PLATTSBURGH — With a small pick, Sheila Taylor removed debris from what at first glance looked to be a pile of rocks.
But as a whole it began to resemble something placed with a purpose in the middle of the woods in a hole in the ground shaped like half a rectangle.
“You have to have patience and do it level by level,” said Taylor, a teacher at Keeseville Elementary School. “We determined that this was their hearth.”
She and other teachers and students recently participated in a dig at the site of Pike’s Cantonment in Plattsburgh, a military encampment during the War of 1812 that may be the only one intact today.
Zebulon Montgomer Pike, Jr., a United States military officer, led the Pike expedition to explore and document the southern portion of the Louisiana Purchase and to find the headwaters of the Red River. During that time he recorded the discovery of what was later called Pikes Peak, in Colorado.
He served during the War of 1812, eventually reached the rank of brigadier general and was killed during the Battle of York.
Pike’s Cantonment was the location of a military encampment during the War of 1812, at which forces under his command stayed. Nearly 2,000 American soldiers encamped for the winter of 1812-13, moving out of the area well before the Battle of Plattsburgh on Sept. 11, 1814.
Still, the cantonment was instrumental that day, utilized by British troops as a spot to cross the Saranac River as they attempted to circle America soldiers defending Plattsburgh.
That battle played an important part in America’s victory in the War of 1812.
Yet Pike’s Catonment, which the British burned to the ground, remained a mystery, the location of the site debated for decades until Plattsburgh City Clerk Keith Herkalo conducted his own extensive research and later enlisted the help of Dr. Timothy Abel, an archaeologist specializing in the War of 1812.