The North Country Archaeology Center is open during library hours, but those who want more than a cursory view of the artifacts should contact the library. The collection represents more than a dozen documented and undocumented Native American sites in Jefferson County and two in St. Lawrence County.
A portion of the collection (a couple of hundred out of a few thousand items) has found a home at the Depauville Free Library’s new North Country Archaeology Center. In addition to spear and arrow points, it features such artifacts as pottery shards, tools and ornamental objects. There’s even a food item: a small piece of a corn cob and a kernel, both about 500 years old. The Knapp collection mainly consists of items found in the area from the upper St. Lawrence Valley, near Ogdensburg, to the Lake Ontario lowlands near Sandy Creek.
Kenneth J. Knapp, curator of the Knapp Family Collection, is available to host tours of the center and give talks on local archaeology. For more information, contact the library at 315-686-3299.
In a small room at Depauville Library, local Native American relics tell stories
By CHRIS BROCK
Published SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2015 in the WATERTOWN DAILY TIMES
In a library full of stories, there is one here for the ages, sheltered beneath them all.
On one recent morning, Kenneth J. Knapp opened a display case in the basement of the Depauville Free Library and held history in his hands: arrow and spear points made by Native Americans hundreds of years ago, found locally.
“The best way we can honor the native American people is to raise public awareness and to say, ‘Look at this story,” Mr. Knapp said. “And what a story it is.”
Mr. Knapp, 53, Clayton, is the curator of the Knapp Family Collection. It was started in 1908 by his grandfather, Watertown resident Arthur R. Knapp, who died in 1966 at the age of 74.
“My earliest childhood memory, around 4 years old, is about this stuff,” Mr. Knapp said, recalling visiting his grandfather’s home on Bishop Street in Watertown and dashing upstairs to the fossil room, where items were carefully displayed in cabinets.
The collection represents more than a dozen documented and undocumented Native American sites in Jefferson County and two in St. Lawrence County.
“My grandfather had stipulations as to how the collection should be treated,” Mr. Knapp said. “It’s a quite gratifying thing that the (library) folks did here.”
p had “potent and strong” feelings against disturbing burial sites, a policy Mr. Knapp said was ahead of its time and caused antagonism among his fellow collectors and archaeologists. Nowadays, laws prevent such disturbances, Mr. Knapp said.
In 1982, Mr. Knapp’s father, Gerald T. Knapp, who died in 1996, bestowed Kenneth the guardianship of the collection.
Mr. Knapp recalled several trips he made with his father. One time they went to Chaumont Bay to visit a friend of Kenneth’s grandfather. Apparently unaware, the man was using ancient Native American artifacts as edging around his wife’s garden. Many of those items are displayed at the library.
Since Mr. Knapp became curator of the collection, it has grown through the discovery of more sites. For example, in 1995 the Knapp family located the “Mattson site,” an Iroquoian village just south of Clayton’s French Creek.
Ms. Nadder-Lago, the library director, said Mr. Knapp seems to have a “sixth sense” when it comes to finding Native American sites. She recalled times in mid-1990s, in the early days of the Thousand Islands chapter of the New York State Archaeology Society.
“I watched him sit almost perfectly still on a partially excavated site, looking as if he was resting, while his mind really was hard at work, judging the site’s distance from the wood line, the steepness of the grades, calculating how the terrain may have changed over time and thinking through how people would have settled into the place around him,” Ms. Nadder-Lago said in an email.
Mr. Knapp said, “I’m seeing the landscape as it was a long time ago and trying to understand it all. To me, this whole story is a movie and I’m trying to see that movie. But we only know bits and pieces of it.”
The basement of a small library in Depauville is now helping to fill in those blanks. Mr. Knapp has plans for rotating displays.
“The folks at the library here were really listening,” Mr. Knapp said. “They saw this space and said, ‘It’s not much; it’s small.’ But it’s a start.”
Meanwhile, he will keep searching for artifacts. When he does, he has a plan, and a vision of what things looked like in the past.
“I’ve never found anything unless I was looking for it,” he said. “People say to me, ‘How do you find this stuff?’”