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Completed Project

From Water to Beer: Drinking in the Catskills

Cayla Neipris, Vassar College ’16 and Prof. April M. Beisaw
The New York City Water System consists of 19 reservoirs and three lakes whose water is carried through 6,000 miles of water mains to the city. Building the largest reservoir, the Ashokan, required sacrificing or reshaping 11 Catskill villages. This loss disrupted the local economy for those that remained. Archaeologically, this change is visible through the remnants left behind on lands now owned by the City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Recording these remains allowed us to document the cultural impacts of the Ashokan’s creation and maintenance. Common features and artifacts found included: building foundations, stone walls, barbed wire, metal posts, car parts, patio furniture, household appliances, mattress frames, kitchen wares, andbeveragebottles. Ofparticularinterestaretheglassbottlesthatcan provide accurate dates for property uses and also tell stories of the changing economy. Beer bottles were the most commonly found, many of which were from local breweries that no longer exist. Prohibition (1920-1933) hastened their demise, but changing access to local water sources likely influenced their downfall. A recent resurgence of craft brewing in the Catskills has been reported as a new and booming venture (Strom, 2014), but it can be seen as a revitalization of a colorful past that includes caves, crimes, and corruption.