BY WILLIAM SHANNON
For many centuries, the only humans in Germantown were ones who are now seldom remembered. Any of their living culture in the immediate area is long gone. But many traces of their lives have turned up, or been turned up, over the decades near the mouth of the Roeliff Jansen Kill—an area called the Ford Site.
As described in "Recent Contributions to Hudson Valley Prehistory: Memoir 22" by Robert E. Funk, State Archaeologist in Nov. 1976:
“The Ford Site, so named after its former owner, Floyd Ford, occupies five acres at the west end of a 25-acre, flat-topped tongue of land on the south side of the Roeliff Jansen Kill at its confluence with the Hudson River.”
Freshly plowed fields where there were once berry patches and cornfields in the area, proved “highly productive of stone artifacts, and have been visited by collectors for many years, most notably Kenneth Mynter of Claverack, and the late James Shafer of Poughkeepsie.”
Mynter and Shafer excavated a trench in 1955 and dug sporadically through 1960. Shafer’s collection from the site was donated to the New York State Museum in 1957. The findings included numerous hand-carved points, scrapers, hammerstones, ovate knives, flint chips, fire-cracked stones, ceramic pot sherds and seven “basin-shaped hearths.” The hearths contained charcoal-stained sand and, uncovered in one of the hearths were “a considerable amount of fish bones, including sturgeon plates.”
This land today remains on private property off Sunset Circle, a dead-end town road with five homes, all built after Mynter and Shafer’s excavations. At one point when I rented a cottage on the road, I took a stroll through the land, stopping for close looks at any upturned trees and fresh runoff areas. The owner of the cottage said when excavations were taking place for his larger house, artifacts turned up.
A few years back, a member of the Roe Jan Creek Boat Club found a point on land just off the stream.
Germantown resident John Kelly has a collection of about forty-five Native American artifacts—mainly projectile points and scrapers—that he found in the late 1980s during a time that he was working on a garage outside one of the Sunset Circle residences. A few months ago, he showed me his collection from the site. Pictures of his collection are below this article.
Some of the artifacts found at the Ford Site during the Mynter-Shafer digs provide evidence of human occupation during the Middle Woodland period (200 BC - 500 AD) while other artifacts excavated at a deeper level suggest Archaic visitations (8,000 BC -2,000 BC), according to Funk.
Funk concluded that the Ford site was “the scene of recurrent occupation by Indian groups over a long period of time, probably of more than 4,500 years’ duration.”
Largely because few subsistence remains were uncovered, “It is assumed to have been used mainly as a fall-winter hunting camp, and this is supported by the heavy predominance of projectile points in the collection … However, some groups may have resided on the site in the spring and summer, while fishing in the Hudson River or Roeliff Jansen Kill, as shown by the fish bones.”
I'd love to hear of any other private collections or remembrances of finding things in or around the Ford Site.
(Addendum: Much of this article comes from part of a historic resources report drafted for Germantown’s Waterfront Advisory Committee)