Saturday, April 3, 2010

FORT PLAIN 3 story block house

As a child was awed by this fort, when I went to the movies there was a large painting on the wall next to the screen and I used to study this and wish I might some day see it. Later in life I lived on upper Canal Street only a short distance from the site were it once stood.
The year 1960 was one of indecision for your author, a three year position as Curator and Gen Manager of Fort William Henry was coming to a close and something new and challenging had to be found. a 500 acre recreation area and amusement park was going to be sold in our area Pine Lake, owned for many years by Joseph Groshans who had died without a will and would be auctioned off. That sounded good we owned a store just three miles from the park so my parents and my family hired a lawyer to watch it and buy it if the price was right. My wife and I had been interested in a piece of land near Saratoga were Burgoyne had surrendered-that seemed like a possibility. For many years the whole family had been associated with Fort Klock and new that the old fort in Fort Plain was just up on top of the hill behind our house on Canal Street in Fort Plain.
By the end of September,Fort William Henry, was closing, Sir John Johnson and Lady Johnson who had been staying with us was now gone and on his way to England, we finally had time on our hands so we contacted Allan Samuels attorney in Fort Plain and with him formed the Fort Plain Restoration Inc. arranged for a lease with purchase on the old Lipe farm just beyond our house on Canal Street which included that great stone house and the hill behind it.The site of the old blockhouse
What a great fall we would try and get Fort Plain started, the veteran parade was coming up, wife , children and I dressed in colonial cloths and carried big banner "lets put the Fort in Fort Plain" No one realized how placid and peaceful those couple of months were, nothing to do on the fort property until spring---a call from our lawyer was about to complicate things- the auction was on for the Pine Lake property and in a couple of weeks we would be the new owners-Not much could be done until the snow melted in May and then everything had to be done before decoration day and we had not even been in the buildings. but tugging at us was Fort Plain a life long dream to find and reconstruct that famous block house.
Stanly Gifford had been the archaeologist at Fort William Henry and we had developed a close friendship. A call to Stan and I had a right hand which was fortunate as I had no training in this field. Stan came to stay with us and we contacted a old school mate Adilaid Lenneker, her husband was a skilled heavy machine operator and could barrow a earth mover. Our plans were to get on the property on the hill above Lipes house and locate the site of the three story blockhouse that had become the symbol of Fort Plain just as soon as the snow was gone enough to work. This was late March and early April 1961. we estimated the surface had been plowed for nearly 200 years , to a depth of about a foot so the top soil while it might have colonial items they would have been moved in every direction so carefully taking 6 inches on each pass and depositing it in one place would not do to much damage. as the earth mover, moved along Stan and myself followed with a bundle of colored flags to mark any anomaly in the undisturbed soil. The moisture content would be different were the soil had been disturbed so we could see this for about 4 hours, after this we would stop and commence work the following day. time was very important, I only had couple of weeks and would have to leave to open Pine Lake. We were not having very good luck, there was a large deposit of cut stone laid up in circular pattern that suggested a possible well and some lime stone foundations. On the second pass very close to the edge of the hill directly above the stone house we found the first indication of disturbance about 2 foot by 5 foot three of them very close together. now Stanly was a very accomplished archaeologist and had been associated with the museum of American Indians, so he knew at once what we had, He elected to work on this site and let me follow the earth mover and flag the fire pits and other spots were I could do the least damage.
We had started about 6.00 a.m and it was crowding noon when we had to quit the earth moving thing. I had a newspaper bag full of items turned up by the earth mover brass pot, knife blade, pipe stems, etc. but Stanly was in a hole about 2 ft deep with a partially exposed skeleton. The male Indian was in a very unusual position for the period laying on his back with hands at his side, on the right side was the remains of a flint lock musket, the wood was gone but the metal parts were easily identified, on the left side in small pile which probably had been a bag of some sort was 4 flint lock plates complete with frizzen and spring and hammer with flint. lower on this same side at about the knees were three pair of ice skates these had the front and back of the blades turned like a coil with the end of the turn hammered into a ball. across the breast was a beautiful beaded vest unfortunately over the years someone while building a fence drove a fence post just a little to the left of center on the vest and destroyed so much the pattern was hard to determine. The beads were very early trade purple, red and white. the pattern included some sort of bone or porcupine quills about two inches long forming a boarder of beads and spacers around the edge both sides and along the bottom. near the waist area was two knife blades and a iron small axe or hatchet. In the area of the right hand was a brass frog about the size of a golf ball and in the pile of flint lock plates was a brass frog large perhaps the size of a tennis ball. There were several 4 and 6 inch brass kettles. Stan inventoried everything and we did keep a few beads and one of the frogs for the museum. I understand someone broke in the museum and stole it. The rest of the material we left just as it was, we did not open the other two graves. This must have been a very important individual to have so much dutch trade items.

to quot J.R.Simms Fort Plain Block-House.--This was erected in the fall of 1780 and spring of 1781, and was constructed of pine timber 8X14 inches square, dovetailed at the ends, and Thomas Morrel, of Schenectada, father of the late Judge Abram Morrel, of Johnstown, superintended its erection. It was octagonal in form, three stories in height, the second projecting five feet over the first, and the third five feet over the second, with port holes for cannon on the first floor, and for musketry on all its surfaces; with holes in the projecting floor for small arms, so as to fire down upon a closely approaching foe. The first story is said to have been 30 feet in diameter, the second 40 and the third 50, making it look top heavy for a gale of wind. It mounted several cannon for signal guns and defense--one of which was a twelve pounder--on the first floor; where was also an immense oven. . . . It stood upon a gentle elevation of several feet--which at the of an hundred years, the plow and the cultivator have nearly obliterated--and about 20 rods from the palisaded inclosure, which was constructed mainly by the farmers. The block-house was not palisaded, but a ditch or dry moat several feet deep and ten feet wide, extended around it, requiring a draw bridge to gain its entrance.

Two days later we found what we thought was the base of the fort about 30 square foot of disturbance, subsequent archaeology digs proved that this was the base of the block house and it was square, a fact that had been argued for years, some historians claimed it was round, octagon and square.
From the fire pits and post holes found during the earth removal program there apparently was a village on this hill over which the block house and redoubt was built.
only a couple of fire pits were examined and they indicted they were most likely from Indian occupation, the bones found were all broken, there were no cut bones in the fire pits. Since we did not uncover all the area in line with these fire pits Stanly suggested the long house might have been as long as 40 foot or more.

Unfortunately Stanly and I worked only a couple of weeks but it was rainy and cold, Stan developed a real bad cold and did not take care of his self, for many years he had a drinking problem and was very run down, he died a few weeks later. By this time I became involved with opening the Pine Lake park and all the notes that Stan and I had made were with Stan for a paper he was going to write, I have no idea of were they are , thought this might be a record as I recall it, of the finding of Fort Plain block house and the apparent Indian Chief or some one with wealth enough to afford such highly prized trade items. three pair of ice skates and all the flint lock plates It was strange that there were frogs as the known clans in the area were turtle, bear.

As we go through life some decisions are forced upon us other we make without sound advice, 50 years later perhaps my youthful dreams might have worked out better.

2 comments:

Distressing Delilah a.k.a. jenn said...

Nice post pop!

Terri said...

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