Members of the Fort Drum Fire Department, in coordination with the Environmental Division, help to flush debris from the remains of a rustic milk refrigeration system. The Fort Drum Cultural Resources team discovered the foundation of the old milk-cooling barn that diverted water from a creek into channels embedded in the floor, lowering the temperature within the structure. Many artifacts from a bygone era also were found at the site. (U.S. Army photos by Sgt. 1st Class Bernardo Fuller)
Fort Drum Cultural Resources teams
with fire personnel to unearth history
Fort Drum Public Affairs
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Sept. 17, 2021) – Fort Drum Cultural Resources archaeologists have discovered another piece of “Lost Village” history during a routine site inspection, with assistance from the Fort Drum Fire Department and a local resident.
Last year, a Natural Resources team was in the area of Plank Road, near Gates Cemetery, in the lost village of Sterlingville for a stream management project. Archaeologists from the Cultural Resources sections were called in to conduct field testing.
“We bring our team in before any kind of ground-disturbing activity,” said Dr. Laurie Rush, Fort Drum Cultural Resources manager. “Natural Resources was very interested in the idea of restoring the pathway of this brook to take it back to its original course. When something like that happens, then we take a look and conduct testing to determine if there are any good indigenous archaeological sites in the area.”
Meg Schulz, archaeologist, said that after the ground was cleared of vegetation they initially thought they had uncovered a set of stairs. It was determined to be a section of a trench. As the team conducted shovel tests, they discovered a foundation under the ground.
“It was unlike any foundation our team has ever found before on Fort Drum,” Rush said. “As they began to uncover the foundation, they began to realize it had all these really unusual ditches and trenches in it.”
They didn’t know what the structure might have been until a former Philadelphia town official, with family history in Sterlingville, confirmed that a milk cooperative, or milk plant, had existed in the village.
“This was the place where, farmers, prior to 1940, would collect up all their milk to keep it cool,” Rush said.
The team developed ideas about how the plant might have operated, and whether the stream had been diverted to flow through the plant to provide a cold water source to preserve the milk until it could be delivered for consumption.
“If we could get a sense of how water would behave in the foundation, we could maybe see a pattern in terms of the flow,” Rush said.
The Fort Drum Fire Department provided the resources needed for the archaeologists to test their hypothesis in August. Assistant Fire Chief Jeffrey Spellman and Assistant Chief of Fire Prevention Steven LaRue made a site visit with the archaeology team to discuss a plan for flooding the structure.
“We discovered really quickly that firehose water power is a really fast way to do archaeology excavation,” Rush said.
LaRue, Fire Captain Jeff Hambsch and the archaeologists all took turns with the pressure hose system and 3,000 gallons of water later, more discoveries were made.
The archaeology crew witnessed water flowing through one section of the structure and learned that other sections were designed for containment. The fire crew then assisted with additional soil removal that revealed artifacts and architectural features relating to a large doorway system.
“They did a wonderful job of uncovering a little bit more of the foundation, and then we were able to follow the different currents in the stream bed that they created to see how the water flowed,” Rush said.
Jeffrey Tabolt, archaeologists, said it took a week for them to unearth a small portion of the foundation by shovel, compared with the six hours needed to reveal the rest by fire hose.
Among their findings were rusty remnants of a plumbing system, along with pieces of agricultural and forestry equipment.
“It really brings up more questions for us about this site,” Tabolt said. “If there is one thing about archaeology, there are always more questions to answer and we’re looking forward to finding out new information.”
They shared their discoveries on social media at www.facebook.com/FortDrumCulturalResources, which generated further conversation and personal recollections about the Lost Villages.
“The members of the community have been, far and away, key partners for our Fort Drum Cultural Resources team,” Rush said. “When they share their memories, their photos, their scrapbooks and their stories, that helps us immeasurably in protecting and being better stewards of their former homes.”
Rush encourages any community members with information about the Plank Road Milk Site to contact Cultural Resources at (315) 772-7170 or message them on Facebook.