Editor’s Note: This story was corrected on Aug. 14. A previous version included an incorrect date for when the aqueduct was disassembled to make way for the Rexford Bridge.
Archaeological remains don’t have to be buried underground. Some, like the old blocks from the Rexford aqueduct, are in plain sight — if you know where to look.
As progress led to different ways by which people traversed the mighty Mohawk River, the arch-shaped supports of the old canal towpath were largely dismantled with only two abutments remaining — one each on the north and south sides of the river. Today those limestone blocks can be found in both Schenectady and Saratoga counties.
About 100 yards or so down the grassy Mohawk Towpath Byway in Niskayuna’s Aqueduct Park is a pile of blocks slowly being claimed by the undergrowth. They range in size from three-foot cubes to smaller cubes measuring about 12 inches per side.
They may or may not have been neatly stacked at some point in the past, but now they are tumbled-down and covered with green, leafy vegetation.
According to research by Clifton Park historian John Scherer, the blocks were part of the aqueduct that was disassembled to make way for the Rexford Bridge in 1965. Some say the stones were stored to placate residents who were upset about the destruction of the aqueduct. Others maintain the state might have meant to repurpose the material at a later date.
The blocks belong to the New York State Historic Preservation Office, as do the remaining sections of aqueduct, according to Scherer.
The southern remains of the aqueduct are accessible from the Williams Road exit on the new roundabout in Niskayuna. From a small, gravel parking lot, pedestrians can walk a few yards onto the old towpath over the Mohawk. There is also access from the northern, Rexford side.
The aqueduct was a water-filled canal from 1825 until about 1915. During this time, boats traveled through the aqueduct, pulled by pack animals walking alongside on a packed towpath.
When the aqueduct was drained, the span became a road bridge, complete with tolls and, according to 92-year-old Rexford resident John “Jack” Ericson, fines of $1 for running a carriage faster than people could walk.
Head north on Highway 146 and turn right on Riverview Road to make your way to the resting place of yet more aqueduct stones. Pass through Vischer Ferry and head toward the Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve.
To access the pedestrian-only preserve, you have to cross a bridge over a span of the Erie Canal.
The bridge is the work of famed civil engineer Squire Whipple and is an arch truss bridge.
Originally situated in Sprakers in Montgomery County, the bridge was built in 1869 and moved to Fonda in 1919.
Union College Professor Francis Griggs, Jr., assisted by students and faculty, rebuilt the bridge in Vischer Ferry in the late 1990s.
The reconstruction required the installation of abutments. Griggs and his team received permission from the state to use some old Rexford Aqueduct stones to build the abutments.
Work is scheduled to wrap up on the current Rexford Bridge project by the end of the year. Part of that work will include replacing markers by the roadway that point to the historic sites of New York’s industrial past and the legacy of Clinton’s Big Ditch.
Ericson, a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge and former Rexford fire commissioner, would like to see some of the aqueduct stones used as part of the landscaping in the new roundabout on the Niskayuna side of the river.
“[The stones] were stashed there with the thought of doing something with them in the future,” Ericson said. “I’ve been thinking this is the time, this is the future.”
The New York Department of Transportation plans to landscape the project with the historic nature of the site in mind, but does not plan to use the old aqueduct stones.
However, Scherer is working on a kiosk for the Mohawk Towpath Byway marking the pile of limestone that once stood stacked and mortared in the river.