Wednesday, January 9, 2008

About the Bluff Point Ruins

Bluff Point Ruins

Of all the Native American sites found in Yates county the “Bluff Point Ruins” are the most mysterious. Two surveyors Berlin H. Wright and Samuel H. Wright, a father and son, discovered this site. Both men accomplished many remarkable things during their lives. Their reputations as highly educated, thoughtful men gives credence to their account of the strange arrangements of stones found on the top of the hill high above the shores of Keuka Lake. Samuel H. Wright wrote an extensive account of the plants and animals found in this area in William Stork’s book A Student’s Handbook of Yates County. Berlin wrote a very accurate description of the geology of the county in the same book.

Yates County Chronicle Nov 27, 1879

The following article was written by Berlin for the Yates County Chronicle.

In the spring of 1880 while making a geological survey of Yates county, in the company of my father, Samuel Hart promontory, known as Bluff Point, extending into Lake Keuka and separating the East from the West branches of that lake. The highway from Branchport and Bluff Point post office to the end of the points cuts through the middle of the site which is at an elevation of approximately 600 feet above the lake.
The original ruin covered some 14 acres, according to the owner of the property, Howard Hemphill, who had lived there 50 years. The portion of the ruins east of the road was a cultivated field at the time of our survey, but the locations of continuations of the walls still standing on the west side, could be easily followed in the plowed ground. Mr. Hemphill said he had dug out the stones that had been in the walls east of the road to use in building his house and some of the larger slabs had been hauled to the end of the point for the great Wagener house. This fact was letter confirmed in a conversation which the writer had with its builder, Mr. Sullivan, in Florida in 1883.
Mr. Hemphill was an aged man at the time of our survey, though his mind was clear. He said he came to the farm as a young man when the Indians were all about. In answer to a question put to one of the old Sachems as to the origin and use of the ancient ruins, he had been informed that it was there when their earliest tribesman first came to this region. No tradition as to its origin had been handed down from the earliest generations of their tribe and we must credit the Indians with keeping alive their historical matters of interest in this way with great fidelity, having no other method of recording events of importance.
We surveyed the ruin and are here showing a ground plan of walls and special groups. At that time an earnest plea was made to stated authorities for the preservation of this unique remnant of a great aboriginal structure. However, nothing came of it, and all is gone.
The remains of the ancient structure consisted of the foundations of walls, in the form of graded ways three to eight feet wide and one to two feet high, bordered with a vast number of large, flat stones set in the ground edgeways, these stones leaning inward toward the centers of the ways. At points of the intersection of some of the walls, depressions indicated post had been standing there at one time, evidently supporting a roof.
The size of the compartments or rooms seemed to have been in proportion to the amount of soil available for their interiors for building the partitions, and these dividing foundations were also wide or narrow according to the amount of dirt at and (?). Where the soil was deep, the rooms were large and walls wide, the dimensions of structure, some of which were over 500 feet long, were laid out with al (missing text) squares and some in arcs, reminding one of the Stone Henge of England, also of unknown origin. At the northwest corner was a huge monolith standing as a lone sentinel guarding the community. This great slab, pointed at the top and about three and a half feet wide at the base, was fully eight feet high. All about among the standing slabs were prostrate ones, more or less covered by soil.
Find Early Food Cache

In one room we found a pile of boulders and upon removing them we came to the bedrock of Portage sandstone. There we found a quantity of charred maize, remnants of an old food supply. The superstructure of the building had evidently burned, as ashes were still to be seen mixed in with the corn. The kernels found in this cache were rather small and pointed, similar to those native to Florida where it, Zen Mays, was a staple article of cultivation by Indians at the time of the Spaniards. We took some of the maize home with us but it soon crumbled. However a few kernels were preserved in a sealed glass vial, but are now lost.
The Hemphill farm was later divided and the site of the ancient ruin is now owned by D.W. Bennett and G. W. Tubbs. The location is four miles from the Bluff Point post office, just south of the old Fitzwater road, as shown on the east side of the road which turns off to the west. It can be further identified by a marker on the lot line on the east side of the road, as shown on the bend in the highway. No remains of the walls or pillars are now visible other than pile of large stone slabs in the hedge-row west of the marker.
Now as to proof, if any more is needed, that this communal home of a great people was not the work of the Indians: The Red men were all nomadic and as soon as wild game grew scare or local conditions became unfavorable, they would pull down their skin tepees, load their dunnage and patient squaws would tote their belongs to a new location. The lordly braves would not demean themselves by such menial labor. With the bucks abhorring routine work and squaws with household duties, it is inconceivable that the Indians could have built this structure covering 14 acres.
Also, in no instance do we know of stone being used by the Indians in building their council houses. The Great House at the mouth of Kashong creek on Seneca Lake, which was destroyed by General Sullivan in the punitive war upon the Indians, was all logs, though all magnificent slabs of stones.

Reflects Work of Mayas

Easily might the builders of the Bluff Point structure have been descendent of the oldest and most patient artisans of the American continent, the Mayas, whose dispersion from southern Mexico and Central America took place in pre-Columbian times.
From the larger pillar mentioned in the preceding paragraph was plainly visible an ancient ruin some ten mile north, known as “Old Fort”. This fortification had been built in (missing text) which marks the early home of the Universal Friend, Jemima Wilkinson. Two of the followers of the Universal Friend, old residents, informed me that the Indians in that vicinity reported the ruins as being there long before their arrival in this region.
The Old Fort was circular, covering about ten acres and enclosed by high dirt embankments with a fine spring of water inside its lines. At the time of our visit some 40 years ago portions of the ancient walls remained four feet high and ten feet across, with great forest trees growing on their tops and side. The trunk of one oak was over three feet in diameter, There several openings in the banks or walls in which gates of timber had evidently stood.
Old Fort “Communication” System

Near the fort is a tall hill, or “pinnacle”, with very steep sides, from the top which smoke signals or a fire would be visible at the Bluff Point ruin. Perhaps the two were inhabited at the same time.
We obtained from one of the early settlers near the Fort several relics which had been found on the site of the ruin. One of these was a kneading board of fine, compact sand formation found in that region. The stone was about two, and a half inches thick and had slightly concave surfaces, an exact replica of the Mexican kneading board.
It is unfortunate that the great ruin on Bluff Point should have been destroyed. The prime object of this article is to enable the Yates County Historical Society to preserve a record of it.
Yates County Chronicle: Thursday Nov, 27 1879

Berlin and Samuel H. Wright

Because Berlin H. Wright expressed his knowledge of geology so well in The Student’s Handbook of Yates County it would be hard to believe that these formations occurred naturally. It also seems unlikely that he would mistaken these structures for an early stone quarry. The reported find of corn may be an important clue to who built and lived at this site. The fact that Samuel H. Wright reports that he had a conversation with Mr. Sullivan the builder of the Wagener Mansion is interesting. It seems certain that stones from the site were used to build the estate and other houses on the Bluff because they were easily accessible. If this site were only a stone quarry from which the material for local buildings were mined the conversation between Mr. Wright and Mr. Sullivan should have ended speculation that this was more than a quarry. This is not the case. In fact it has been reported that years after their discovery the Wrights went to the site and loaded the “stone pillar” onto a stone boat and moved it to their house on County House road so that it wouldn’t be destroyed. After many years this stone was buried somewhere in the yard of the Wrights house where it still lies today.

Gil Brewer

During the 1930’s a local newspaper writer, Gil Brewer, did an informal archaeological dig at the Bluff Point site over the course of two summers. This dig was reported in the local paper and many people went to visit the site. Mr. Brewer dug at least three holes in sections of the graded ways that were still visible. Marlin Griffiths a long time resident of Bluff Point worked at the site for Mr. Brewer. He remembered digging holes that were at least eight feet deep and eventually hitting a vein of water that filled the holes overnight. Mr. Brewer showed him some pieces of rusty iron that he had found. Mr. Griffiths felt they were just old pieces of farm equipment. Mr. Griffiths did report seeing large sections of stone laid out like a patio floor in addition to seeing the graded ways. He also remembered some of the people involved in the dig planting artifacts as a joke.
Mr. Brewer claimed to have found pieces of enameled metal that was engraved with effigies of animals and women. He felt that the people who built the structures on Bluff Point were ancient Europeans. None of the supposed evidence that Mr. Brewer found was ever documented and no record of it exist today. It is possible that Mr. Brewer, who was known to be quite a showman, exaggerated his findings. It is also possible that Mr. Brewer did find these items but was not professional enough to document his findings. Some mound building cultures were thought to have made enameled stamps engraved with designs, these stamps would be dipped in die and the designs would be applied to clothing. In the end Mr. Brewer abandoned this project and it seems to have provided little useful information that would explain the mystery of the Bluff Point ruins.

Arthur Tyler

Buried in a file at the Yates County Historical Society is another account concerning the Bluff Point ruins. Arthur Tyler was a schoolteacher who taught at the schoolhouse locate where Scott road intersects with Pepper road. Mr. Tyler left a set of notes with the historical society explaining his theories on the Bluff Point ruins and other issues concerning the early occupants of Yates County. The following is an excerpt from his notes. Apparently these notes were a rough draft and there were many mistakes. These mistakes have not been corrected and this information is presented as it was written.

Now I hate to explode a beautiful and well advertised myth that has been written down as history for so long; but this Historical Society ought to deal in facts and not fiction. It is in regard to the Mound Builders works of wonderful graded ways on Bluff point. It was mapped, surveyed and described by Dr. S. H. Wright in the 25 Annual Report of the Board of Regents. Mentioned by Davis in his history of Jerusalem and nearly all reference works on Indians since that time. It was 7 acres extent on hilltop hardpan where the soil is sometimes less than one foot above the hard stone and about a mile distant from any spring of water that was dependable. I began teaching school on Bluff Point in 1905 and boarded near this place. From then onward I sought in vain for any relic or fire pit or sign of stone aged man, I wanted some clue to the identify the makers. If I had found an empty broken jug or whiskey bottle I would have thought it was left by some other relic seeker so far away from the spring water all Indians sought in stone age days.
It remained for my brother-in-law, William Prosser, long the Highway superintendent in Jerusalem to find relics and solve the puzzle. The town of Jerusalem put a stone crusher near this place to crush the excellent road building material found there. In working they came across old broken steel drills and old drill marks in stone.
I am sorry folks but it was only an old abandoned stone quarry of the early white men. It may have been opened by legitimate owners, or it may have been opened by “Stone Pirates”, who like cattle rustlers and timber pirates did not advertise the activity at the time. It is my serious guess that the stone buildings in Penn Yan was quarried out right here.
The “modus operanda” was probably this. By scratching off the thin topsoil with hand operated horse drawn scrapers and dumping it well out of the way, the building stone was exposed where it could be quarried loaded on carts and drawn away without the trouble of using cranes, tackle and all the expensive equipment of pit quarries. Naturally the material was dressed to the desired shape right there and the wide thin area demanded disposal of debris in such a manner it made the stone work and graded ways. Probably an excess of finished building stones was piled up and never carted away. Because the building material is in wide thin layers made into a pit as we see elsewhere in stone quarries. Please bear in mind this is only my theory but I have been studying on it for 45 years and want to pass my results down to those who come after me. If some wild eyed citizen of unimpeachable reputation and veracity states he has found a flying saucer from Mars on his farm, history does not have to keep reporting this as truth.
Mr. Tyler’s papers show the extent that he researched the Native Americans who once lived here. His opinion is as valid as any other in this matter. I have been researching the Bluff point ruins for fifteen years and that pales in comparison to the forty-five years that Mr. Tyler studied this puzzle, but this author questions some of Mr. Tyler’s conclusions. As stated earlier I do not believe that this site was only a stone quarry. It is an establish fact that stones from the site were quarried for foundations on the Bluff. This fact would explain the drills found by the road crew. I don’t believe this site was originally created as a quarry. It seems unlikely that “Stone Pirates” would take time from their toils to layout neat rows of stone on edge in geometric patterns. I have never found any evidence of dirt piled up as a result of scraping it from the surface. The Wrights knowledge of geology was extensive and it seems unlikely they would not have known that this was a stone quarry. The fact that Mr. Tyler found no artifacts at this site does not mean that others have not. In fact people have found artifacts from many cultures in the area all around the ruins. Four native copper spear points have been found on Bluff Point. These are remarkable finds. The copper probably came from the shores of Lake Michigan where native people mined it. These spear points date from a time well before the Seneca made the area around Keuka Lake their home. The Seneca never used copper (until it was supplied by Europeans) because it was a material of their enemies. These types of copper spear points are very rare and the fact that four were found on the Bluff is remarkable.

Marland Griffin's Copper Point

Marland Griffins found this copper spear point in his vineyard just south of the Bluff Point ruins. It had been run over by a tractor with tracks that bent it slightly into a wave shape.

Lorimeer Ogden's Copper Points

These copper spear points were in the collection of Lorimeer Ogden a local resident. This picture was in the collection of Dr. William Beauchamp a famous Native American researcher. The New York State Library supplied the picture. The documentation with these points states that they were found on Bluff Point.