Originally published in The Weekly Packet, May 11, 2017
Artifacts found at Falls Bridge site will impact project plans
Members of the Bridge Advisory Committee discuss challenges to the process on May 8 at Blue Hill Town Hall. In forefront, are Selectman Vaughn Leach and, representing Blue Hill Historical Society, Lynne Clark.
by Anne Berleant
A Falls Bridge Advisory Committee meeting May 8 at Blue Hill Town Hall focused on the archeology and architecture of the site, as presented by Maine Historic Preservation Commission Senior Archaeologist Dr. Arthur Spiess and architectural consultant to MHPC Amanda Taylor of Kleinfelder/S E A Consultants of Augusta.
Significant archaeological findings, as detailed by Spiess, will impact the repair or replacement bridge project, and the placement of a temporary bridge, a plan that appears challenging given three significant sites on the northern approach to the bridge.
“The possibility is there for a [temporary] bridge on the west side provided we can mitigate the impact to historical structures,” MDOT Project Manger Andrew Lathe said after the meeting.
Spiess found two archaeological sites in 2015 and 2106 on the west side of the northern approach to Falls Bridge, named the Luskey site and the Roundy site. On the east side lies the Nevin site.
“Generally we keep archaeological findings private to prevent looting,” Spiess said, but because public knowledge of the sites already exists, he detailed Penobscot Native American tribe and other pre-European artifacts found in 1936-37 and in 2015 at the Nevin site, and Native American and early settler artifacts found in the Luskey site and Roundy site.
The southern approach to the bridge has no significant archaeological findings that would impact the project, Spiess said.
The Nevin site is “highly unusual” because shell fragments in the soil have preserved the artifacts by reducing the acidity of the soil, Spiess said. For those reasons, it is “critically important to archaeology to have [the Nevin site] left untouched.”
At the Luskey site, Native American artifacts include a 2,000-year-old wigwam floor while the Roundy site, which partially overlaps the Luskey site, contains relics of John Roundy, one of the first settlers of Blue Hill, who arrived in 1762, was elected selectman in 1767, and died in 1799.
However, Lathe said covering the Laskey and Roundy sites with geotextile material and then fill dirt may protect the sites during construction and removal of a temporary bridge. “The opportunity is there,” he said.
A temporary bridge would keep traffic flowing along Route 175, including emergency service vehicles, but would lengthen the time and cost of construction. In a committee survey presented at the meeting, three of eight members agreed that clearing trees for relocation of utilities and installing a temporary bridge was acceptable for maintaining traffic through the work site; six agreed that maintaining a single lane of one-way traffic was acceptable; two members agreed maintaining traffic along Route 175 was important; and six agreed that detouring traffic onto Route 172, Hales Hill Road and High Street would have a big impact. The response summary did not label responses with committee member names.
Preserving historic architecture is not as complex. Impact to the 1926 twin-arch bridge, which is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, is allowed mitigation under a section of the Historic Preservation Code, said Amanda Taylor. Mitigation measures include documenting through photographs, recordation and interpretive panels. The presence of the 1903 Renaissance Revival-style Arcady estate on the southeast side of the bridge, and the Wakonda house on the northwest corner, both eligible for the National Register, make the entire area an historic district, Taylor said. An eligible structure is afforded the same protection under the Act as one on the Register.
Committee member Steve Rappaport asked if the bridge was replaced, could it be replaced with a bridge of the same design, given its “emotional resonance” as an important location in the community. The answer was negative, with Taylor explaining that new architecture should reflect its own time period, and a replica of an historic structure would only confuse viewers, although she conceded the design could be similar, although it would be considered a mitigation measure.
“We feel a sense of responsibility that, if it is a new bridge, we owe it to future residents to give them what we had,” member Lynne Clark said.
Or, as member John Chapman noted, “Everybody likes the bridge.”