An archaeological team from the Maine Historic Preservation Commission has been digging on both sides of the bridge connecting Farmington Falls and Chesterville for two years. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

FARMINGTON — Archaeologists from the Maine Historic Preservation Commission have unearthed artifacts from the 17th century Eastern Abenaki village along the Sandy River.

The team has been surveying the land around the Farmington Falls and Chesterville bridge on Routes 41 and 156 since the summer of 2018.

Finding the Abenaki glass trade and shell beads associated with the Amesokanti village has been project archaeologist John Mosher’s most memorable feature of his team’s dig. 

“All of the features with the beads, in terms of really cool, that was really cool,” Mosher said while holding a clipboard of dig maps.

When the Maine Department of Transportation deemed the bridge connecting Chesterville and Farmington Falls in need of replacement in 2018, Mosher’s office, among other preservation groups, was brought in to survey the area. 

Mosher knew from previous documentary research that there were multiple mills from the first English settlement in the area. He also knew there may be evidence of the Amesokanti village based on French and English historic missionary documents.

Keith Smith sifts through buckets of soil at the archaeological dig site in Farmington Falls.

“Because we are at falls, there was a very strong likelihood of finding Native American sites here including one that people have been looking for for a very long time, Amesokanti, which dates to around 1691-92 to probably 1724-25,” Mosher said.

Mosher had hoped to find more structural evidence of a settlement, but he suspects that their dig sites are at the outskirts of the Amesokanti village. Previous archaeological crews have found Native American artifacts dating back 2,000 years at the Wilson Stream confluence. Mosher’s team is limited to surveying the area that will be impacted by DOT’s bridge construction plans.

As an avid historical photo collector, Mosher was also relishing uncovering the foundations of the mills and factories that he had long studied from photographs.

“19th century Farmington Falls was booming, seriously! I mean, there were multiple factories, employment for probably a population that is twice what it is now,” Mosher said while pointing to the granite foundation remains of the 1830 sawmill along the riverbank.

To identify the location of 10 mills that were constructed throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Mosher referenced the 1861 Franklin County map and the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps that date from 1840 to 1875.

“So we get a lot of information about infrastructure just from those maps and they also tell us if it’s a one, two or three-story building, they’re great. And the later ones show where Farmington Falls began installing the water lines,” Mosher said. “So we know where those are, and they also show how streets have moved over time. So it all helps in the interpretation of what we’re digging.”

Mosher’s team has identified saw mills, a hemp mill, a bark grinding facility for a tannery and the Franklin Mill Complex which still has steel I-beams resting on the riverbank. The mill complex housed various industries including a carriage factory, a grist mill, excelsior mill, an elevator factory and the Farmington Falls Electric Company.

Among archaeologist John Mosher’s collection of historic photographs was the 18th century Franklin Mill Complex. The former Sandy River covered bridge that connected Farmington and Chesterville can be seen. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

“It was an excelsior mill which is basically a product, it’s basically wood shavings, used for the packing industry back in the late 19th century and early 20th before we invented Styrofoam,” Mosher said. “And also they used it to stuff chairs, cushions.”

Carriage parts were found along the mill’s foundation along with electrical parts and even a Singer sewing machine. There is also clear evidence of the Farmington Falls 1929 fire.

“The fire was so hot that a lot of the split granite exploded,” Mosher said while standing over a dug-out part of the mill’s foundation.

Mosher’s team also found the footprint of what is thought to be the first English constructed house, a log cabin erected by Jonathan Knowlton between 1785 and 1795. They also found evidence of an additional house that Knowlton built after uncovering a cellar hole with a chimney base. 

“Basically you’re looking at 2,000 years of stuff built on top of each other,” Mosher said while flipping through computer-generated maps that he designed to show different time periods of settlements in Farmington Falls.

The five-person archaeology team will wrap up their two-year DOT survey by the end of June which has been slightly slowed due to the pandemic. 

“Typically, we’ll dig in teams of two because it’s easier and faster, but we’re not sharing screens or shovels. And everybody has their own hand gear anyways, but then I’ve got a couple bottles of bleach solution and once equipment comes back at night, we spray them all down,” Mosher said.

The team is also accustomed to conversing with curious locals when digging, but this summer Mosher has noticed that fewer people stop by at their site.

“Last year we had lots of visitors, but since the COVID scare we haven’t been encouraging it for one thing, just for safety,” Mosher said.

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