Menu Close

Archaeology in Western New York


Twelve thousand years ago, Paleo-Indian Hunters were the first people to move into what are now Orleans and Genesee Counties after glaciers retreated.  Archaeologists have learned much about the Paleos from the Arc site near Oakfield, which is the largest Paleo site in New York State and one of the three largest in the Northeast.  Over 1600 Paleo tools, primarily scrapers, spears and knives, were collected at the Arc site.  Other significant Native American sites included S. Waterport, the Oakfield Fort (1250 AD) and Shelby Fort (1550 AD), which was the largest village in Orleans County.

Stanley Vanderlaan has been participating in archaeological digs for 47 years.  He is a recognized expert in the reconstruction of Indian pottery, developing techniques and materials that are now used by museums.  Mr. Vanderlaan is a member of the NY State Archaeological Association (NYSAA) and is a Research Fellow of both the Rochester Museum and the NYSAA.  His latest book is entitled: Odds & Ends: Archaeological Memoirs.



Archaeology has been a passion with Stanley Vanderlaan since he found his first artifact while woodchuck hunting more than 45 years ago.  Since then, he has made a name for himself in archaeology circles, and is credited with discovering the largest Paleo-Indian site in New York State. 

In an attempt to save and document the bits of history he has uncovered, Vanderlaan, 72, has written his archaeological memoirs in a book titles “Odds And Ends”.  “Several years ago, I began to feel this was important enough to preserve for the future, “ he said.  “I’m not going to live eternally, and then all this would be lost forever.”

Vanderlaan’s quest for history began in 1956.  “Charlie Hartway and other farmers provided me with ammunition. To keep their woodchucks away,” Vanderlaan, said.  “I was hunting on the old Dix farm, later named for John Wilkins in Barre, near a branch of Otter Creek, when I saw some flint chips on the ground.  I looked and found two perfect arrow points.” From that day on, Vanderlaan was hooked. Later in 1956, Vanderlaan, who owned a television sales and repair shop in Albion, delivered a new television to Charlie Palmer of Pine Hill.  Entering Palmer’s house, he spotted shelves of Indian skull, stone axes and points and pottery. “Palmer was an Indian relic collector from way back, and during the years he showed me many sited in Orleans and Genesee counties,” Vanderlaan said.  “I since discovered 40 to 50 more on my own.” His most famous discovery is near Oakfield, the exact site that has been kept secret for obvious reason. 

In 1984, he and his father Jacob Vanderlaan were surface hunting when they discovered some fluted points, named for the way they are hallowed out to fit on a spear. The site, named the Arc site, is determined to have been used by Paleo-Indians 11,300 years ago.  The largest Paleo-Indian site discovered in New York state and one of four largest in the country, it is also the subject of his next book, which is already in the works.

Vanderlaan said only about 250 fluted points have been found in the whole state, and he has found 35 himself.  The Arc site was undoubtedly where the Indians came to hunt caribou, which traveled the region from Pennsylvania to the Adirondacks for the calving season and back again in the fall.  The animals would thrive on the lichen found here. “Eleven thousand years ago, you could look north from there and see the glaciers,” he said. 

During his years of exploring, Vanderlaan said he has covered the area from Clarendon to Shelby.  The Arc site was a result of years of searching. “My father and I were driven out of the area on a Wednesday by a severe thunderstorm as if the spirits were trying to drive us away, “ he said.  We went back on Saturday and started over a knoll when I found the first fluted point in a row of beans.” Another interesting site Vanderlaan has explored is known as a flint quarry on the Onondaga Escarpment near Indian Falls.  The escarpment in the ridge which runs east and west between Basom and Indian Falls, crossing Route 77 on the Kern farm just south of Ledge Road.  “Millions of years ago this ridge was the shore of an ocean,” Vanderlaan said.  “Indians would have come here to dig out the flint for their tools.”

The quarry is also near what is called “Diver’s Lake,” named for the family who owned the land.  Vanderlaan also identified a site on Route 98, between Saile Drive and Daws Corners, where he spotted a hill straight up and down on the east side of the road. “This is where Indians dug out to get flint,” he said. At the Shelby Fort on Salt Road near Medina, Vanderlaan has found what he believes is evidence of cannibalism, as well as many Indian artifacts.

The Oakfield Fort near the US Gypsum has also unearthed some interesting item, such as a pipe with a young child’s teeth marks and a spear point, maybe 2,000 years old.  A pottery vessel found at the fort took more than 200 hours for Vanderlaan to reconstruct. Archaeology provides answers to a lot of question, Vanderlaan said.  For instance, by analyzing blood residue on arrow points, it can be determined what kind of animal was killed.  It is this kind of knowledge which draws Vanderlaan back to his hobby, day after day. As he says in his book, “The more you learn, the more you want to know.”

Vanderlaan is a member of numerous archaeological societies in New York, Canada, and Ohio.  He has been recognized a fellow by the New York State Archaeological Association and the Rochester Museum and Science Center for his “distinguished contributions to archaeology. Note: Stan Vanderlaan is a charter member of the Orleans County Historical Association. He recently published a book, Odds and Ends, about his archaeological digs which is well illustrated with photos of Indian artifacts found throughout the western NY area. Stan’s book is available @ $23 per copy including mailing. To purchase a copy, please Email Hollis for instructions.


Andrea Rebeck, R.A. is the “new” owner of the Barre Center tavern and is also Historic Sites Restoration Coordinator for NYS Office Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation   “Andee” to friends, purchased this historic home on Rt. 98 in the Town of Barre and  is working hard to properly research the home to have it added to the National Register.  She is also planning how to restore the front brick portion of the 1800s house-thought to have been a tavern/hotel and thus coined “The Barre Tavern” and the recent digs coined the “The Barre Tavern Dig”.

The dig was directed by Doug Perrelli from UB and assisting was LouAnn Wurst, SUNY Brockport Professor of Archaeology and Stanley Vanderlaan of OCHA.  Found on the site were the anticipated pieces of smoking pipes, china, animal bones – nothing out of the ordinary so far.   She doesn’t know what she plans to do with the tavern just yet.  Andee is renovating the “newer” part and will live there while she carefully restores the oldest part strictly to period standards.