Anthropology Research :: CRSP

History of the Cultural Resources Survey Program

Dr. William A. Ritchie (c.1954)

The Cultural Resources Survey Program (CRSP) has been in existence since 1958 as an applied research program of the New York State Museum. The first cultural resource surveys were performed for the State Historic Trust under the direction of former state archaeologist Dr. William Ritchie and William A. Fenton, Assistant Commissioner of the New York State Museum and Science Service. Beginning in 1959, highway surveys were conducted for the New York State Department of Public Works to help them meet their compliance needs as part of the Federal-Aid Highway Act and the Highway Revenue Act of 1956.

Program guidance provided by the United States Department of Commerce for the preservation of archaeological and paleontological salvage call for the preservation for public use of "historical and prehistoric sites, buildings, and objects of national significance for the inspiration and benefit of the people of the United States" (Policy and Procedure Memorandum 20-7 1959:1). Robert Funk, who would succeed Ritchie as director of the program in 1965, Marian White and Charles Hays were among the first highway salvage archaeologists employed by the New York State Museum.

Surveying with the highway salvage program.

The program was formally organized as the Highway Salvage Program in 1963 through agreement between the New York State Education Department and the NYS Department of Public Works. From 1963 to 1977, the program would focus almost exclusively on large-scale surveys and the salvage for new highway construction through the southern tier and Hudson Valley of New York. The goal of these surveys was to identify and excavate, and recover "Indian artifacts" before their loss through construction (Funk 1968:1-2). In addition to in-house staff, archaeologists from local universities, historic societies, and museums became important consulting program partners. Early efforts by the University of Buffalo, Harpur College (Binghamton University), Rochester Museum, Syracuse University, the Nassau County Museum of Natural History, and the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society resulted in the identification of many important sites including Roundtop, Engelbert, Zawatski Terrace, Comfort, Cottage, and Castle Garden.

From Salvage to Survey…

Dr. Robert Funk and crew, 1977.

The Highway Salvage Program was re-named the Cultural Resources Survey Program in 1979 to take into account the growing nature of the program and the need to complete non-highway surveys for other agencies such as the Department of Correctional Services, the Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, and the New York State Department of Naval Affairs. Between 1979 and 1989, the program went through a significant period of growth with hundreds of miles of proposed highway corridor, canal alignment and railroad right of way being surveyed and scores of previously undocumented prehistoric and historic sites being identified.

Thousands of artifacts were recovered representing cultural activity from nearly 10,000 B.C. to the present. In addition, non-artifactual data on these sites have been collected and are preserved as detailed field notes, maps and charts. Information on standing structures dating from the late 18th through early 20th centuries were also inventoried and reported, increasing the architectural inventory files at the NYSM and the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. During this period, approximately 700 archaeological and 650 architectural reports were produced providing the Department of Transportation and other contracting agencies with the scientific basis for determining which sites require protection and what means of protection would be most appropriate.

CRSP work at Fort Edward, 2007.

Survey staff has played an increasingly significant role in the identification and preservation of cultural resources in the state since 1989. The program is not only able to conduct effective field investigations on short notice over a wide area of the State, it is also able to effectively draw on the resources of the State Library and State Archives in developing its documentary research reports. The range of cultural resource studies undertaken by staff reflects the range of cultural resource research areas in which the program has become involved. These studies range from an architectural inventory of a 19th century urban neighborhood in Troy, Rensselaer County, where standing structures were the primary focus, to an historical reconstruction project in Comstock, Washington County, where documentary sources were used to recreate on paper a tiny 19th century village that was completely wiped out by the enlargement of the Old Champlain Canal a century ago. Nearby, an archaeological study of a vacant lot in the City of Cohoes produced evidence of an 18th century Dutch house site, and underneath it, an intact Native American site dating back over 4,000 years.

Not Only Archaeology…

In addition to archaeological studies, the survey completes architectural surveys and HABS/HAER studies of architectural properties when the existing landscape is modified. A recent architectural survey near Glenville, Schenectady County produced two unique examples of architectural resources. Conifer Park, a residential treatment center, was originally built as a tuberculosis sanatorium in 1927. An architectural drawing dated that year shows that the brick building remained fairly unaltered for eighty years. This building is not only historically important as a rare example of a tuberculosis hospital still standing, but also as a structure built in the Spanish Eclectic architectural style, a style more likely to be seen in Florida and the Southwest. Also discovered, was a buried trolley bridge with two arches (one for the north line, the other for the south line). Built in 1904, this bridge carried the Boston and Maine Railroad over the trolley tracks of the Schenectady Railroad Company. The trolleys traveled between Schenectady and Ballston until 1941, and the bridge was buried shortly thereafter. This bridge is an important historical resource as one of the last surviving intact features of the trolley company.

For the Public...

An important component of the scientific study of these resources is the need to disseminate information about these studies to the public. Each year, staff disseminates information about survey projects through the preparation of brochures, publications in peer-review journal articles, exhibits, field and lab open houses, and lectures. The New York State Museum's Cultural Resources Survey Program Bulletin Series is designed to publish the results of exemplary reports produced by the program. Internship programs allow students to learn about cultural resource management and stewardship of the archaeological record.

Bibliography

  • Funk, R.E. 1968 Highway Salvage Archaeology: 1963-1968. Unpublished Manuscript, Archaeological Files of the Cultural Resources Survey Program, New York State Museum, Albany, New York.
  • Funk, R.E. 1985 Division of Historical and Anthropological Sevices-5 Year Report (1980-1985) for the Public Archaeology Section. Unpublished Manuscript, Cultural Resources Survey Program, New York State Museum, Albany, New York.
  • United States Department of Public Works 1959 Policy and Procedure Memorandum for the Salvage of Archaeological and Paleontological Resources. Policy Memorandum 20-7:1-2.
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