Thursday, May 11, 2006

Subdivision Review Reveals A Pre-Colonial Past

Many generations of children raised in Glenwood Landing or Glen Head will recall combing the property at the northwest corner of Glenwood Road and Kissam Lane for arrowheads—and the thrill of coming up with a handful of mysteriously pointed stones. In fact, many of those presumed arrowheads were, indeed, authentic Native American artifacts.

The presence of artifacts used by the indigenous people of the north shore was recently confirmed by an investigation conducted in connection with a 7-unit subdivision proposed for the site that has been undergoing review for several years. The investigation was required by the Nassau County Planning Commission under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) at the expense of the developer (currently Anray Custom Builder of Sea Cliff).

Some of the items documented by investigators from the firm of John M. Milner Associates are relatively common artifact of fairly recent vintage. However, some of the items may date to the pre-colonial period. Known as pre-contact artifacts, such artifacts are prized by archeologists—although to the lay person they may often seem like nothing more than nondescript chips and chards.

Archeological experts say that no more sites of this type are likely to be diiscovered in Nassau County. One characteristic that makes the site so unusual, according to Charla Bolton, a preservation advocate for the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, is evidence of continuous human occupation for so long a period of time.

The Native Americans were succeeded by the Townsends, who were among the area's earliest settlers. According to a historic study conducted by a consultant hired by the civic association, the Townsends probably constructed the main building on the site sometime during the mid-19th century and used it through the first third of the last century. John Collins, architectural historian, preservationist, and member of the Town of Oyster Bay Landmarks Commission, has described the building as a good example of the vernacular architecture of the 19th century, which was once common in Glenwood Landing and surrounding areas. It also is one of the few reamining such buildings in Glenwood Landing.

Vernacular architecture is a term applied to structures that are usually erected by non-academically trained builders based on local traditions, building techniques, and materials. According to the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, design and construction often occur simultaneously onsite; some of those who eventually use the building are often involved in construction, design, or both; and the shape of the building generally reflects local patterns that may be either centuries old or that reflect the technological advances of the time (such as the jigsaw, which made "gingerbread" embellishments possible during the late Victorian period).

The civic association commissioned the historic study with the hope that a mechanism for preserving the building, which was occupied as a two-family home until last year, could be found. The effort was unsuccessful, however. Last month, the Town of Oyster Bay issued a demolition permit, which includes removal of several structures and underground oil storage tanks.

According to a letter from Joel Klein, Senior Project Manager at John M. Milner Associates, submitted to the county Planning Commission, more than 50,000 stone and ceramic artifacts and animal remains were recovered and removed from the site as ordered by the commission and the state. The stone artifacts include “tools related to the procurement, processing and consumption of shellfish, fish, and mammals" and "numerous grinding and abrading stones, pitted stones, and debris resulting from tool manufacture.“ The ceramic artifacts include three reconstructable vessels and more than 11,000 fragments.

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