July 5, 2013

Archaeological dig to continue through Richmond-Dresden bridge construction

Archaeologists and volunteers welcome extra time to complete work at the Fort Richmond site.

By KEITH EDWARDS Kennebec Journal

RICHMOND - Work on the new Richmond-Dresden bridge is starting, but a significant archaeological dig on one side of the bridge will be allowed to continue for at least another month.

click image to enlarge

The new Richmond-Dresden bridge, which will replace a swing bridge, will be high enough at 75 feet for even large vessels.

Kennebec Journal photo

Construction-related work is starting on the Dresden side of the bridge, allowing archaeological work at the former site of two colonial forts on the Richmond side to go on. That's good news for archaeologists who feared they would be forced off the site before they could fully document the rich source of new historical information they and volunteers have been working to uncover.

"The contractor, Reed & Reed, and their soil contractor very kindly told us we're welcome to stay on the site for a period of time," said Leith Smith, an archaeologist with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. "Two of us and volunteers will be working at the fort site through July, and possibly into August. ... We're very, very relieved."

Workers preparing for construction of the 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 from its site in Winslow in the flood of 1987.

Among the more interesting recent discoveries at the site are pieces of a cannon that Smith said date to the original Fort Richmond, built in the 1720s.

"We're pretty sure the cannon may have blown up during the occupation of the early fort," Smith said. "They fired the cannons from time to time, as salutes, or to signal Native Americans if important information had been received."

Smith said officials have a document that lists two or three damaged cannons among the munitions at the fort in 1730.

"We have no information yet on whether somebody may have been injured when that happened," he said of the cannons. "We're going to look into that. We'll look for requests for compensation by family members" of anyone who may have been injured in a cannon accident.

Smith said the fort did fall under "attack" by American Indians at least twice, but said it is unclear what happened.

As ground has been dug up -- by hand, shovel and even a backhoe -- differences between the early 1720s fort and its larger replacement, built on the same spot in the 1740s, have emerged.

The first fort, Smith said, was a tight cluster of buildings in a small, confined area. The second was more open, with more buildings and more space between them, with a cobblestone-and-brick courtyard.

"That is in itself interesting, because the fort represents a transition from earlier fort technology, from the 1600s, coming into more of the timber-fort technology of the early 1700s," Smith said.

Likewise, the new bridge also will be quite a transition from the old, relatively low, roughly 80-year-old steel swing bridge.

The new structure will have steel beams with concrete piers. Its peak will be about 75 feet above the river.

The current bridge swings one section to the side to allow taller vessels to pass through. The new fixed bridge is designed to be tall enough for Coast Guard ice-breakers to pass.

Nate Benoit, project manager for the state Department of Transportation on the bridge replacement project, said surveying work already has begun.

The old bridge will remain in place and be used until the opening of the new bridge, projected to be in July 2015. Having the old bridge remain while the new bridge is built just to the north means few traffic disruptions are expected during construction.

"We are building a parallel bridge and traffic will be maintained throughout," Benoit said by email. "We will have one lane of alternating two-way traffic on the approaches for a short period of time. This will not occur until maybe the fall of 2014."

(Continued on page 2)

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