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Sunday, December 27, 2015

State report: Remains of old Windham fort may lie beneath River Road - By Walter Lunt

Analysis and conclusions, now being drafted by the lead archeologist of the recent dig at Parson Smith House, will likely recommend an expanded search under adjacent River Road

Leith Smith, project manager of last month’s archeological dig at the Parson Smith House, told the Eagle this week that his team is leaning toward recommending the historic Windham site be eligible for placement on the National Historic Registry, a move that would prompt the Maine Department of Transportation to support an expanded, full-scale archeological excavation beneath the roadway adjacent to the Parson Smith property at 93 River Road. The DOT is in the process of widening and reconstructing the southern end of River Road and is required to investigate any sites that may be historic.

The preliminary dig in November was designed to learn whether the known historic site held early secrets that might reveal more than we now know about the culture and resources of Windham’s founding families and their struggle with a band of Wabanaki natives led by the venerable Chief Polin. For several years, many of the early settlers inhabited the so-called old Province Fort for protection. Archeologists hope to learn how they lived and survived during the period from 1744 to the 1780s.

Contacted this week at the Maine Historic Preservation Commission in Augusta, Smith outlined several points of agreement among the five archeologists who worked the November dig site: Artifacts retrieved at the site were in a good state of preservation, which is favorable for determining dating and cultural activities.

More intriguing artifacts will likely be uncovered if a more expansive dig takes place. Among the historic treasures already unearthed include a possible chimney foundation, an 18th century silver cuff link, German and English ceramics and a sliver of flint, identified as part of the firing mechanism of a flint lock rifle.

Although the defining four corners of the fortress were not located, the preliminary finds point to the southwest under the road. Smith said that if the archeological investigation continues, the search will center on locating the remains of the 50 foot square palisade fence, believed to have surrounded the fort.
Finally, Smith hopes to answer an intriguing question raised by the archeologists. Did the Windham fort house multiple structures within the fence, as opposed to the single blockhouse, pictured in a sketch from Frederick Dole’s A History of Windham, Maine. Smith maintains that most New England forts of the era supported two or three structures within a blockade fence.

Smith says he expects the Commission’s report will be submitted to the DOT in January with a final decision on the full-scale excavation by spring. If the DOT approves the expansive dig, additional work by Commission archeologists will occur next summer at the current dig site, however the excavation under the road bed would not commence until the summer of 2017 when the DOT expects to begin lowering Anderson Hill at the Parson Smith location.

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