Virtual Tours in History – Part 3
SCCC Community Archaeology
Program Dig at 12 Union St.

PART 3: SCCC COMMUNITY ARCHAEOLOGY PROGRAM DIG AT 12 UNION ST. – View the Virtual Tour

In early 2013 I became involved with the Community Archaeology Program (CAP) at SCCC in Schenectady.  CAP is a non-credit program which offers a certificate in Community Archaeology and an advanced certificate if you would like to complete an additional research project on a related topic of your choice. I enrolled in the certificate program which required thirty hours of archaeological field work and thirty hours of lab work in addition to six required courses.

S&S Railroad Poster by Dan Bradt

S&S Railroad Poster by Dan Bradt

CAP has completed several archaeological digs in the historic Stockade section of Schenectady, NY.  Previous projects include 109 Union St. called the Yates House (dated 1725) and 32 Front St. In 2013 the homeowner of 12 Union St. contacted CAP regarding a sinkhole in his backyard.

It was known that the Saratoga & Schenectady Railroad passed through the Stockade area, specifically through the 12 Union St. property. There is even a historical register sign noting the location of the S&S Railroad on the home at 12 Union St. The property owner thought the sinkhole may have been caused by the filled in underground railroad cut.

Finding artifacts in the sift

Finding artifacts in the sift

The S&S Railroad operated from 1832-1837. It was unpopular with the residents of the Stockade and was abandoned and backfilled after only five years of operation. It is thought that the train cars were drawn by horses through the Stockade.  After passing through the Stockade, a steam engine would have been employed to transport the cars north to Ballston Spa and Saratoga Springs.

The dig commenced in July 2013 under the guidance of archaeologist Louise Basa and under the direction of CAP graduate student Dan Bradt. CAP planned on trying to locate and excavate the wall which bordered the underground railroad cut. The first excavation trench was dug near the barn in the backyard of 12 Union St. An interesting jug was found intact so the project was off to a good start!

So what do CAP volunteers do? We dig with shovels and trowels to remove layers of soil. The process is highly organized and measurements are taken when artifacts are found or new soil layers (stratigraphy) are uncovered. We use small brushes and even sharp bamboo sticks to clear the soil away from rocks and artifacts.

All the soil that is removed needs to be sifted to check for any small artifacts. We found artifacts which are common to 19th century fill including ceramics, bone, and glass. A wide variety of ceramics were found including porcelain, transfer ware, delft, white ware, earthen ware, and even a unique clay marble. Many different sized animal bones were found. It is also common to find clay pipe stems and pipe bowls at a 19th century site. We found many pipe stems and even some intact pipe bowls. As the pipes were smoked, the ends were broken off which is why so many pipe stems are found.

Louise cleaning a pipe bowl I found.

Louise cleaning a pipe bowl I found.

In 2014 CAP found an unusual cache of old Gin bottles. The bottles were all stacked together and surrounded by a covering of stones. CAP researched the bottles and it was determined they were 1924 Gordon’s Dry Gin Bottles.

CAP was successful in uncovering the top of the wall that surrounded the railroad cut. It was not possible to dig further to fully uncover the wall because it was more than 10 feet below ground level and there was a great deal of sand from the original fill which could easily collapse.

CAP volunteers at Walkabout 2015

CAP volunteers at Walkabout 2015

CAP participates in the annual Stockade Walkabout. This year it was held on September 26. Visitors can tour participating historic homes in the Stockade and visit our dig site. More than ten CAP members volunteered to assist with active demonstrations and explanations of the dig site to visitors.

The dig closed in November 2015. A backhoe was brought in to fill in the site.

Thanks to all the CAP volunteers!

Go to Part 4