Down The Forgotten Well Of Herkimer – Archaeology in Central New York [VIDEO, PHOTOS]
Archaeology is all about using evidence to answer questions that history has left us pondering. Sometimes it’s as simple as ‘where was Fort Dayton?’ other times it can be as complex as ‘what didn’t the Doctor throw down the well?’
In 2002 Herkimer County Historical Society hosted an archaeological excavation in search of evidence of Fort Dayton and successfully uncovered artifacts from Colonial and Revolutionary War periods. After 12 years the Fort Dayton archaeological excavation was re-opened on May 31st, 2014.
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On the fifth day of the excavation after uncovering the well-cap on Day 2, we continued to extract fill from what we have identified as ‘The Suiter Layer’ within the well as the furthering the excavation on the surrounding test pits. The ‘Suiter Layer’ is named after Dr. A. Walter Suiter who owned the property and constructed the ‘Suiter Building’ in 1884 that served as his practice until his death. The layer is so nicknamed because of the large amount of medical artifacts that have been recovered from the layer of fill in the well.
After resuming excavation within the well, our volunteer Brian Doyle, son of Fred Doyle behind the first excavation, began to uncover more intact artifacts beginning with a number of medicine/apothecary bottles. The most significant finds were an intact N.A. White & Son Stoneware Jug from Utica, a Borolyptol bottle and a ‘German Syrup’ bottle that placed our date somewhere between Mid to late 1800’s.
Excavation teams managed to recover more ceramics from surrounding test pits including pipe stems that allowed the lab teams to provide a relative date to the sites between 1750-1800. One of the more interesting finds retrieved from the well was an intact gas lamp along with what looked to be a barrel seal.
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On the sixth day of the excavation we began to retrieve many Colonial Era artifacts from two of our other test pits while we continued to excavate the ‘Suiter Layer’ from the well. While the excavation teams uncovered more ceramics, glassware, and even intact pipe bowls the team working on the well recovered even more intact ceramics, glassware and even began to recover larger artifacts including the remains of hat, brass curtain rods, more apothecary bottles, medical glassware and ceramics. One of the greatest discoveries of the day was a near-intact pipestem/pipe that was recovered from a test pit surrounding the well.
Phase 1 of the Fort Dayton concluded with a completely different result than we could have ever expected. In searching for trace evidence of “The Forgotten Fort Dayton,” we had uncovered a Victorian Era (1800’s) well that has greatly helped expand on our knowledge of a local doctor instead. Many artifacts are helping provide insight into the practicing life of Dr. Suiter and his property.
Phase 2 of the Fort Dayton excavation has begun to uncover more Revolutionary War era artifacts and hopefully we will uncover some evidence of the forgotten fort.
If you’re interested in archaeology you can contact the Herkimer County Historical Society about volunteering to help out at the excavation.