Archaeological dig unearths 1800s Utica

By Joleen Ferris

An archaeological dig in downtown Utica is unearthing a bit of the city's transportation history from the 1800s, as well as revealing a glimpse into every day life in the 19th century.

The archaeologists from the NYS Museum are performing a data recovery excavation at Lincoln Ave. just south of Court St. and east of the arterial. They excavate and document such sites before development projects-in this case, the arterial project-cover them. What they've unearthed is lock #3 of the Chenango Canal, which was built in the 1830s and used to transport people and freight from Utica to Binghamton until 1870.

The archaeologists are documenting details of the canal's and lock's features, construction and current state.

"Well, it's important to everyone because what we're looking at is an aspect of NYS history," says archaeologist and site manager David Staley. "It's representative of our state history, transportation history and even our nation's history and that's why it's important to recover all that we can about it when we have an opportunity to do that."

The workers at the site are die-hard history buffs who don't mind getting their hands dirty in 20-foot-deep ditches. Touching and seeing the work of laborers who built the canal in the 1830s makes them feel connected to another era and its people.

"You recognize a person who had a problem and they came up with a solution, and you can actually see in what was left behind, their actions," says Staley.

In addition to documenting state transportation history, the archeologists are unearthing some interesting, everyday objects that offer a glimpse into life in Utica in the 1800s. Among them-tiny porcelain dolls and medicine and soft drink bottles that bear words you no longer hear every day, like, "sarsaparilla" and "apothecary".

The crews will also be at the Lincoln Ave. site next week.

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