Welcome to another year of research at the West Point Foundry Preserve in Cold Spring, New York. My name is Chris Nelson and I am a first year graduate student in the Industrial Archaeology Program at Michigan Technological University. This is my second field school, but this is the first time that I have been exposed to fieldwork that directly relates to an industrial site. The West Point Foundry is owned by the Scenic Hudson Land Trust, who acquired the 88-acre site in 1996 after the Superfund cleanup of a nearby battery plant was completed in the cove adjacent to the foundry.
Scenic Hudson plans to open up the preserve as a historical interpretive site in the future. As a result of this plan, Scenic Hudson has teamed up with Michigan Tech in a partnership to find out as much information as possible about the site to create an accurate account of what really happened at this famous foundry. Archaeological methods are a way to find information that may not be available through written records as many things were not considered important at the time, but are now considered an integral part for us to understand what was happening in the past. This is the seventh season that Michigan Tech has conducted their field school here as part of this partnership with Scenic Hudson. This has allowed a real world archaeology classroom for the students from the university, while at the same time, providing a necessary service to Scenic Hudson to help develop this archaeological park as an interpretive center.
At the beginning of the week, some folks from Scenic Hudson came and gave a presentation about what their overall mission is in the Hudson Valley. They take measures to protect and restore scenic areas along the Hudson River Valley so that everyone can enjoy the natural beauty that is present here. Dr. Patrick Martin also took us on our initial tour of the foundry preserve and pointed out several of the many interesting areas of the site. He also showed us where the past field schools had already conducted some archaeological work and pointed out some areas of interest for the future.
This first week involved a lot of review for the graduate students, while teaching the undergraduate students some new skills that they will need in order to properly document sites while they are in the field. We spent quite a bit of time using different mapping techniques from drawing simple sketches, to pace and compass mapping, and by the end of the week we were using an optical transit to map the features of the site. This was intended to teach the basics of mapping from the simplest form up to using the electronic total station that we will be operating early next week.
We also spent some time learning how to take proper photographs of the site during the excavation process. In archaeology, proper documentation is the most important aspect of the process because archaeology is a destructive science, and if everything is not properly documented the first time, then it can never be redone. Photography is an important part of that documentation as it leaves a visual record of how things looked as the excavation was being conducted.
We went through business portions of the towns of Cold Spring and Beacon this week handing out fliers about our sixth annual “Days at the Foundry” open house on June 14 15. There will be guided tours of the foundry site as well as interaction with the archaeologists that will be actively excavating portions of the site throughout the weekend. It is a great chance for the public to come out and see what is happening at the foundry while learning about its history at the same time. Another great opportunity to learn about the history of the foundry is to visit the Putnam County Historical Society and Foundry School Museum in Cold Spring. Through December 14, a special exhibit is on display featuring some of the archaeological materials recovered over the past six seasons at the foundry by Michigan Tech archaeologists, as well as many other historical items related to the foundry’s past.
The first week is now over and we can look forward to the next 5 weeks of fieldwork at the foundry site. The weather is quickly clearing up and we expect lots of sunshine and nice weather for the coming weeks. We are expecting a very productive season of excavation this year which will produce some great results that will help interpret exactly what was happening at the foundry and will be included as a part of the future historical and interpretive park being set up by Scenic Hudson. Now on to bigger and better things for next week and each week to come.