Archeological Discoveries: Cobblestone Paving

Section of original cobble drive discovered by the Hartgen team.  Image: Peter Watson

So, after the long period of suspense (and silence from this blog writer), you are probably asking yourself what exactly did the Hartgen team find?    Well, lots of stuff… Which, in turn, answered some questions and raised many more.

Perhaps the most dramatic find was a very well-preserved section of historic cobblestone paving about a foot below the surface of the turf.  The Hartgen team tenatively dated this feature to 1850s-60s (Folger ownership) based on physical evidence (whiteware ceramic sherds) and other historic residential examples in the Hudson area dating to the same period (many of the City of Hudson’s streets were also paved with cobblestone in the 1860s).

To uncover the extent of the cobblestone feature, the archeologists systematically dug a series of test pits at regular intervals in the surrounding area.  The cobblestone drive/yard turned out to be pretty large, approximately forty foot long by fourteen feet wide.  The area shown in light blue in the diagram below show the approximate location of the find:

Diagram courtesy of Hartgen Archeological Associates. Annotations: Peter Watson

According to the archeologists, the presence of layers of ash and cinders on top of this paving suggests that it had been exposed to the elements for many years and then perhaps abandoned and covered over in the early twentieth century during the period of state ownership (1915-1975).

The cobblestone paving appears to have been part of a larger service drive system which was altered multiple times over the years.  An early twentieth century photo of the east elevation of the house provides some tantalizing (and blurry) visual evidence of at least what one incarnation of what this design looked like.   The area of cobblestone paving discovered by the archeologists begins just where the (packed gravel?) drive in the foreground of the photo dips down and continues along the south side of the house (left side of the photo) before connecting to the now abandoned service road running out to the southwest.  I’ve squinted at this photo for a while but still cannot see anything definitive.

East elevation of the house. McIntyre ownership (1883-1915). Image: Historic Hudson

The area in the foreground of the historic photo is now covered over with an asphalt carriage loop, and, closer to the house, a concrete sidewalk poured in the 1950s.   So more evidence may exist underneath these modern layers.   The photo below shows the site conditions of the same area at the conclusion of the archeological work.   As you can see, the modern grade is much more gentle than the historic photo reflecting multiple regrading campaigns during the early twentieth century.

Site conditions in August , 2012. Image: Peter Watson

The rectangular areas closed off with yellow tape and stones in the photo above mark two of the test pits in which cobble paving were found.  These were covered over with plywood to allow re-inspection in the future.

One thing that does seem clear from the archeological study is that only a portion of the service drive was ever paved with cobbles.  The archeologists discovered a clean edge south west of the house where the cobblestone paving transitions to the cinder road base of the service road.

Test pit revealing end of cobblestone paving. Image: Peter Watson

This suggests that the more expensive cobblestone paving was used near the house as both a decorative and functional element.  The sloping grade and clay soils on the south side of the house make it as muddy today as it was in the past.  The cobblestones paving provided an all-weather hard surface in the heaviest use areas which could support horses and wagons bringing food and supplies to the adjoining kitchen/service areas.  How exactly the paving connected to these service areas during different historical epoch is still very unclear and will be the subject of additional archeological work in the Spring/Summer of 2013.


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