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Flint House Archaeological Report, 2002 — 2003:
Tales from the Glenville Woods

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[This information is from pp. 6-8 of Flint House Archaeological Report, 2002 — 2003: Tales from the Glenville Woods by Stephen D. Jones, Ph.D., RPA, and others, and is reproduced here with his permission.]

IV. Location

Located in the Town of Glenville, Schenectady County, New York State, the Flint House sits less than 20 yards from the steep bank of a binne kill or stream that used to separate "Hook Island" from the mainland (Map 1). Sometimes called "Reese Creek," the stream has been blocked at its west end, leaving what is essentially a narrow, hook-shaped pond or tarn; this still cuts off the mainland to the north and west but, in the southwest, leaves the "island" connected to a peninsula long known as the "Hook" or "Claes Graven's Hoek." The Flint property, Hook Island, Hook Farm (on the Hook peninsula), and a number of islands were all part of a rich farming area north of the Mohawk that was bought and sold, consolidated and divided and consolidated again numerous times and ways from the late 1600s. As noted in the Introduction, this was allegedly the "first land settled upon west of Scotia" by Europeans (Pearson 1883:70).

The Flint property was part of Schenectady's 4th Ward until 1820, after which this side of the river was called "Glenville" in honor of the "original patentee" (Howell and Munsell 1886:186). It is presently unclear if the Flint property was officially part of the unincorporated village called "Reeseville," even though the Reeses lived here; it is certain that it was not part of 20th-century Scotia, which was incorporated out of 19th-century Scotia and parts of Reeseville in 1904. Lands to the south and west of the current Flint property are still outside modern Scotia, as was the Flint property until Lillian Flint deeded it to the village.

Despite changes in the creek, the property apparently has always been on the mainland of Glenville, but it may have been associated with Hook Farm and the islands from the early days of European settlement. It has definitely been associated with them since the early 1800s.

A. Geography

The Flint House is at the north center of a semi-circular mass bulging south into the Mohawk River. The eastern half of the bulge is Hook Island; its western half consists of Hook Farm as well as several blocks of modern development (see Map 1). North of the bulge there is a gradual rise, paralleling Mohawk Avenue, to the "Glenville Hills," which can reach as high as 1,000' (Stoller 1911:6). Nowadays there are five islands to the north of the Mohawk River in this area. The Glenotia and Little Islands seem to follow the eastward trajectory of the former Hook Island, partially filling in the space to the east of the "bulge." Big Island extends the bulge to the southeast. East of that is Hog Island. Much farther west, stretching along the center of the Mohawk, is Daley Island. The land on the islands has often been farmed over the centuries, although they lie as low as Hook Island and must be subject to periodic flooding.

The Flint House sits at roughly 240' above sea level, on the edge of a gently undulating plain along the north of the Mohawk River. It is more than 6 meters or 20' above Reese Creek. Topography follows the bulge southward to a degree, with the 240' topo line curving southwest slightly to encompass the Flint property but little of the Hook (see Map 9), while the 220' topo line follows the bank of the creek and elevates one-half to two-thirds of the Hook but not Hook Island. As shown on Map 9, there are also small pockets of land above 220' on Hook Island. The rest — both on Hook Island and in the southern section of the Hook Farm — hover below 220'; for descriptive reasons I will refer to these areas generally as the "mud flats." The map shows the creek surface and the river at less than 212'.

This configuration is far from consistent with the layouts shown in historic maps. The views from 1664 and 1750 (Maps 3 and 4) differ widely both from each other and from the present. There is a passing resemblance between 1750 and 1856 views (Maps 4 and 6), and between 1856 and 1866 (Maps 6 and 7), but 1866 and 1931 (the latter basically the same as today — see Maps 1, 7, and 9) have little in common except for the contour of the southern edges of Guises (Big) and Vares (Hog) Islands and the northern edge of Van Slyck Island. One could jump from Map 3 to Map 9 (1664 to 1931) and make sense of the changes (pleading 18th-century cartographic incompetence), but Map 3 is not original to its period, being "constructed from actual survey and the ancient deed" — so the outlines may have been drawn with 20th-century maps in mind. In any case, it's not helpful to ignore what 18th- and 19th-century people thought to be the layout of the land(s).

Also, the jump from 17th to 20th centuries would bypass two of the most interesting discrepancies between the maps, namely (1) the existence and location of a number of small islands, and (2) the seeming similarity between the northern bank of the Mohawk River (between Big Island and the mainland) in the 1664, 1750, and modern maps. The small islands are noteworthy because they are mentioned in the historic deeds, and may give clues to natural or artificial land transformations. What's interesting about point #2 is that this roughly 90° curve cannot be representing the same banks in all three maps, since it would seem to put Hook Island south of the curve in 1750, but north of it in 1664 and the present; this is important because some of the little islands of 1750 may represent pieces of Hook Island, and help us better understand the deeds. Both points #1 and #2 relate to the question of where the Flint property might be on these maps, and what was surrounding it geographically. So far, I have no convincing answer.

B. Geology

The U.S.G.S. (1998) places the region amid the deposits of "weak" Middle Ordovician Shale. For the Schenectady Quadrant, Stoller (1911:1,34) writes of sandstones and shales of the Lorraine formation, covered with glacial deposits of gravel covered by sandy alluvium; for the Schenectady area Yates (1902:4) specifies Hudson shales consisting "of alternative layers of blue slate and sandstones".

Generally speaking, the area is made up of (a) Howard gravelly silt loam (HrA on Map 2) from Mohawk Avenue to and including the Flint property; (b) Unadilla silt loam (UnB) follows the Mohawk River to the west and extends south to form the high ground on the Hook Farm; and (c) Hamlin silt loam (Ha) covers the islands and the lower portions of the Hook. All three soils are characteristic of deep, well drained, level deposits that are "suited to row crops, hay, pasture, and woodland"; water tables are generally high. The Howard soil collects on glacial outwash terraces and mounds ("kames"), while the Unadilla and Hamlin soils are associated with alluvium, the latter particularly in flood plains. The U.S.D.A. notes that Hamlin soils, while subject to flooding, are rarely inundated during the growing season; however "stream bank cutting" may be a problem. (U.S.D.A. 1978:44,48,79)

C. Flora and Fauna

This part of Glenville is covered with housing, mostly from the mid 20th century. Nonetheless, locals report frequent visits by snapping turtles, snakes (one attested by Michele Norris was more than an inch in diameter), skunks, raccoons, opossums, and occasional deer, as well as many types of birds including herons and hawks. A heron pair lived in the creek beside the Flint property, at least until last year. Domesticated animals are currently limited to pets, although Deed K (page 578) mentions cattle, sheep, pigs, a horse or two, and chickens among Fredrick Rees's holdings, and the Saturday Globe (1901) at the time of David Reynolds's murder refers to "horse stalls" and a "cow barn", also to Reynolds's recent annoyance "by the loss of about 30 fowls".

The wild menagerie is at least partly due to the woods that line the banks of the creek, even on parts of the farmed islands. The arboreal vegetation of the region is said to be "Northern Hardwoods": maple, birch, beech, and hemlock with some oak (Kuchler 1964). While it seems impossible to discern the Flint property in the historic deeds, these do mention "wood land of Meselis [Marselis]" (Mortgage XII:95-96, dated 1799) and "that certain parcel of Woodland (formerly so called)" (Deed H:446-447, dated 1830); this might be the Flint property, or Hook Island, or much of the unfarmed area north and northwest of Reese Creek (therefore including the Flint property). In any case, it shows that some amount of tree cover persisted in this area, which supports the claim that much of Glenville was used for wood lots for Schenectadians well into the 19th century (Howell and Munsell 1886:186).

Nowadays maple and oak seem to dominate the banks, although the maples lining the road here were clearly planted by humans some time past. Bushy undergrowth is sparse near the Flint House but more common on the mud flats. Until fairly recently the Flint property was used for corn, and the upland of the Hook Farm has continued to be in cultivation through the 20th century. The part of Hook Island adjacent to the Flint property is cultivated field, while the Mohawk side is wooded mud flats. Some of the other islands are also farmed. This is actually rather remarkable, considering that much of New York farmland was turned to pasture (or housing) when the broomcorn industry collapsed in the later 1800s (Howell and Munsell 1886:192), and the state's small farms continue to dwindle in number (see, e.g., Johnson 2004).

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