An Archaeological Critique of Watertown, New York – Part 1

In my year long sabbatical from archaeological field work, I’ve resumed work on a handful of projects that have been floating in my head for some time.  Two particular projects stand out and both involve the Jefferson County Historical Society, the proverbial HQ of historic preservation in my home town of Watertown, New York.  The most fully developed idea I’ve got floating in my head and on my hard drive is a podcast series I hope to introduce within the next few weeks.  The second is a community based archaeological project that with enough planning and support could possibly be implemented next summer, here first in Jefferson County and then elsewhere around the United States.  I’m incredibly excited about both projects and promise to provide more details as soon as I have things sorted.

In an attempt to gauge the possible level of reception of these projects, I felt it essential to put Watertown through a sort of test.  Over the course of a day, I’m going to commit myself to paying particular attention to the presence of archaeology and historic preservation within the city of Watertown.  I’ll do my best to avoid veering from the beaten path of my daily routine, but strive to note anything relating to archaeology.

June 29, 2011,

My day almost always starts at 7am.  I pack up my laptop and notebook into my canvas ammo bag (purposely reminiscent of the one which Indiana Jones wears) and hop into the truck.  My first stop is the Historic Paddock Arcade to work on the website and get some reading in.

The Arcade is one of, if not the, most beautiful building in the city.  It is the oldest continually operated shopping mall in the United States and wears the title proudly.  The arcade was built by Watertown native Loveland Paddock and designed by architect Otis Wheelock in 1850. Its design was based on similar arcades built during that era in the United States and Europe. Shops occupied the bottom floor, while the upper floors were used for office space.  While still an awe inspiring site to this day, the building is a far cry from what it once was.  Its beautiful vaulted glass roof was hidden from view in the 1920s by the inclusion steel-and-wire-glass dropped ceiling between its second and third stories.  The building was added to the National Registrar of Historic Places 1976.

I grab a cup of coffee from the Paddock Coffee House, which after adding my cream I attempt to Munsell in my mind.  My guess is it’s somewhere in the 10yr 3/2 – 3/3 range then take my seat and pick up a copy of the the local read, the Watertown Daily Times.  To my surprise there is a page two article with an archaeological focus.  “Sunk sub is upright for first time” informs the headline.  I dive in to learn that workers handling the H.L. Hunley (the first submarine in history to sink an enemy ship) are working feverishly to conserve this 1864 vessel.   The word archaeologist is featured once.  A second article, “Battlefield boasts historic garden crops” highlights a period-specific garden in nearby Sackets Harbor and its ties to the War of 1812.  No mention of archaeology, but there is an emphasis on historical research.

I finish my cup of coffee and head outside.

The front door of the Paddock Arcade opens up onto Public Square.  This is the oldest portion of historic Watertown.  The city’s first settlers built their homes on the west end of Public Square.  My guess is the archaeological remains of those log cabin dwellings were lost long ago when the square became the urban hub it is today.  In 1849 a massive fire destroyed most of the square, but it was rebuilt a few years later to include beautiful structures like the Woodruff Hotel.  The 1850 rebuild of Public Square featured the inclusion of three islands in the center which still exist, but have been incorporated into one single entity.  In the center sits an ornate fountain circa 1960, the third to occupy the spot.  In 2002, the fountain was vandalized and nearly destroyed by a drunken moron.  The fountain remained in storage for seven years while it was restored and Public Square was redesigned.  Today the Square retains most of its former majesty, but the number of vacant store fronts indicates it still has a ways to go.

Interesting, no?  You’d think that with nearly every major road in the city funneling traffic towards this historic spot that somewhere among the nearly two hundred year old circus that story would be available.  Yet not a single bit of information is available on Public Square regarding its history.  There is not a kiosk, an information board, anything that details the vivid history of this centerpiece of the city.  In fact, my day has barely brought any archaeology to my attention.

I hang a right out of the Arcade and pass by the grotesque marble additions of the 1960s, before I reach the Paddock mansion, home of the Jefferson County Historical Society.  Surely, if archaeology has a presence in the North Country culture, I will find it here.

Check back mid-week for more.

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