Friday, June 17, 2016

Roadside archeological dig resumes on River Road - By Walter Lunt

A team of archeologists from the Maine Historic Preservation Commission are back on River Road to continue their investigation at the site of Windham’s old Province Fort near the intersection with Anderson Road. Their work is similar in purpose to their mission last fall when the same team uncovered architectural and cultural evidence at the spot where history tells us that the early inhabitants of New Marblehead (Windham) gathered for protection from the Sebago Natives during the latter years of the French and Indian Wars.
Lead archeologist Leith Smith said the initial findings may be significant, and could result in a revision of the historic drawing of the fort. The classic rendering, known to virtually all Windham elementary students and many residents, shows a 50-foot square, 2-story blockhouse, topped with two watchtowers at diagonal corners, surrounded by tall palisade fencing.

Smith, however, said current evidence suggests there may have been double fencing around the fortress – an outer wall that would have been the vertical stockade design shown in the traditional drawing. And an inner fence composed of stacked logs set in a rock or wood sill, built with dovetailed corners, and secured with wooden pins. 

Smith says the approximately 12 foot area between the enclosures may contain evidence of trash mounds and/or privies (outhouses) and would have served as an area for watchmen. He said the double fence design was typical of the time period (1740s) in Massachusetts and the province of Maine.

The current investigation, said Smith, may also unearth the rock foundations of the main blockhouse and other smaller buildings within the fort enclosure. He said the presence of multiple structures was also typical of the period. 

“In particular,” he said, “there is the likelihood of finding iron slag, which would indicate the presence of a smithy,” or blacksmith.

The present dig is being conducted on both sides of heavily traveled River Road, including the grounds of the historic Parson Smith House. Smith said the remains of ancient River Road can be seen on the south (downhill) side of the current roadway and that the fort very likely spanned the current road bed.

“If our work shows that to be true, we’ll return in 2017 when the Maine Department of Transportation begins the process of widening that section of River Road.”

He said the archeological team will scrutinize the contents of the overturned earth as the heavy equipment works to both lower Anderson Hill by four or five feet and widen the road.

An earlier phase of the archeological study, conducted last fall, revealed stone foundations (probably a chimney base), pieces of flint used in early rifles, ceramic bits, stems of clay pipes and a single cuff link, English in origin, dating from the 17th or 18th century.

The current dig will continue for about another month, according to Smith. He said the safety of his crew is a concern and urges motorists to observe the road signs and cones that warn it is a work area. Speed and limited sight distances create a hazard for the half dozen archeologists working the site.

The Eagle will continue to update progress on the archeological investigation that appears to adding to and changing the information about Windham’s early history.

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