Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Oldest Wood in Chenango County

Donald A. Windsor

The oldest piece of wood that has ever been reported from Chenango County is 25,000 years old.  It was recovered from glacial till 300 feet below the surface in the City of Norwich.

Tom Knapp provided me with this article, quoted verbatim.

The Norwich Sun 1914 May 6.

Anon.  Fine artesian well with heavy flow.  The Norwich Knitting Company have just had completed at their factory an artesian well which overflows its outlet pipe and supplies 1042 gallons of water each hour.
W. W. Butts, an Oxford contractor, has been engaged in drilling the well and went to a depth of 362 feet before he struck the stratum of gravel and coarse grained rock which contained this abundance of water.
A particular feature in the drilling of the well was the finding of a piece of partially petrified wood 300 feet beneath the surface, which apparently was locust, and was so heavy that it sank when placed in water.
The water continues to flow from the top of the pipe but a pump will soon be placed there and the water put to use as soon as its constant flow can be determined.  The water has a temperature of 50 degrees and is pure and sweet.

The Woodfordian Advance of the Wisconsin Glacier covered what is now Chenango County around 22,000 years ago (Titus, page 21).  It melted about 16,000 years ago (Cadwell, page 72).

My field observations lead me to suspect that the Chenango River flowed through the area that is now the City of Norwich as a multibraided stream, meandering back and forth between West Hill and East Hill.  Under this valley is a glacial gouge that is from 200 to 400 feet deep and filled with glacial till, rocks, stones, gravel, sand, and mud (Cadwell, page 95).

Water wells are routinely dug over 200 feet deep.  The well for the Chenango Ice Cream Company, makers of Velvet Ice Cream, plant, between Berry and Waite streets, was 285 feet deep (Windsor).  The Knitting Mill site is about a half-mile from the Ice Cream site. 

I suspect that the newspaper reporter in the article quoted above merely assumed the wood was locust because it lasted so long.  He may not have known that any wood underwater tends to be preserved.  It is wet wood in air that rots.

It is very unlikely that this piece of wood is really the oldest.  There must be many more pieces, even intact trees, that were bulldozed by the advancing glacier.  This particular piece is merely the oldest that has been reported in a document so far.

My thanks to Tom Knapp for finding it!

       References cited:

Cadwell, Donald Herbert.  Late Wisconsonian Deglaciation Chronology of the Chenango River Valley and Vicinity, New York.  Binghamton, NY: State University of New York at Binghamton.  PhD Dissertation.  1972. 102 pages.

Titus, Robert.  The Catskills in the Ice Age.  Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mountain Press.  1996.  124 pages.

Windsor, Donald A.  A spoonful of Velvet Ice Cream.  In: Souvenirs of Yesteryear.  Exploring Chenango County, New York.  Norwich, NY: Self-published.  Volume 2, pages 62-64.