July 16, 2011

A bridge to the past

Site not only location of second Fort Richmond, but possibly the first

By Keith Edwards
Staff Writer

RICHMOND -- The deteriorated 80-year-old swing bridge that takes traffic across the Kennebec River between Richmond and Dresden is targeted for replacement in 2013.

click image to enlarge

The Richmond Dresden Bridge over the Kennebec River, suffering from a variety of problems, is slated to be replaced in 2013. In the meantime, the site has drawn the intense interests of archaeologists unearthing the second and, they hope, the first Fort Richmond.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

The clearance is 15-feet and three inches in the center but only 11 feet on the sides.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Additional Photos Below

As part of the preparation for its replacement, archaeologists have been investigating what's beneath the ground at the bridge site.

They've dug into some much older, significant artifacts that show the site was previously home to not just one, but likely two, old forts -- one dating to about 1720.

Historians had a pretty good idea the site on the Richmond side of the bridge was also the approximate site of the second Fort Richmond, built starting in 1740 and standing until it was dismantled in 1955. But evidence dug up by archaeologists at the site indicates it could also be the location of the previous Fort Richmond, the location of which had thus far been unclear.

"So far, we definitely have the site of the 1740 to 1755 fort," said Leith Smith, an archaeologist with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. "But there is also clear evidence of rebuilding, of a stone wall built over rubble. That would indicate a period of demolition and rebuilding, which may well indicate that the early fort may be on the same location.

"That'd be one of the questions we've been trying to answer. The location of that particular fort has been controversial. It hasn't really been known where that was."

Smith, who spent time last summer digging with colleagues on Route 197 as it approaches the span in Richmond, plans to return later this summer to continue tracing out the remnants of the fort's old palisade walls.

Those walls appear to have been longer than previous documentation indicated -- 215 feet long, compared to the previously thought 96 feet.

"We were very excited to find a section of the palisade, which would've gone around the fort," Smith said. "Once you have that, you have the opportunity to trace that out and find the perimeter of the fort. That's key. There's a great deal still to learn at the fort."

Smith said he doesn't anticipate that any archaeology work will slow down the bridge rehab -- even if the site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which he hopes will occur.

He said crews will work to examine and document the site before it's disturbed for construction of the new bridge, near or on the site of the current span.

The swing span bridge itself -- a section of which rotates horizontally until it is parallel to the main river channel to allow boats to pass through -- is one of only a handful still in use in Maine and was unique in its time. It was built in 1931; all such spans were built between 1901 and 1954.

But its days appear numbered.

State transportation officials looked into repairing the bridge -- known within the state Department of Transportation as the Maine Kennebec Bridge -- or replacing it with a new low-level swing-span bridge, but rejected both options as too expensive.

In 2007, DOT officials said it would cost $25 million to repair the bridge or $31 million to replace it with a new swing span bridge.

Officials now plan to replace it with a span high enough to allow boats to pass beneath, at a cost of about $22 million.

Construction is expected to start in the summer of 2013 and take two construction seasons to complete, according to Mark Latti, state Department of Transportation spokesman.

The narrow sidewalk-less bridge's concrete piers appear to be crumbling. Its green steel sections are rusted in many areas and dented in others.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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The concrete supports under the Richmond Dresden Bridge near the Dresden shoreline have cracking and wear.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan


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