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Cudmore: The creek that helped Amsterdam prosper

Cudmore: The creek that helped Amsterdam prosper

Creek played an integral role in the industrial development of city
Cudmore: The creek that helped Amsterdam prosper
Water flows over limestone potholes in the North Chuctanunda Creek in Amsterdam in 2015.
Photographer: Gazette File Photo

 The North Chuctanunda Creek was so important in the industrial development of Amsterdam that Historic Amsterdam League has dedicated its 2019 calendar to pictures and commentary on what an 1807 map called Amsterdam’s “never failing stream.”

There are two creeks named Chuctanunda, one north and the other south, which flow into opposite sides of the Mohawk River. Historian Hugh Donlon said Chuctanunda is a Native American word meaning “Twin Streams.” However, a publication issued by Noteworthy Co. in 1979 stated that Chuctanunda means shelter or stone house.

Educator John Naple has organized tours of North Chuctanunda Creek. Naple said the stream was created about 10,000 years ago when glaciers melted following the last ice age.

The North Chuctanunda’s headwaters are in the Adirondacks. The waters passes through Lake Butterfield, Galway Lake, Hagaman and Harrowers before entering the city of Amsterdam in the area of Shuttleworth Park. The creek falls more than 300 feet in its final three-mile descent to the north shore of the Mohawk River.

The creek bed in Amsterdam is composed of limestone and dolostone. Both rocks are easily eroded and there are spherical depressions ranging from fist- to bathtub-sized.

Early settler Albert Vedder used the water power of the creek to operate his pioneer grist mill. Other mill owners followed.

Calendar creator Jerry Snyder wrote, “For over 150 years the Chuctanunda sawed wood and ground grain, washed wool, spun yarn, knit textiles and wove carpets, turned clamshells into buttons, and flaxseed into oil, and dreams of a better life into reality for those who found jobs in the factories and mills that the Chuctanunda built here.”

The creek was covered by buildings from East Main Street to the Mohawk River as early as 1854. Today the Chuctanunda enters the river adjacent to the Mohawk Gateway Overlook pedestrian bridge.

Over time at least 13 dams spanned the creek between Harrowers north of Amsterdam and the Mohawk River to support industrial processes and power generation. Spring rains, snow melt and thunderstorms can turn the creek into a raging torrent. Early wooden dams sometimes were swept away. In some areas, industrial use reduced the stream to a series of mill ponds with little if any actual creek in between.

A distinctive and sickening smell used to come from the Chuctanunda Creek, especially in warm weather. Carpet mills and other factories dumped industrial waste into the stream.

Anthropologist Susan Dauria, who did her doctoral thesis on the de-industrialization of Amsterdam, said, “The creek would be the color of whatever the carpets were that day. And one gentleman told me that the creek in the wintertime looked like spumoni ice cream. There would be different colors whichever day they were changing the color of the carpets, and they would freeze and then another color would go on top."

“So for environmentalists that’s like, ‘Oh.’ But there was life in the town and people talked about how exciting that was,” Dauria said.

The stream is still polluted although the smell has lessened. Educator Naple said: “Sewerage leaks into the creek have been reported for years and the problem persists. We want a healthy and attractive city and pollution, litter and vandalism are unacceptable if we are to accomplish that goal.”

A four-mile recreational and educational North Chuctanunda Creek Trail now follows the stream. Beginning at the pedestrian bridge at the river, signboards along the trail highlight the area’s history, geology and ecology. The northern part of the trail “Follows the Chuck” along a nature path ending at the historic Mohawk Carpet upper mill powerhouse.

Information on obtaining the 2019 Amsterdam Icons calendar may be found at http://www.historicamsterdam.org/

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