Halcyon Days: The Historical Archaeology of Community and Identity, 1870--1900

Date of Completion

January 2011


Anthropology, Archaeology|History, United States




This dissertation combines the methods of historical archaeology and ethnohistory in a community study of a late 19th-century company-owned mining town with a diverse population. The village of Hammondville (1870–1900) was one of many short-lived mining towns in the Adirondack-Champlain region of upstate New York. It was built, owned and operated by the Crown Point Iron Company to facilitate their iron-ore mining enterprise and abandoned during the 1890s when that venture failed. The majority of Hammondville residents were recent immigrants from Ireland, Quebec, Sweden and England, although native-born Americans also lived and worked at the site. Hammondville residents lived in a world where people differentiated themselves and were differentiated by others based on socially constructed and culturally constituted categories of ancestry, religion and social class. These aspects of identity influenced people's access to economic and social resources, informed their relationships and sometimes resulted in the formation of tensions and boundaries between different groups. As a result, the people of Hammondville navigated a complex social and political milieu. ^ This research combines the rich historical and archaeological records of Hammondville to create a multi-vocal history of the community and to shed light on the ways individuals and groups in the village forged, maintained and expressed their social identities through daily practice, enabling them to negotiate the complex landscape of a plural, paternalistic “company town.” To accomplish this, I focus on four key aspects of daily life in the village: social interactions, labor relations, cultural landscape and foodways. Historical data indicates that people at Hammondville maintained and expanded pre-existing social networks to create their own dynamic communities within the larger context of the village. These communities, based primarily in kinship, shared religious belief and common ancestry, provided people with a way to express their cultural identities while establishing a place for themselves in their new home. Archaeological assemblages recovered from four domestic sites in the village suggest that Hammondville residents also constructed and expressed their social identities materially, through the foods they ate, the material culture they used and the ways they organized their daily activities and domestic space. ^