POTSDAM — Like all great tales, this is a love story.
Actually, it is a story about an archaeological dig at a former Civil War training camp in a field behind the Meadow East Community apartment complex on Leroy Street, but it starts with a love story, one that was uncovered in the Civil War Archives of the Potsdam Public Museum.
SUNY Potsdam professor Hadley Kruczek-Aaron is leading an archaeology field school focused on excavating the former site of Camp Union, the training ground used by about 1,000 members of the locally raised 92nd Regiment for five months from 1861 to 1862. The cite was also used from training in WWI and WWII.
The excavation began June 24 and will run through July 19.
An open house at the 118 Leroy St. site is offered to the public 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, during SUNY Potsdam Reunion Weekend and the Potsdam Summer Festival.
On Thursday morning, Ms. Kruczek-Aaron and her teaching assistant, Lissa J. Herzing, wandered through the site grid marked by little flags to various dig sites, taking notes and photos.
“We think that could be a post hole,” Ms. Herzing said, pointing to a dark soil stain that protruded into a lower grayish soil. “They would have used posts potentially to construct the building that would have been here.”
The structures were temporary and included a 240-foot-long wooden barracks
“There was a barrack, there was a hospital, there was a mess hall and cookhouse among a couple of other things,” Ms. Kruczek-Aaron said. “What our goal has been has been to determine if any of those things are on our project area.”
Along with post holes, architectural materials like brick pieces, mortar, flat glass window pieces and cut nails that could be dated to the Civil War period have been found.
“It’s not the Indiana Jones kind of experience that most people see in the movies,” Ms. Kruczek-Aaron said. “We are very careful about preserving context for when I’m writing about this and trying to summarize what happened here.”
The project area was discovered more than five years ago by Potsdam Museum Board President Jan Wojcik, a Civil War buff who, while digging through the museum’s Civil War archives, discovered the story of Civil War Captain Thomas Hickey of Potsdam, Mimi Van Deusen, the museum director/curator and Village & Town Historian, said.
“He got wounded, and he was in a hospital in Washington, D.C., and he told his wife, Joanna, he was fine and she said ‘no, you’re not,’ and she went down and he died in her arms,” she said.
While looking deeper into the story, Mr. Wojcik and Ms. Van Deusen found a map or the area that identified the site as “the parade grounds” which was where Camp Union was built, leading to Mr. Wojcik contacting Ms. Kruczek-Aaron.
She started with the paperwork but the previous property owner shot the project down due to issues of liability pertaining to insuring the students, both professor and museum director said.
About a year ago, Bryan Wolofsky, a Montreal man who owns an operates Swan Landing Associates in the village, purchased Meadow East and said, “insurance risks be damned” for the sake of history.
“I really wanted to do this. I love history. This is how we learn stuff, is archaeology,” Mr. Wolofsky said. “If you don’t know where you’re coming from, you don’t really fully understand where you are and where you can get to.
“As someone who’s very into Potsdam, the idea of knowing what the history of our village is is very important to me,” Mr. Wolofsky said. “So insurance risks be damned. Sometimes an entrepreneur says, ‘ah, screw the risks. Let’s do it, It’s worth doing.’”