The Doctor’s 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?’ A question that doesn’t appear to have any limits.
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 seventh 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 and focusing on Test Pits 1, 9 &10. The ‘Suiter Layer’ continued to produce a large amount of medical artifacts including a number of intact medical vials and instruments in amazing condition.
After resuming excavation within the well, our volunteer Brian Doyle, son of Fred Doyle behind the first excavation, began to uncover more even more intact artifacts beginning again with a number of medicine/apothecary bottles. Where we had previously recovered a dozen or more we were now recovering them by the dozen. We also recovered parts to a cast iron stove, what looked to be components to Chlorine Batteries that Suiter used and most significantly was that of a revolver (pistol) grip with a raised design that was recovered from the well.
Excavation teams managed to recover more ceramics from surrounding test pits dating to the Colonial Era however, Test Pit 1 reached a sterile layer and the decision was made to close the pit by afternoon so volunteers could assist with excavating the remaining sites. As the afternoon progressed, the well reached a new level that produced more than 40+ intact medical bottles and paraphernalia. It is worth noting that we even recovered parts of a cast iron stove.
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On the eighth day of the excavation we began by recovering a glass 19th Century liquid soap dispenser and many more medical bottles and paraphernalia while our still operating test pits began to see a decline in artifacts recovered. Due to the sheer volume of artifacts and quality of those artifacts recovered from the well, many volunteers were re-tasked to assist with the efforts of the well by the afternoon.
While the excavation teams focused heavily on processing everything that came from the well in great quantities several volunteers continued to excavate at the remaining test pit and recovered leather-working tools, clam shells and ceramics that were indicative of the Colonial Era. A number of artifacts were recovered from the well of particular note including a clay horse & rider figurine, a series of sealed medical bottles, notably still sealed sutures of “sterilized silkworm gut,” a cup and saucer, more apothecary bottles, medical glassware, ceramics and even a Doctor’s leather pouch filled with still sealed medical vials.
The Ft. Dayton archaeological excavation began on May 31st with objective of expanding the 2002 excavation to uncover evidence of Fort Dayton, “The Forgotten Fort.” The excavation has so far uncovered more than anyone thought possible. It uncovered a forgotten well with a cap stone that estimates place between 1740-1800 and countless artifacts. Through relative dating techniques the clay pipestems recovered have an average date of 1720-1800. These facts along with ceramics indicate that the site is very likely Ft. Dayton property or even likelier, the site (well) pre-dates the Fort.
While the excavation is an attempt to identify the Forgotten Fort it has had the side effect of providing immeasurable insight into the life and practice of one of Herkimer’s most historic doctors. Dr. Suiter had a very diverse skill set and practice.
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 uncovered even more about Dr. Suiter’s practice and personal life and more Revolutionary War era artifacts that some evidence of the forgotten fort.
Phase 3 of the Fort Dayton excavation will focus on continuing the excavation of the active test sites and the well to uncover more information about Dr. Suiter and hopefully we will uncover some more definitive evidence of the forgotten fort. Of course, this phase will also intensely focus on processing and accessioning all that has been recovered in the past five weeks of the dig as well….
If you’re interested in archaeology you can contact the Herkimer County Historical Society about volunteering to help out at the excavation.