A window to the past has been opened, but it won’t stay open long.

Archaeologist John Mosher says the current Province Fort project is the largest ever undertaken on the Windham site. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

As soon as construction crews dug up River Road in Windham, a team of archaeologists swept in to investigate the site of Province Fort, built in 1743 to protect the settlement colonists, which had been founded just a few years earlier.

The archaeologists with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission will have to hurry. They were given only eight weeks to work with, four each on the north and south sides of the road, and they are trying to collect all the information that they can get before the Maine Department of Transportation repaves it and takes away whatever the excavators couldn’t dig up.

It’s only a coincidence that this project is taking place during the celebration of Maine’s bicentennial, marking 200 years of statehood. But it’s a happy coincidence, because it provides a retelling of important parts of Maine’s story. It’s a good reminder that before there was a state of Maine, before there was a United States of America, there was a “New Marblehead” on land west of Portland that was given to 60 families from Marblehead, Massachusetts, in 1734.

And long before there was a New Marblehead (in the present-day town of Windham), it was Wabanaki land, and violent conflicts over its ownership led the British to commission the construction of a fort for the colonists to use to hold the disputed ground. The historical record tells of Province Fort, a two-story building with foot-thick walls of hewn timber, topped with two “watch box” gun placements. It was said to be surrounded by an impenetrable stockade fence, made of 12-foot-high posts with a “heavy oaken gate, secured by strong bars and bolts.”

The fort was used actively from the 1740s through the American Revolution. It was later disassembled and its big timbers were taken for other uses. A road was laid out right through the site, and sometime in the 1930s the road was paved.

Archeologists were able to identify the site in the 1970s, and in 2016 they determined that most of it was underneath the road. They were ready to start digging as soon as the road crews pulled back the pavement this summer.

What are they finding? A lot, says state archaeologist Arthur Spiess. They are learning how the fort was built and can map its dimensions within inches. “This is a destruction and data recovery operation,” he said. After September, “it’s pretty much a goner.”

It’s exciting to imagine what they’ll come up with.

It’s also sobering to imagine the harsh conditions of life in 18th-century Maine, and the violence it took for settlers to make their claim.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.