Battlefield protection project to map layers of Lake George history

Battlefield protection project Lake George

Peel back the pavement of Lake George’s streets; lift up the hotels, restaurants, taverns, arcades, ice cream stands and gift shops, and you’ll find ground trod upon by huge armies as they fought over claims to North America. These armies left behind evidence of their battles and lives. Buried beneath the town are remains of encampments, outposts and bits of a soldier’s domestic life — shards of Delft pottery, fish hooks — along with the expected musket balls and fragments of mortar shells.

“It’s shocking to me,” says Matt Kirk of Hartgen Archeological Associates, “how much of these sites are still extant.” Hartgen has been hired by the Town of Lake George to inventory, analyze and document sites related to Lake George’s military history under an American Battlefield Protection Program grant. Last night, Kirk gave a presentation at the Old County Courthouse as part of the town’s public “show and tell” workshop on the Fort George Battlefield project. As part of the data gathering process, Hartgen is seeking stories and artifacts that anyone may have related to the wars fought in Lake George. The project’s focus is the period of Sept. 8, 1755 (Battle of Lake George) through 1780, the year of the area’s last major American Revolution engagement.

Lake George was awarded the $50,000 grant, which is administered by the National Park Service, last July. According to Lake George Planning Director Dan Barusch, the Park Service welcomed Lake George’s application as battles fought in the area were critical to the founding of the nation yet documentation of these military campaigns is sparse. The Lake George Battlefield Park/Fort George Alliance and the NY Department of Environmental Conservation are partners with the town on this project.

Battlefield protection project Lake George

Last night’s workshop was attended by approximately 40 people. In addition to Kirk’s presentation, artifacts retrieved from digs in Battlefield Park and a site on Birch Avenue were displayed. Kirk says there are thousands and thousands of artifacts retrieved from these digs and “I think there’s a lot still out there.” The topography of Lake George, says Kirk, helped preserve significant sites. The steep sloops are not suited for building and have been left untouched by modern development, yet traveling armies had no difficulty pitching their tents on the side of a mountain.

Battlefield protection project Lake George

Hartgen archeologists began working on the project in January using a collection of 150 maps dating from 1755 to the present and gathering on-site data using non-invasive field reconnaissance. This means they are not digging up the town, rather they are using map analysis, global positioning, geographic information systems, and KOCOA analysis to recreate Lake George history.

 

KOCOA is a military acronym for studying the terrain’s effect on tactical operations. Kirk explains that KOCOA analysis requires the archeologist think like a military leader. Where should troops be positioned to observe enemy movement and defend the fort or encampment? This analysis tells the researchers where to look for sites when historical maps fail to provide that information. 

By overlaying historical maps with modern maps and lining up consistent features, such as the brooks running into Lake George, Hartgen researchers have been able to locate the sites of significant military activity. For example, Hartgen archeologists determined the on that fateful day in August 1757, when the French began its siege of Fort William Henry, Montcalm landed his artillery on the lake’s Western shore at Pine Point Lane. If Montcalm landed there today, he would be dragging his cannons through rows of beach chairs holding sunbathing guests of the Marine Village Resort.

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What will all this analysis produce?

The result of this project will be more than 100 Resource Inventory Forms cataloging information on advanced guard positions, encampments, burial sites and other areas of interest. All this information will be mapped to identify significant military sites throughout Lake George. The map will serve three purposes:

  • Provide insight that will help with planning and development in the town
  • Provide a way to interpret Lake George’s military history
  • Identify sites that may need further study and preservation

Kirk estimates that about 85 percent of the identified historically significant sites in Lake George are on private property. The aim of the project is not to halt development, but to provide a resource that will inform property owners of what occurred on their land before they took ownership. Several participants in last night’s workshop expressed concern that important artifacts may be hauled off to the dump because property owners, in the course of improving their land, may fail to recognize the importance of items that turn up in a shovelful of dirt.

The Town, the DEC and The Fort George Alliance will need to determine the best way to present the project’s findings to the public. The completed map will be digitized and available online. Hard copies may be available for viewing at public institutions such as the town library. Lyn Hohmann, President of the Lake George Battlefield Park/Fort George Alliance, noted that a Visitors Center in Battlefield Park would be an ideal place to display the map. The Alliance, formed in 2002 as a friends group of Battlefield Park, supports historic preservation in the park and seeks to increase public awareness and appreciation of Lake George history. Currently, DEC is constructing a kiosk that will serve as a mini-interpretive center in the beach house at Lake George Beach. “Our interest is in getting this out to the public,” Hohmann says.   

The American Battlefield Protection grant is a planning grant. Barusch says that a follow-up grant for fieldwork is available if the results of this survey show areas that need further investigation. The current project will be completed by summer 2018.