Historical Archaeology

, Volume 52, Issue 1, pp 140–163 | Cite as

Corduroy-Road Archaeology in Cultural and Historical Context: A Case Study from the New York Frontier

  • Corey D. McQuinn
Original Article


A construction crew uncovered a late 18th-century corduroy road during a habitat-improvement project for the New York Power Authority. The dendrochronological age and road alignment imply surveyors built the road in the rush to settle New York’s frontier. A comparison with other corduroy roads during the Section 106 compliance process uncovered very few well-documented examples. Historical accounts suggest that corduroy roads were a common landscape feature, but one that held sometimes contradictory meanings depending on the context. Subsequent research into corduroy-road archaeology identified patterns and shortcomings in the study of this technology, especially concerning the treatment of these sites in a cultural resource management (CRM) context. Some consideration of corduroy-road potential can be accomplished at the earliest stages of archaeological survey by identifying favorable environmental and historical factors. The research potential is considerable and contributes to a better model of past environments and cultural landscapes in a frontier setting.


transportation 18th century vernacular architecture 19th century New York State 


Un equipo de construcción descubrió una carretera de troncos de finales del siglo XVIII durante un proyecto de mejora del hábitat para la Autoridad de Energía de Nueva York. La antigüedad dendrocronológica y la alineación de la carretera implican que los agrimensores construyeron la carretera con las prisas por establecer la frontera de Nueva York. Una comparación con otras carreteras de troncos durante el proceso de cumplimiento de la Sección 106 descubrió muy pocos ejemplos bien documentados. Los registros históricos sugieren que las carreteras de troncos fueron una característica común del paisaje, pero una que tuvo significados contradictorios algunas veces dependiendo del contexto. La investigación posterior en arqueología de carreteras de troncos identificó patrones y deficiencias en el estudio de esta tecnología, especialmente en relación con el tratamiento de estos lugares en un contexto de gestión de los recursos culturales. Se puede lograr alguna consideración del potencial de las carreteras de troncos en las primerísimas etapas de la evaluación arqueológica mediante la identificación de factores medioambientales e históricos favorables. El potencial de investigación es considerable y contribuye a un mejor modelo de entornos y paisajes culturales pasados en un escenario fronterizo.


Une équipe de construction a découvert une route de rondins de la fin du 18e siècle lors d’un projet d’amélioration d’habitat de la New York Power Authority (producteur d’électricité dans l’État de New York). L’âge dendrochronologique et le tracé de la route semblent indiquer que les géomètres construisirent la route lors de l’installation précipitée de la frontière de New York. Une comparaison avec d’autres routes de rondins au cours du processus de conformité à l’article 106 a révélé très peu d’exemples bien documentés. Des récits historiques laissent à penser que les routes de rondins étaient une caractéristique commune du paysage, mais qui a parfois eu des significations contradictoires selon le contexte. Les recherches ultérieures sur l’archéologie des routes de rondins ont identifié des modèles et des lacunes dans l’étude de cette technologie, notamment en ce qui concerne le traitement de ces sites dans un contexte de gestion des ressources culturelles. Une certaine prise en compte du potentiel de la route de rondins peut être réalisée en amont de l’étude archéologique en identifiant les facteurs environnementaux et historiques favorables. Le potentiel de recherche est considérable et contribue à un meilleur modèle d’environnements passés et de paysages culturels dans un cadre frontalier.



The New York Power Authority sponsored the Phase III mitigation of the Wilson Hill Corduroy Road site as part of its obligations under its relicensing agreement with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. NYPA’s past cultural resource specialist, Rob Quiggle (now with HDR, Inc.), facilitated an efficient and rapid response to the discovery of the site by coordinating the development of a data-retrieval plan and working with Cynthia Blakemore (retired) at the New York State Historic Preservation Office. NYPA’s current cultural resources specialist, Rob Panepinto, assisted in reviewing the draft of this article. Jensen Construction assisted the archaeologists with power equipment, meeting the challenge of keeping the site dry with industrial-sized pumps during the North Country winter. Carol Griggs, Ph.D., Cornell University, provided the dates, updated information, and answered my questions. Timothy Abel, Ph.D., also reviewed a late draft of this paper. Thanks also to the two anonymous reviewers, associate editor Ed Morin, and journal editor Chris Matthews, who provided support, guidance, and encouragement.

My colleagues at Hartgen were instrumental in all phases of this research. John Ham, J. William Bouchard, and Darrell Pinckney assisted me in the field, while braving some unsavory weather and work conditions. Darrell’s conservation skills were invaluable in preparing the dendrochronological samples for shipment. Matthew Kirk and Justin DiVirgilio encouraged the preparation of this article and provided guidance and advice. Tracy S. Miller prepared the maps and graphics.

Finally, I had difficulty finding comparative examples at first. Later, my requests to the archaeological community brought in a flood of responses and filled up my in-box with new research materials. Special thanks go out to Cece Saunders (Historical Perspectives, Inc.), Troy Ferone (United States Forest Service), Dave Lacy (United States Forest Service), Daniel Harrison (Wayne State University), Denis Gojak (Roads and Maritime Services, Australia), and Jessica Yann (Michigan Library and Historical Center). I received responses from across the country, and eventually my inquiries were passed on to colleagues in Canada, Ireland, England, and Australia. Thanks to all who took time from their busy days to send more information my way.


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Copyright information

© Society for Historical Archaeology 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.New South AssociatesStone MountainU.S.A.

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