Finding Tusten village

Unearthing history and the stories here

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 7/22/22

TEN MILE RIVER, NY — “Sometimes, the content for these exhibits comes out of nowhere,” said David Malatzky, associate curator at the Ten Mile River Scout Museum.

“Last …

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Finding Tusten village

Unearthing history and the stories here

Posted

TEN MILE RIVER, NY — “Sometimes, the content for these exhibits comes out of nowhere,” said David Malatzky, associate curator at the Ten Mile River Scout Museum.

“Last summer, I found in the museum a banker’s box filled with artifacts from the dig. It just dropped into my lap.”

The dig in question was a few test holes dug because of a federal project, the Geologic Resources Inventory.

And the artifacts ranged from pieces of pottery to glass to a few stone tools. The history of the area, in what’s basically a series of trash piles.

Brought to the surface

The land holds secrets; it holds history. For those who look, it tells the stories of people who didn’t leave written records, couldn’t leave records or “who may have left records, but they weren’t deemed important,” said archaeologist Dr. April Beisaw. So those records—diaries, maybe; receipts; photos—disappeared.

An associate professor and chair of anthropology at Vassar College, Beisaw studies cultural change and resilience in the relatively recent past. At the moment, her work is focused on the New York City water system.

The relatively modern—say, from the 14th century on— is just as compelling as ancient history.

The stories would include those of the Indigenous people who lived here or passed on through. The museum has artifacts from three rock shelters located on the property; Indigenous people did not live there year-round.

Archaeology tells the story of the settlers who arrived in the 18th and 19th centuries, and left pieces of pottery and glass behind. It tells the stories of people within our lifetimes.

The way the artifacts lie in the ground, the way buildings grow and spread out over time, it all matters.

“Documents usually tell only one side of how things were, and are often biased towards the goals of those who wrote or received the report,” Beisaw said in an email, and added later, “Small finds can contradict a story” and reveal truth.

Who lived at Ten Mile River?

Nowadays, many think of Ten Mile River as the sprawling Boy Scout camp, built in 1927, and the 12,000 acres that comprise it, but Ten Mile is also a small river that empties into the Delaware—and the now-vanished settlements alongside it.

“I always look at the historical record,” Beisaw said. “Satellite images can find farms, hill forts—you look at the landscape and see that something is different.”

Art Hawker, Town of Tusten historian, recently stood on the stone arch bridge spanning Ten Mile River and gestured sweepingly. “There was a sawmill where Ten Mile hits the Delaware. Quinlan [of the “History of Sullivan County”] said it was owned by Elijah Reeve.”

At about the same time, there was “a settlement of 22 people, founded by the Delaware Company” under the authority of the state of Connecticut.

According to sources ranging from Sipe’s “Indian Wars of Pennsylvania,” to Miner’s “History of Wyoming” and Egle’s “History of Pennsylvania” and the “Frontier Forts of PA,” an Indigenous group in 1763 attacked the community and killed the settlers, incited by the murder of their king. This was later known by white people as the Ten Mile River Massacre.

There’s evidence of settlement later. Hawker mentioned a tavern and store dating back to 1803; the historical society has a ledger from the store that lists transactions in pounds and pence.

But it wasn’t until 1853 that there was a serious effort to resettle the area. The Erie Railroad was laying track in the region; maybe someone thought there was money to be made. The site was renamed the Town of Tusten, in honor of Col. Benjamin Tusten, who had died at the Battle of Minisink decades prior.

Houses were built, businesses sprang up; not far away, the Erie track cruised past. There was a general store, a blacksmith’s shop and a post office, according to a report on the dig by the scout museum. There were bluestone quarries on Tusten Mountain.

From the bridge, there is little to be seen. “There’s really not a lot left,” Hawker said. He points to one side. “There was logging... The Erie used tremendous amounts of wood.” Tracks needed wood; the trains burned wood for a while before they switched to coal.

That settlement too disappeared, but this time, it was a victim of economic change. Bluestone was abandoned in favor of concrete, he said; the trees had all been cut down.

In 1911, the Minisink Company, from New York City, wanted to develop acreage in the Town of Tusten area. A company  brochure lauds the beauty of the lakes and the availability of lots for housing, a hotel, a club, even farming.

The project was abandoned.

By the 1920s, the Crawfords, who owned much of the property near the village at the time—this is the family behind the original building for the Ethelbert B. Crawford library in Monticello—must have been delighted when the Boy Scouts came calling.

The Boy Scout Foundation of Greater New York was looking for a permanent campsite, large enough to accommodate the surge of interest in Scouting in New York City. A goal of $1 million was set to be raised and 12,000 acres were eventually purchased, said museum co-director Ira Nagel.

The buildings on the new Scout camp property were eventually demolished, said Malatzky. “Where Tusten was, there’s nothing now, except for the bridge and the church.” The Scouts just erected a few lean-tos. “But everything below ground  should still be there.”

Local digs

Archaeology isn’t unheard of in the region. April Beisaw and her students have been working near the Ashokan Reservoir, studying the archaeology of the New York water system and the way New York City has continued to take land.

“There are communities that are still being demolished,” she said.

Beisaw uses maps and the landscape itself to find ruins and the traces of the people left behind. Not those whose homes are under the water, but those who stayed.

Her work will soon cover the impact on the Rondout and Neversink reservoirs as well.

Learn more about the area and see the results of the Tusten Village dig at the Ten Mile River Scout Museum. For hours, visit tmrmuseum.org.

Digging deep

Several years ago, a shovel test pit survey was performed (see “Local digs”), digging at three sites to check for relics from those old settlements.

A range of cast-offs was found. A chert flake from the Indigenous people who once lived here; pottery, broken and tossed. A hat or hairpin, a slate roof tile. And lots of coal, which wasn’t collected.

These pieces reveal a great deal about the lives of the people who owned them. What they liked, how their homes were built, what they ate from. How they stayed warm.

“It’s the debris of life,” Beisaw said.

Malatzky began putting the exhibit together, doing the research required.

An exhibit is now open at the Ten Mile River Scout Museum, highlighting the artifacts from the box he found last summer.

To help people translate pieces of broken pottery to actual items, when possible Malatzky added examples of the unbroken items, not from the site. “It gives more perspective. What do those items actually represent?”

What are his goals? “To recognize this as an important historic site. To see what’s there, buried… it’s a significant site,” he said. “This was the center of the local bluestone and lumbering industries in the early 1800s. It’s not altered much since the late 1800s”—nobody’s dug it up for development, in other words.

And it’s about memory. About honoring people who worked hard, lived and died here, leaving few records, just bits of their time abandoned for us to find. “Everyone forgets that Tusten Village existed. But these are the original settlers. Their families live here today… and this sheds light on the larger historical story.”

exhibits, Ten Mile River, Ten Mile River Scout Museum, artifacts, archeology

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