Our Archeological Heritage: A Postscript

Over a hundred years ago, Jeptha Simms wrote this about a landmark of regional history near Canajoharie:

The old Isaac Weatherby house at Brandywine rift, situated, perhaps, a mile below Palatine Bridge - was a house favorably known to river craftsmen, when large wagons were their competitors, and canals and railroads were unthought of. After the Erie canal was completed, this house like many other public houses - as the travel left the road - became a tenant house, and went rapidly to decay, no trace of its location remaining; but in its palmy days it was a favorite place for the tying- up of great numbers of water-craft.57
Mohawk Tavern
Spraker's Tavern as seen by Rufus Grider 100 years ago.
Click image to enlarge

Since then, for another hundred years, more and more of these once important pieces of our cultural landscape have slipped away, out of our sight and out of our memory. Some, like Spraker's Tavern, were saved and rest quietly in the care of local historians - settings for remembrance and contemplation. Others, like Keator's Rift, clung perilously to survival, narrowly escaping the impacts of the modern age they helped create. Still others, like Kane's Store, teetered on the edge of oblivion, at risk of never being found nor remembered.

Archeological sites can be, of course, sources of information. They can be documents that reveal things we never knew or imagined about the past, when "read" patiently and scientifically. But they can also be monuments, in two meanings of the word. First, like historic monuments they immortalize, in a visual way, the importance of a place. They trigger our collective memory, and by remembering, we perpetuate the knowledge of what was once here that now is gone.

Spraker Tavern marker King's Road remains
Historic markers point to historic landscapes where the past is preserved. Here a marker put up in the 1930s (left) indicates the ruins of Spraker's Tavern, past which still runs a surviving piece of the 18th century King's Road (right), just as seen in retrospect by Rufus Grider 100 years ago (below).
Spraker Tavern

Click images to enlarge

But in another sense, like "monumenting" the edge of the right-of-way of a highway or a canal, they tell us where we have been, the paths that have been followed, the course that is ours to follow. In that fashion, they point to the future and to new beginnings as much as to the past and what has already been completed.

It is in this spirit of new beginnings that this rich heritage of archeological resources in and around Canajoharie is presented here.


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