The remains of a centuries-old cribbed-and-planked tidal dam and gate can be seen at the mouth of the Sedgeunkedunk Stream and were discovered by Cianbro Corp., a Pittsfield construction company that is in the process of changing the 41-acre riverfront locale into a manufacturing facility.
The company is required by state law to look for historic artifacts in the river before planned dredging is done to create a deep-water port for the project.
The study found nothing of interest in the dredging area, but uncovered in the stream the dam and wooden remains of a vessel that possibly could be from the 1779 Penobscot Expedition.
Both historic artifacts will be preserved, company officials said.
“We are not going to do any work in that area that would affect the artifacts,” Ernest Kilbride, vice president of project development at Cianbro, said. “We will do some protective work to preserve them to prevent any further erosion.”
Before the discoveries, Cianbro’s plan was to dig up a good portion of the stream area and reconstruct it, Tom Ruksznis, Cianbro’s site development project manager, said.
“Our plan now is to preserve it,” he said.
The Ocean Process Analysis Laboratory, under the leadership of University of New Hampshire professor Stefan Claesson, found the artifacts while conducting a maritime cultural survey of the entire shorefront and the stream area. The background of the items was found in history books, maps and ledgers from the era.
“Historic records identify that the foundation of the [dam] structure, by his own account, was laid by John Brewer in 1770,” Claesson’s report states.
“In 1770, when [John] Brewer and his companions first visited the area, they laid the foundation for a mill dam and, having thus made a good beginning, they went back to Massachusetts,” the 1962 book “Brewer, Orrington, Holden, Eddington: History and Families” states. “Brewer returned the next year and erected a mill and dwelling house.”
In addition to his brother, Josiah, John Brewer was accompanied by his sister, Mary Brewer, and others. Since the group came from Worcester, Mass., they named the settlement The Plantation of New Worcester.
Today the dam remains are waterlogged, sagging and covered with moss, but are solid enough to have withstood Penobscot River tides of the last 227 years. The distinctive method used to construct the dam makes the find extremely important.
“The site would likely qualify for listing under the National Register of Historic Places … [because of its] association with the lives of significant persons of the past … [because it’s the] only known example of an 18th and 19th century tidal dam and gate in Maine and New England,” the survey states.
What are believed to be the vessel remains are not much to look at. When the tide is low, you can see the remains, which look like wood planks sticking out of the mud. Treenails, hand-forged iron nails and iron bolts found in the decomposing wood indicate the find could be a ship’s hull. Historic documents and accounts of the Penobscot Expedition attest that 10 or so transport vessels and naval ships were scuttled in the area between Brewer and Bangor.
“It is possible that the vessel is a Penobscot Expedition vessel that was scuttled in 1779 to prevent its capture by the British Navy,” the survey states.
Note: All U.S. military wrecks are the property of the government and it is a federal crime to disturb them in any way without prior permission. Anyone caught in possession of or in the process of collecting historic artifacts from the Penobscot River associated with the Penobscot Expedition will be prosecuted.
A copyright story from the Bangor Daily News, Saturday, October 6, 2007.