June 5, 2013

Richmond dig discovers local artifacts, former Fort Halifax blockhouse roof

Parts of the local 1700s forts, roof of Winslow blockhouse washed away 1987 discovered near Richmond-Dresden bridge construction site

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

RICHMOND — Archeologists in a race against time to document colonial life have uncovered much of two forts at the site of the Richmond-Dresden bridge, and they have reason to believe parts of Winslow's Fort Halifax are nearby, too.

click image to enlarge

People work at an archeological dig on Tuesday at the Fort RIchmond site near the Kennebec River in RIchmond. They were trying to find as much as they could this month, before construction of a new bridge gets underway.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

Leith Smith, chief archeologist with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, photographs a section of the archeological dig on Tuesday at the Fort RIchmond site, near the Kennebec River in RIchmond.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Additional Photos Below

Related headlines

Workers preparing for construction of a new bridge have found not only parts of the original 1720s and 1740s Richmond forts, but the roof of the blockhouse of Fort Halifax, which was washed away in the flood of 1987.

The forts provided protection for settlers and Fort Richmond also served as a trading post where they traded goods with members of local Indian tribes.

The roof of the Fort Halifax blockhouse, the oldest wooden blockhouse in the United States before it was swept away by the 1987 flood, may have ended up stuck against the bridge piers of the soon-to-be-replaced Richmond-Dresden bridge. Some original timbers from Fort Halifax were recovered well downriver after the flood, some in Casco Bay. But the roof of the blockhouse was never found, according to Leith Smith, an archeologist with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.

The underwater structure — bunches of attached logs — won't be officially identified as part of the former Fort Halifax until the archeologists begin to remove the old bridge and take a closer look.

"The flood of '87 lifted the blockhouse (of Fort Halifax) up and dismantled it as it was washed down the river," Smith said. "We think this might be it."

A replica blockhouse was built at the Fort Halifax site in 1988.

State archeologists, volunteers and other diggers have as few as four weeks to discover as much as they can about what lies beneath the ground on the Richmond side of the proposed new bridge, which will connect Richmond and Dresden across the Kennebec River.

Last year the proposed new bridge, which will replace the 77-year-old deteriorating swing bridge, was one of four projects nationwide designated to be fast-tracked through the federal We Can't Wait initiative. Federal authorities said it could speed up the project by up to a year.

While that was good news for anyone waiting for the bridge to be replaced, it wasn't so much for archeologists anxious to learn as much as they can about the site before it is corrupted by new construction.

"A dig this big is the kind of project we should have had about three years to work, rather than the 10 to 12 months we've had," Smith said Tuesday as about a dozen workers, college students and volunteers used trowels and shovels to uncover layers of soil at the site. "Fast-tracking may be great for bringing in jobs and getting started quickly, but it has created a terrible amount of stress to get the archeology done. It's getting short shrift as far as that goes. There are all kinds of questions we could go back and answer, if we had more time. Or we had funding so we could have more people here. It's a constant decision-making process — what you want to focus on and what you can let go. We'll work until we have to stop, either due to a lack of funds or construction begins."

Ted Talbot, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said Reed and Reed, the contractor, could start on the project as soon within a couple weeks. He said the archeology work may be able to continue during the early stages of the project.

Smith said the team has until the end of the month to finish, but believe that may be extended by working alongside Reed and Reed crews as they mobilize to the site.

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors


Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

A tray holds items uncovered during an archeological dig on Tuesday at the Fort RIchmond site, near the Kennebec River in RIchmond.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

The Fort Halifax blockhouse, shortly before a flood washed the structure away in 1987.

Staff file photo

click image to enlarge

Katherine Fecteau, a volunteer from Portland, examines a item she uncovered before bagging it up during an archeological dig on Tuesday at the Fort RIchmond site near the Kennebec River in Richmond. Lee Cranmer is working behind her.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

People work at an archeological dig on Tuesday at the Fort RIchmond site near the Kennebec River in Richmond.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

Workers recover timbers of the Fort Halifax blockhouse from the Kennebec River, in the weeks after a 1987 flood destroyed the historic building.

Staff file photo

 


Further Discussion

Here at OnlineSentinel.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)