YORK VILLAGE, Maine – Archaeologists have resumed excavating a historic property in York Village ahead of the developer’s original schedule.
After weeks of digging, archaeologists have not found many artifacts, nor have they discovered a key feature thought to be on the historically significant site, according to local historian James Kences, who has been present throughout the process.
“Even after two weeks of vigorous and extensive excavation, a relatively small number of artifacts have been found,” Kences wrote Monday, Jan. 24, in a Facebook post. “It is possible that the structure related to (Preble’s) occupation may not actually exist here as had been supposed.”
So far, Independent Archaeological Consulting has uncovered two filled cellar holes, a refuse pit and a number of other archaeological features from the 17th century, according to Hilary Rockett, owner of JHR Development, the company in charge of developing the land.
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The excavations are scheduled to wrap up in early February, according to Rockett, and it will take months to wash, catalog and analyze the recovered artifacts.
“We’ve been working with the Historic Preservation Commission over the past several months and plan to donate all the artifacts and have a plaque on site to commemorate its history. We look forward to collaborating with them on this,” Rockett said.
In October, archaeologists began digging up, examining and documenting artifacts as part of a state-mandated process before development of more than 100 acres owned by the Mary McIntire Davis Trust, a family trust, according to town records. The location is one of the last open pieces of land in York Village.
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The first team to excavate the land came from Northeast Archeology Research Center. It was the first of two excavations planned for the site. Initially, archaeologists said they would finish excavating the land this spring.
JHR Development switched, however, to an archaeology firm that could “accomplish the task as expertly” but in a shorter timeframe, said Project Manager Susan Griffin, a spokesperson for the developer.
Kences said Jan. 20 the lead archaeologist for this second excavation is now Jesse Cofelice, director of Independent Archaeological Consulting. He said Cofelice, along with a five-member crew, began the excavation Monday, Jan. 10.
Kences has been present at the work site on behalf of the town. He said he feels extremely lucky to bear witness to the excavation. He said he fields dozens of questions each day from many curious community members who are eager to know more about what’s happening.
“I’m in this privileged role of being a witness to what’s going on at the dig,” he said.
“My only objective is to be present at the site as an observer of the excavation on the town’s behalf,” he added.
What’s the property’s historical significance?
The property is significant because it was once owned by 17th century settler Abraham Preble, an early homesteader in York, according to the preliminary subdivision application.
In 1642, Preble and three other settlers were granted adjoining, undeveloped lots to the west of the village center with the condition of creating and maintaining a road that is now known as York Street.
Preble built the original residence on the property in 1642, which would later serve as a small fortified dwelling in times of conflict, including the 1692 Candlemas Day Massacre, which claimed the lives of numerous residents and saw the loss of many of York’s early structures.
To prepare for excavation, the team set up a barn-sized tent. Kences said archaeologists found a hearth with a portion of the original facing intact after a trowel cleared away soil-covered rocks. Toward the rear of the tent, a small excavation unit discovered a linear pattern of small cobbles. Soil near the cobbled ditch contained fragments of early ceramics and animal bones. One ditch contained hundred of stones of varying sizes, he said.
Kences said another 22-foot-long excavation unit studied to determine the location of Preble’s property is located near the First Parish Church side of the tent.
“Large fragments of brick can be observed protruding from the floor of this unit. It is just another reminder of the fact that successive generations of the Preble family, beginning in the early 1640s, and continuing into the eighteenth century, lived within these confines,” Kences wrote in a Jan. 19 post.
Kences works with the town’s archive collection in preparation of the new town hall expansion project, which proposes an updated archival system and a larger climate-controlled room for organization.
“It’s an extension of how I’ve been helping the town understand the history.” Fortunately, for me, because I’ve had a sufficient background in archaeology, I can help in constructive ways,” Kences said. “I imagine myself in the role of being a witness for the town for those individuals who can’t.”
What’s planned for the site?
The family trust received final approval in July 2019 from the Planning Board to develop 115 residential units on the property, including six workforce housing units and more than 40 units for people 55 and older, according to the plan.
Knowing that planning was underway for a major development on the property, some in the community had urged the town to step in and buy the land, but voted rejected that purchase proposal in 2019.
The Davis family plans to sell the property to JHR Development and distribute proceeds from the sale to the beneficiaries of the trust, family spokesperson Mal Davis said late last year. When asked for comment Monday, Davis directed further questions to the developer.
The 142 York Street property is listed for sale at $6.5 million by realtor Ray Pape of Century 21 Atlantic Realty. The status was listed as “pending” on the Century 21 website, as of Jan. 24.
Pape said in an interview late last year the sale is “definitely moving forward” and attorneys for both parties were in the process of finalizing a deal.