STANDISH – Arrowheads found in a now-flooded area of Standish offer lessons on Native American inhabitants.

STANDISH – When Gene Stuart was a teenager, the 81-year-old Standish native would often take long walks through his family’s 250-acre farm, which stretched from Route 35 to Whites Bridge Road.

Growing up, Stuart often heard from his mother, Harriet Wescott stories passed down through the family about the Native Americans who had lived on the land for centuries. With a vibrant imagination, Stuart would walk through his family’s woods, with his thoughts often turning to the days when the inhabitants lived off the land his family now stewarded.

One time, he happened upon an arrowhead, sitting in plain sight on the ground in what is now Sebago Lake Basin. For the next decade or so, when the water was low, Stuart searched for and found many more arrowheads, spearheads and tools used by the local tribes, with some as old as 9,000 years. All told, he collected several dozen of the historically significant artifacts.

Last Thursday, staff from the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District, Portland Water District and Presumpscot Regional Land Trust, as well as a film team from University of Southern Maine, attended a presentation by Stuart at the family farm on Route 35. Stuart, who struggles with ALS, was energized, as was the audience, by his stories of finding the artifacts.

The presentation “was fantastic,” said Sarah Plummer, an education coordinator at the Windham-based conservation district, which presented Stuart with its educator of the year award earlier this year. Stuart won the award for hosting similar presentations for local schools so children can see the artifacts and learn about Native American life in the Windham and Standish area.

Part of what makes the artifacts unique is that Stuart found them in an area that is now covered with water. As a teen, Stuart would meander along the upper reaches of the Presumpscot River, which has its headwaters directly below the Whites Bridge in what is now the basin, during times of the year when water levels were low, mostly in the late summer to fall.

“That whole area is covered with water now, but back when I was younger, it wasn’t. You could walk all along there,” he said.

Stuart found most of the artifacts in a small area near what is now Lindsay Island. He figures the natives, which included a number of Abenaki-speaking tribes, including the Rockamecooks led by the legendary Chief Polin, gravitated to that area as it was an elevated spot near the prime fishing grounds of the headwaters of the Presumpscot.

“I found every single one in an area about three times the size of this room,” Stuart said while seated in the house in which he was born. “I started collecting them when I was 13 or 14, and over a period of 10-12 years the lake would drop 8 to 9 feet by the end of July, August, and September and October, and every chance I got I was over there. You see, this area was my playground.”

The collection, which ranges from arrowheads small enough to strike birds out of the air to larger tools used to scrape fat off the inside of animal skin, sat in a kitchen cupboard for about 50 years until Stuart met two men from the Maine Archaeological Society. The men – Dick Doyle Jr. and Nathan Hamilton – were in the Eel Weir Dam area looking for signs of Indian settlement, and Stuart, on a walk with his dog, struck up a conversation and then showed them his collection.

“They were amazed,” Stuart said. “See, it was so exciting for me to find an arrowhead or a spearhead or any piece of a tool. But I never gave any thought to what it meant other than to me.”

Hamilton, an associate professor of archaeology at USM, said he and Doyle had done an archaeological survey of the lake in 1980 and got to know another collector, Phil Kennard, a friend of Stuart’s. Kennard had inherited his father’s collection of about 400 artifacts that were found around Sebago Lake, as well, a collection that has now been donated to the Maine State Museum.

After meeting Stuart in 2006, Hamilton and Doyle then borrowed his collection and performed a detailed analysis of each piece, determining most were between 5,000 and 9,000 years old.

“There are 80 known settlements around Sebago Lake,” Hamilton said, “but the Stuart collection is from one of the oldest known areas.”

Stuart found most of the artifacts in plain sight on the ground, even the items Hamilton has estimated to be up to nine millennia old.

“And the reason for that was the rising and falling of the lake level,” Hamilton said. “That action would push up the artifacts onto the surface.”

The spot where Stuart found the artifacts, an area near what is now Lindsay Island, is flooded now, and with Sebago Lake’s water levels managed to accommodate marinas, beaches and boat owners around the lake, there is little chance lake levels will decrease to a level that drains the basin area.

“There are many more artifacts out there. I have no doubt in my mind. But we probably won’t find them because the water does not go down anymore,” Stuart said.

Doyle, a resident of Raymond, said the collection includes stones that can be traced to tribes that lived in Berlin and Ossipee Lake in New Hampshire. However, a fair amount of the stones originated in the Sebago Lake area and were used as weapons, and hunting and cooking implements. Some were used, others were sold for goods.

Doyle said the regions around Sebago Lake and Ossipee Lake were highly populated areas thousands of years ago. The tribes would travel to different areas according to the season. Sebago Lake would have been a busy place especially for the landlocked Atlantic salmon fishery. (The fish became landlocked since the Presumpscot River would run dry in drought conditions.) Doyle said the site off what is now Lindsay Island where Stuart found the artifacts would have been a settlement for fishermen, most likely for all seasons except winter, when tribes moved toward the ocean.

“There is a wide variety of stones in Gene’s collection,” Doyle said. “The stones traveled a great distance. They traded for raw materials from quite a distance away.”

What stands out most about Stuart’s collection, Hamilton said, is that he knows exactly where the artifacts came from.

“What happens to a lot of collections is they lose connection to where the artifacts came from,” Hamilton said. “People have inherited them but they don’t know where they came from, which isn’t the case fortunately for the Kennard or Stuart collections.

“So the real story here is that Gene has a great collection of great integrity, but it’s very specific as to location.”

Sarah Plummer, the education coordinator at the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District, listens as Gene Stuart tells the story of his historically significant collection of Native American artifacts. Stuart, a former educator, is now 81 and suffering from ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He gathered the stone tools and arrowheads in the area of the Sebago Lake Basin when he was a young man. Photos by Rich Obrey
A display case of Native American artifacts collected near the now-flooded outlet of Sebago Lake by Gene Stuart.


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