July 5, 2013

Construction work, archaeological dig to continue at Richmond-Dresden bridge

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

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

An excavator spreads a load of stone Wednesday as Reed & Reed Construction workers build a construction causeway for the work on the bridge over the Kennebec River to Richmond.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

Reed & Reed Construction workers build a construction causeway on the Kennebec River Wednesday.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Additional Photos Below

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 to archaeologists who feared they would be forced off the site before they could documented fully 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. They’re going to be starting work on the other side of the river, the Dresden side. So that helps us. We’re very, very relieved.”

Workers preparing for construction of a 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 dig site are pieces of a cannon that Smith said dates 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 some of the munitions at the fort in 1730, which includes two or three burst cannons.

“We have no information yet on whether somebody may have been injured when that happened,” he said of the damaged 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.

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

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

The current deteriorated bridge swings one section to the side to allow taller ships to pass through.

The new fixed bridge is designed to be tall enough for Coast Guard ice-breaking vessels to pass underneath.

Nate Benoit, project manager for the state Department of Transportation on the bridge replacement project, said survey layout at the site 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 north of it means only a few traffic disruptions are expected during construction.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Construction crews work on a construction causeway on the Kennebec River Wednesday.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan


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