Archaeolgist finds artifacts at Cutchogue Village Green site

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03/17/2011 4:10 PM |

TIM KELLY PHOTO | Cutchogue-New Suffolk Historical Council volunteer Richard Jordan sifts through soil at Cutchogue Village Green Tuesday in search of artifacts as work commenced on a new garage for antique vehicles.

When is a garage project more than just a garage project? When it’s an architectural dig.

On the surface, the Cutchogue-New Suffolk Historical Council’s addition of a two-car garage on the Village Green seems simple enough. But when a crew started excavating Tuesday, the focus shifted to what lies below.

In keeping with the town’s dictate, the council brought in an archaeologist — in this case, JoAnne McLean of Flanders — to sift through the soil for any Native American artifacts or remains that might be unearthed. None were found, which came as no surprise given that the land was disturbed for the construction of several homes and businesses in the first half of the 20th century, according to council trustee Mike Malkush.

Tuesday’s digging uncovered a variety of artifacts including bottles, broken plates, metal objects such as the head of pickax and a spoked car wheel.

The soil also surrendered five horseshoes, believed to have originated at a blacksmith shop that stood on the green during the 1920s and ’30s. Edward Grathwohl, grandfather of council member and local historian Jim Grathwohl, was the village smithy back then.

“The doors of the smithy opened to the south and kids on their way to and from school would stop and he’d show them what he was working on,” Mr. Grathwohl said.

Edward Grathwohl was only 58 when he died in the early 1940s.

A tinsmith’s building also once operated on the property, which the historical council acquired in 1960. It was moved to a nearby Main Road parcel in the early 1930s.

At one time several houses hugged the northern side along Main Road, including the home of a Turkish merchant who sold goods out of his house and later from a horse and buggy and a pickup truck. The property was unused and overgrown when the society acquired it.

Centuries earlier the Corchaug Indians called the property “the broad field” and “grew corn and beans there,” Mr. Grathwohl continued.

“Early historians said the Corchaugs had their council fires there,” he said. “That was pretty much their headquarters.”
The mid-19th century schoolhouse, which is just west of the garage site, once stood across the street on the north side of Main Road. It was sold in 1903 and moved to the other side of Cutchogue to become farm laborers’ housing. The council brought it to the green shortly after clearing the land in 1960, said Mr. Grathwohl.

The artifacts found this week were probably left as trash, he added.

“Back then people just threw stuff out the back door in their own private little dumps,” Mr. Grathwohl said.
Even so, Ms. McLean will catalogue and analyze the material, some of which will be displayed inside the new building as part of an exhibit on the early 20th century, said Mr. Malkush.

Ms. McLean will return in upcoming weeks when the digging starts for the building’s drainage system.
“Who knows who might have thrown something out there?” said Mr. Malkush.

The council plans to host a ribbon-cutting for the new garage in mid-May. When it’s complete, it will house a 1926 Model A truck donated by Parker Wickham of Mattituck.

Eventually, the second bay will hold a 1931 Willys touring car once owned by Cutchogue’s own Douglas Moore, a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer. Each summer the council hosts a concert on the green in honor of Mr. Moore.

Restoring the Willys could take several years, according to Mr. Malkush. In the interim, vintage vehicles owned by local collectors will be part of a rotating display.

“It’s surprising how many people out here have antique cars,” he said. “A lot of people are taking an interest in what we’re doing and it’s exposing the buildings and the green to many more people in the community.”

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