Friday, March 24, 2017

Windham archeological dig placed on hold by Stephen Signor

It was just a couple of weeks ago that Maine State Head Archeologist, Leith Smith held a talk at the Windham Public Library, to introduce folks to the art of digging and reviewing the results of the project at Richmond Fort. Recently on March 18, a second talk was held to present the progress of the dig that has been taking place over the last two summers at Fort Province, located on the property of the Parson Smith House on 93 River Road.

Scissors found at Fort Province.
A standing-room-only crowd showed up to hear a bit of history tracing back to a time when Windham was known as New Marblehead. For 60 minutes Smith gave a detailed history of the forts’ need, existence and eventual dismantling. 

The audience was also brought up to speed on when it was decided, through collaborative efforts, about the forts existence on this site. “In 1979 our office and the Maine Historical Commission determined that Fort Province was indeed located at Anderson Hill”, shared Smith. “At that time artifacts were dug up but it wasn’t clear they were associated with the fort.”

Then in 1981 another team came back to the site. They were not sure at first either but then came to the same conclusion.  “At that time it was determined that the fort must be located under that section of River Road,” Smith continued.

The dig as it is known today began in 2014. “At the same time MDOT (Maine Department of Transportation) wanted to improve that area of River Road for safety reasons by lowering it by four feet. However, archeological criteria were met as shown from testing, that proved the dig site was eligible to be included on the National Register and therefore roadwork was halted. What transpired since are the consequent digs these past two summers - but the time has come for a temporary suspension of the dig.

But now because of the extent of work that needs to be done to accommodate the dig, coupled with additional new plans for River Road by the MDOT, it has been decided that the dig will not be able to continue this year as scheduled.

In review, the original plan was to lower River Road at Anderson Hill by four feet. The strategy was to lower the road one lane at a time reducing through traffic down to one lane. Once the archeological dig was satisfied, then the lane would be restored and the process repeated for the opposite lane. Now there are also additional plans to raise the road further down on the Westbrook and Windham ends of River Road, rendering Anderson Hill virtually flat. In a meeting last week with the MHPC (Maine Historical Preservation Commission) a representative from MDOT was present. “We found out just last week that there are still things involved with the preparation of River Road. There’s not enough time for MDOT to get the contracts out to contractors for bidding so it will be 2018 before we will get a chance to come back,” explained Smith.

A sense of disappointment could be felt in the room but there was also an expression of relief. “Sure, I am disappointed but at the same time this will give me time to focus on the several other projects we have had going at the same time,” expressed Smith.

Elaine Dickinson who has resided in the Parson Smith House for 23 years was also disappointed. “Some people have to go to places like Arizona to visit archeological sites. All I had to do is walk out my front door.” She will have to wait until next year but is being positive. “They’ll catch up and we’ll have something to look forward to,” concluded Dickinson.

For more information on this dig and future events visit:

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