WATERVILLE — After nearly 50 years and a move across several states, Bill Lessard was still holding on to an 1870s double-barrel shotgun he found in the former C.F. Hathaway Co. shirt factory on Appleton Street.

Lessard was 18 years old when he found the gun in a window well of the factory while doing construction on the building. The shirt factory had been in the downtown location before moving to its final home, the Lockwood Mill on Water Street, in the 1950s.

Lessard was featured in the Morning Sentinel in 1970 with the antique and has held on to the shotgun over the years. On Thursday, Lessard, now of New Bern, North Carolina, donated it to the Redington Museum during a visit to Waterville.

“I asked my son Joseph (if) it was all right with him if I donated it to the museum, and he said, ‘Yeah, that belongs in Waterville. It doesn’t belong in eastern North Carolina,’ ” said Lessard, 64. “That was his conclusion and it was easily mine as well.”

The make and model of the gun isn’t clear and little is known about the gun’s history. But the museum will be looking into those questions, said Bryan Finnemore, resident caretaker for the Redington Museum, a historic Silver Street home containing artifacts related to the region’s history. They do know that the gun is of German origin – something that Finnemore said Friday was not unusual for the turn of the 19th century – and dates to the late 1800s.

“It’s unique in and of itself,” Finnemore said. “We don’t get to see a lot like that because they’re all made differently now. As far as a shotgun goes, we don’t have anything like that from the late 1800s. It’s a unique piece for us.”

The story of how the gun ended up in a Hathaway building window well is unknown, but Lessard and Finnemore speculated that it might have used to commit a crime.

“It’s like somebody was stashing it so it wouldn’t be found,” Finnemore said. “The fact that it was tossed in a window well, it wasn’t like somebody went into the building and tried to hide it. It was more of a stash-on-the-run type thing and that was a convenient place. My assumption is it was used in probably a robbery or a hold-up or something like that.”

The stock of the gun has been sawed off, which according to the 1970 Sentinel article, indicated that it was likely last used as a handgun.

“When I dug it up, I wasn’t sure what it was. I thought it was a chunk of steel of something,” Lessard said. “It took me a while to clean it before I realized it was a sawed-off shotgun.”

Lessard said he had hoped in 1970 that someone would come forward with information about the gun, but so far has heard nothing. By returning it to Waterville, he said, he hopes that maybe now its history finally can be uncovered.

“I imagine there will be some sleuths digging,” he said. “There was no internet in the 1970s. Today, one would think you could more easily go back in history and see. Maybe there was a bank robbery that they caught the suspect but never found the gun. Maybe that’s the answer.”

Rachel Ohm can be contacted at 612-2368 or at:

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