Amid the disruption and noise of Thomaston's Route 1 construction project, work crews have carefully set aside some historical mysteries, and a few diligent residents have worked to fit these reminders of the past, dredged up by a new phase of change, into the town's documented story.

The Courier-Gazette reported in December that rails from a regional trolley system that ran through Thomaston between 1893 and 1931 had been found buried beneath the road. Thomaston Historical Society had the rails restored and cut into pieces with pro bono help from Rockport Steel and began selling them as mementos to support the society.

While more activity may have surrounded that discovery than any of the others, it was not the only artifact uncovered during construction.

Filling in the blanks

In early December, Selectman Pete Lammert noticed a large chunk of granite set aside near the construction on Route 1. “One of the wonderful things about being retired is you can sit there and watch the construction crews,” and see what they retrieve, said Lammert, who also played a role in identifying and securing the old trolley rails.

Lammert and historian Margaret McCrea set about trying to identify the piece, measuring 44 inches long, 15 inches across, and 8 inches high, on which is carved a raised part of the letter “L” followed by “OCK 18.”

“Could it have been Cell Block 18 from the prison; CLOCK with a date; a name of a business block? Old pictures were reviewed with magnifying glasses and guesses were offered,” McCrea said in an email.

Eventually, historical society volunteer Galo Hernandez found a photo that appeared to show the piece of granite in question, intact and perched high on a Main Street building with its full inscription: “Watts Block 1890.”

The old Watts Block burned in a devastating 1915 fire that destroyed much of the downtown business district. The Courier-Gazette of June 8, 1915 called it "the most destructive fire in Thomaston's history." The 1890 block was replaced by the building that now holds Watts Hall and the Town Office. The block of granite, now identified, has found a place at the side entrance of the Thomaston Historical Society museum on Knox Street.

Holes in the story

During the 1915 fire, a Rockland steam fire engine pumped water out of a town reservoir at Knox and Main streets, exhausting the supply in four minutes. The reservoir the Rockland firemen used could be the same stonewalled cistern uncovered by construction workers at that intersection. The cistern has now been filled in.

McCrea referenced Cyrus Eaton’s “History of Thomaston, Rockland, and South Thomaston, Maine,” which says that after an earlier, destructive blaze in 1833, Thomaston resident Joseph Berry had marked the spot at Knox and Main and solicited donations for the construction of a water reservoir to be drawn from in the event of fire.

At least three cisterns, wells, or reservoirs used for water storage have been found during construction, and McCrea found references to many such water sources that would have been dug around Thomaston for use in case of fire. Lammert also said a pipe protruded from one of the cisterns, and suggested it might have been a public fountain at one point.

A bridge to the past

Thomaston Historical Society rescued another artifact from obscurity in connection with the other recent major construction project in town: the replacement of the Wadsworth Street Bridge.

The society was disappointed to learn last March that the old bridge’s plaque, which identifies the builder and date of construction – Boston Bridge Works Inc., 1928 – had been removed.

McCrea said the society asked Guy Hews, the Maine Department of Transportation engineer overseeing the project, if he knew where the plaque had gone. “In an attempt to locate it for us, he put out a call at that time to his crews, plus the crews of Prock Marine,” McCrea said. “Nothing came forward, so we sulked, licked our wounds, and asked for another ‘piece’ of the bridge.”

In an interview, Hews said that, for a time, he assumed the plaque had been stolen. But he said some additional asking around revealed workers had simply removed the plaque to save it from demolition.

The historical society now has the plaque, which adds to the bounty of artifacts yielded by recent construction. McCrea said she was so happy to receive it, she baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies for the construction crew.

“Soon it will be the only surviving piece of our 99-year-old ‘bridge to the past,’” McCrea said. “…an irreplaceable gift.”

Spring will bring the next phase of Route 1 construction, and most likely some accompanying headaches. But for Thomaston’s history buffs, it could mean a new bevy of curious artifacts.

Reporter Dan Otis Smith can be reached at 594-4401 x123 or by email at dsmith@villagesoup.com.