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History Unearthed

Artifacts found at site of pedestrian bridge

December 21, 2010
By AMANDA WHISTLE, The Leader-Herald

AMSTERDAM - Layers of history on the north shore of the Mohawk River were unearthed during a fall excavation, yielding artifacts that spanned centuries, some as old as 5,000 years.

The findings at what's known as the Chuctanunda Terrace site - the future home of a pedestrian bridge - included stone projectile points for both spears and arrows, 1-cent coins dated 1826 and 1844 and white, clay smoking pipes from the 19th century.

Archaeologists from the Louis Berger Group presented some of their findings during a public hearing at Lynch Literacy Academy on the Mohawk River bridge that eventually will connect Riverlink Park with the city's south side.

Article Photos

Dell Gould of the Louis Berger Group shows slides of artifacts found on the north shore of the Mohawk River.

The Leader-Herald/Amanda Whistle

A cultural resource survey - part of the permit process - indicated a high probability for archaeological finds, and from there, archaeologists descended on the north and south shores. They found nothing historic in the south shore's soil, but the north shore contained layers of preserved history, making the site eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Rich Karis, the project manager from the state Canal Corp., which runs the Erie Canal, and the state Thruway Authority, said talks between the State Historic Preservation Office and Tribal Historic Preservation officers will determine the best course of action.

Karis said the environmental processing is scheduled to be completed by March, but the findings could delay that.

"The archaeological stuff threw a little monkey wrench into the project," Karis said. "That's going to take some time to get it ironed out."

But the bridge's completion date is still on target for June 2015 - a decade after $16.5 million in funding was secured through the 2005 Transportation Bond Act, which set aside $50 million for projects along the Erie Canal.

Construction bids are expected to be opened in September 2012.

Archaeologist Hope Luhman said she didn't think the findings would jeopardize the bridge project, and many officials said the artifacts could potentially improve the project.

"I think the archaeological find is a definite plus," said Amsterdam 4th Ward Alderman William. "I think it would only enhance the project."

Luhman called the site a place "with the ability to teach us something about the past, not only the Euro-American past, but also the Native American past."

She said the findings weren't uncommon for a site along the Mohawk River.

"If you study history and do research, you get an idea of where people like to settle," she said, adding it may be more surprising for people to learn pre-Colonial artifacts could have been preserved in an area tapped by industry.

"It is a great story to be told and it brings the community together because it's something the community shares," Luhman said.

During a question-and-answer period, city residents expressed concerns about safety and the potential for vandalism. Some were unhappy the bridge won't cross Route 5 and the railroad tracks.

Although the long-term plans for the area include a design that will extend the walkway, funding for this project only covers canal-related improvements, said Carmella Mantello, director of the state Canal Corp.

Lee Ferris, who lives on the city's south side, said he already picks up trash from recreational areas throughout the city and asked who would be responsible for maintaining the area.

"Does this become city property? Do the city residents have to pay for maintenance of it? Is there any provision that can ensure this area is not abused?," Ferris said.

Karis said the bridge will be property of the state Canal Corp., but there could be an agreement with the city to maintain the top surface of the bridge, but not the steel beams.

Thane suggested security cameras be added to the design of the project.

Amanda Whistle can be reached at



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