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Research reveals insights into blacksmith shop on Fort Drum

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FORT DRUM — Researchers at the post have analyzed items found at the site of a blacksmith shop built 85 years ago primarily to help supply horseshoes to mounted cavalry units.

The items shed light on a time between the ends of World War I and World War II, when the military faced massive changes in technology to replace traditional horse-mounted fighting.

“It’s so new, there’s so much potential, but you’re still sort of clinging to the old ways, the tried and true, simply because they’ve worked well in the past,” said Michael R. Sprowles, an intern with the post’s Cultural Resources Program who completed the research.

Using laser mapping technology, researchers have unearthed a wide range of artifacts from the shop, from expected items such as square steel bar stock pieces from trimmed horseshoes and horseshoe nails to a wine bottle and a vehicle headlamp.

Computer mapping technology allowed items to be inventoried based on location. A larger number of items was uncovered near where the shop’s anvil would have been located, along with the back of the area where items may have been trashed.

“You don’t think about trash you throw away, or what you leave behind, but it really shows how people lived their day-to-day lives,” Mr. Sprowles said.

Excavation work at the site, off Route 26 near Great Bend, was done last summer through a contract with Colorado State University’s Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands. The research was first presented at the annual meeting of the New York State Archaeological Association, held in April in Watertown.

The shop building, 39 feet, 8 inches by 25 feet, 1 inch, was finished May 16, 1928, as the post, then known as Pine Camp, was being used as a seasonal training area by the New York Army National Guard.

“It’s sort of significant as it was sort of the last vestige for the old tactics of the Army,” Mr. Sprowles said.

An expansion of the camp’s horse stables followed the shop’s construction the next year. Mr. Sprowles said the stables held about 1,200 horses at their peak.

The shop’s final construction cost was $1,000, which in 2013 money would be $13,612.46, according to a calculator on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website.

Cavalry blacksmiths, or farriers, would have used the shop as their working point. Mr. Sprowles said their skills made them invaluable and gave them certain freedoms, as evidenced by the discovered wine bottle.

With the use of horses questioned by the early 1930s, the Army attempted multiple techniques to make the mounted cavalry units more relevant, such as transporting the units by truck. However, the end of World War II effectively ended the use of horses, a policy emphasized during congressional hearings in 1950.

The Army dismantled the shop that year, as shown by aerial photographs. The last Army farrier retired in 1967.

“This is sort of the phasing out of the old, and how it’s completely replaced with innovation,” Mr. Sprowles said.

Though the use of horses by American military forces has been limited for decades, it hasn’t been completely eliminated. Mr. Sprowles noted horses were used in 2001 to move soldiers and supplies in Afghanistan in areas where modern vehicles could not travel.

He said the new research could provide a foundation for additional work at the site.


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