March 12, 2002

Enfield Dig Reveals Past

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For the last three years, Cornell students have been helping to uncover history in the excavation of the nineteenth century community of Enfield Falls, once located in today’s Robert H. Treman State Park. Students are studying artifacts from this site and will eventually present their findings to the public.

Treman State Park

Prof. Sherene Baugher, landscape architecture, and her students have been excavating Enfield Falls, a community that existed from 1817 until the mid-1920s. The community was approximately three blocks long and had a post office, a general store, and a grist mill.

“It was a crossroads for the farming community in the 1920s,” said Baugher.

Robert Treman purchased the land from the members of the community and then donated it to New York State in 1920. State officials planned the demolition of the homes and created Robert H. Treman State Park. The area known as Upper Treman Park is where Enfield Falls once stood.

Classes on Project

Baugher commented that “buried below are the remnants of 19th century.”

There are several classes tied to this excavation project including Landscape Architecture 261: Urban Archaeology, a fieldwork course which is cross-listed with City and Regional Planning 261, and a laboratory course that allows students to analyze the findings. Digging occurs in the fall and the laboratory work continues into the spring.

Next year there will be a course focusing on how to exhibit findings from the excavation to the public and a course taught by Prof. Nerissa Russell, anthropology, that analyzes the animal remains found from the digging of Enfield Falls.

“The project is more than fieldwork. Students learn professional techniques in the laboratory and also learn through independent research,” Baugher said. “It is a great opportunity where students can learn a lot of skills.”

Baugher and her students were given permission to undertake the project by the Friends of Robert H. Treman State Park, a non-profit organization, and is part of “surface learning,” where students “work with the community and undertake what the community wants,” according to Baugher.

‘There are present day descendants of [Enfield Falls] that want to know about the town’s existence,” she said.

Community members are also involved with the excavation.

“Older people who grew up in the [Enfield Falls] community recall early memories to the Cornell students [during their excavation],” said Molly Adams, the president of Friends of Robert H Treman State Park.

The students’ current project includes the excavation and study of the Duncan House, a home and general store that existed from the time of the Civil War.

“Excavating the Duncan House allows us to learn about the community during the time of the Civil War,” Baugher said. “From what was buried in the backyard, we can find out what the family ate and its [possessions]. We can also compare life in New York City for the middle class [at the time] to life in rural New York.”

Lizzie Macaulay ’02 analyzes the ceramic remains discarded in the Duncan’s backyard.

“The front yards of the houses [in Enfield Falls] were pristine and tidy, but [the people] threw their garbage in their backyard, an area that was private,” said Macaulay.

“In the lab, I have studied ceramic dishes [found at the excavation site] and found thirty different patterns. We can tell that the [owners of the Duncan home and general store] were selling ceramic dishes since no middle class family would have had so many different patterns,” Macaulay said.

Dan Costura grad has been participating in the excavation since its onset.

“No single artifact stands out from the excavation,” said Costura. “We have learned that the homes in the rural hamlet [of Enfield Falls] have many of the same status ware such as nice place settings as middle class homes in Manhattan at the time.”

“We are applying the theoretical concepts that we have read about in books and physically doing the actual work,” Macaulay said. “It’s like studying Tudor history and then being able to see the Hampton Court Place, Henry XIII’s palace.”

“I have found the experience to be an exciting addition to my education here at Cornell,” said Joshua Rosenthal ’02 said. Rosenthal hopes to be able to continue working on the excavation project next year.

According to Costura, the future of the excavation of Enfield Falls is “nebulous.”

“We will start excavating again in Fall 2003. There are enough buildings [to discover] that could allow the project to go on for years,” Costura said.

Until then, analysis of the findings will continue in the laboratory and reports will be issued regarding the excavation to the state, according to Costura.

Archived article by Jamie Yonks