at the time, it was decided to place fill on top of the site and continue paving the parking lot — in essence, preserving the archaeological site for the future.

Roets said he believes the raging Schoharie Creek, which took out part of Fort Hunter’s Main Street during the recent flood, started undermining the parking lot’s pavement before lifting it up and exposing the site deeper than it was when it was paved. Now, there’s at least three distinct walls in a square-like shape, another wall perpendicular to Main Street, as well as the top of a stone well visible.

Work over the past several weeks has focused on removing rock and debris left when the water receded, and Roets said he hasn’t even started the technical part of a dig aimed at exposing what’s below. He and archaeologist Kristin O’Connell are carefully preserving pails of soil and stones with plans to screen them for historical artifacts.

They’ve already found numerous pieces of history, like shards of pottery and a buckle that might have been for a shoe.

Once the crew decides how to proceed, the dig will resemble others in which a specific spot is excavated and each artifact is cataloged based on how deep it is found so its age can be estimated.

It’s also possible the flood unearthed the old Queen Anne Chapel, a stone house of worship built to replace an original log cabin-type building.

With a stone wall running along the center before what appears to be a square-shaped wall formation, Roets is trying to determine if the building may have erected in the shape of a cross or if it was just square.

“Right now, I’d love to find more wall back here. We haven’t yet found it, but we’ll dig down a little bit and see what else we can find. And over there, once we bring that debris up, we may find another wall there,” he said, motioning towards the area O’Connell was revealing one pail at a time.

“At this point, we’re trying to just figure it out. I’d hate to say that this is the chapel, but this is definitely a building associated with Fort Hunter, and all the artifacts indicate that, musket balls and everything else,” Roets said, as excavators roared in the background, still repairing nearby damage left by the creek.

The Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site remains closed due to flood damage.

At some point in the future, state parks spokesman Dan Keefe said, the department expects to outline discoveries at the site for the public.

Categories: Schenectady County

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