Cornell Students, Faculty Uncover Ithaca History During Excavation

February 21, 2014 1:00 am0 comments


Thousands of artifacts are currently being cleaned and identified in the Cornell Archaeology Lab by a team of Cornell students and faculty who have excavated a local archaeological site that has shed light on the daily lives of nineteenth-century Ithaca-area residents.

The site — located in modern-day Robert H. Treman State Park — marks the location of the Enfield Falls hamlet, which once included a resort hotel, a blacksmith, a school and other homes and businesses, according to Prof. Sherene Baugher, archaeology and landscape architecture.

“[I would] say working with the community is invaluable — it’s a symbiotic relationship.” — David Torrey de Frescheville grad 

The team — led by Baugher — began the ongoing excavation project in the former Enfield Falls community in 1998, Baugher said. The team is now processing artifacts found at the site for use in educational exhibits in the park.

“Our joint project has multiple goals, [which include] documentary research, oral history and archaeological fieldwork to determine what material survived the transformation of the hamlet into a public park,” Baugher said.

According to Baugher, archaeological artifacts found at a former resort hotel that opened in 1853 on the site yielded some fascinating information about local history, including the prominence of tourism and female entrepreneurs during that time period.

“The hotel was owned and run by Henrietta Wickham, whose development of the scenic landscape — including her trails and bridges — [is] the same routes tourists take through the park today,” said Baugher.

Wickham’s landscape work occurred around the same time of the women’s rights movement in Seneca Falls, according to Baugher.

“This community was part of major shifts in the roles of women in the nineteenth century,” Baugher said.

Student researchers have also examined material records left by the residents of the community to learn more about daily life in a nineteenth-century upstate hamlet, according to Emily Bauer ’15.

“We’ve determined quite a few things about the residents from the site,” Bauer said. “Based on archaeological evidence, we know that the house burnt down. We can also use artifacts to determine what the family ate and their socioeconomic class.

For example, we have found a number of chicken bones, cow bones and clam shells, so we know that they ate a good deal of meat.”

Students participating in the excavation said the assistance of the descendant community has enrichened their research and understanding of the site.

“By encouraging the interest and participation of community members in our projects, I believe that we have all learned that our results are more accurate, sensitive and comprehensive,” Sean McGee ’14 said.

Local community members and Enfield Falls descendants also shared their input with the students who designed the archaeological exhibits and excavation-models in the park.

“[I would] say working with the community is invaluable — it’s a symbiotic relationship,” said David Torrey de Frescheville grad. “After the community saw my model … they gave me the feedback I needed and I ended up producing a model at a professional level that exceeded my own expectations and look[ed] more realistic.”

The project — sponsored by the University and the Friends of Robert H. Treman State Park — has been supported by the feedback and support of Ithacans, including many descendants of the Enfield Falls residents, according to Baugher.

“The community members have worked with students on collecting oral history interviews, doing documentary research and even helping to identify historic artifacts,” Baugher said. “It has been especially rewarding to interview elderly members of the community and record their memories and thus keep their history from being forgotten.”