The Peabody Pothole

At a spot near the front door of the Yale Peabody Museum is a unique Museum specimen—the sandstone pothole. Generations of young museum-goers have played in and around it — since 1896, in fact.

The pothole came from Fair Haven Heights in New Haven, Connecticut, where sandstone was extensively quarried for 200 years. It is a relic of the last North American Ice Age glacier that covered Connecticut about 20,000 years ago with ice more than a mile thick. The quarry where the pothole was found, around 1890, was on the southeast corner of the ridge, just below Russell Street. The pothole was exposed when soil was removed from the hillside in preparation for blasting out the rock beneath. Carefully cut out of the hill in sections that were later cemented back together, it is 2.5 feet in diameter and 4 feet deep.

Potholes form in eddies in turbulent streams where whirling floodwaters, laden with sand and pebbles, attack small cracks or indentations in the bedrock and scour out circular cavities. This pothole was found on the side of a hill, not in a stream bed, so the water that formed it must have been a temporary torrent pouring down off a huge mass of melting ice. Another, much larger pothole was found in the same quarry. It was presumably subsequently destroyed.

On left: A larger pothole from the same quarry, as it was found when rock was cut away. It no longer exists.

On right: The same pothole after it was cleaned out.

The quarry operator who had the good sense to preserve one pothole and document another with photographs was Walter J. Connor (Yale B.A. 1890). He presented the smaller pothole to Yale in 1896. It was immediately set up in front of the first Peabody Museum building on High Street. Connor (1864–1948), a contractor in the building and paving business, was a member of the New Haven Board of Education, the Parks Commission, the Board of Aldermen, and on occasion Acting Mayor. He then worked for 35 years for the New Haven Water Company as superintendent at the filtration plant (the concrete structure next to Edgerton Park across Whitney Avenue from the Lake Whitney dam).