Thanks to the hard work of archaeologists with the Old Berwick Historical Society, local residents can now glimpse early decades of settlement in this part of New England. South Berwick was settled about 14 years after Plimoth, and was part of a larger town designated as Berwick in 1713.
“Some things, like sharing camaraderie over pints of ale, haven’t changed in 300 years,” said Paula Bennett, a society board member. “A tavern stood where Brattle Street meets Oldfields Road, which was then the center of town, just as people enjoy the taverns now thriving downtown South Berwick.”
But in a tavern of the 1600s, knee breeches were in fashion, and men smoked with long clay pipes lit with embers from the fire. Some ale-drinkers may have paid for their drinks with pieces of eight.
We know this from the clues found by archaeologists, said Bennett, who today lives on the property now being explored in the Old Fields Archaeology Project. Now many artifacts are on display.
Entitled "Berwick Begins," the small exhibit occupies South Berwick Town Hall’s second floor and chronicles the story of this community from its first inhabitants through the declaration of its independence as a town separate from Kittery in 1713.
The display will be on view for the 300th anniversary year and is covered in part by a grant from the Maine Humanities Council. Funds from this grant are also being used to support the society’s year-long series of public lectures, tours and public programs focused on the history of this area of Maine and the Piscataqua during the 1600s and 1700s.
The display highlights stories of two families: that of Humphrey and Lucy Chadbourne, who operated a sawmill on present-day Vine Street from about 1640 to 1689, and Humphrey and Mary Spencer, who occupied the site of a tavern on Oldfields Road from 1696 to 1727. Their tales are told using an array of historic objects, photographs, and maps that illustrate the life in this region in the earliest days of European settlement.
Historian Neill De Paoli developed the exhibit, drawing on objects discovered in an archaeology project he has been leading at the site of Spencer’s tavern, and an earlier dig led by Emerson Baker at the Chadbourne home site. Others who worked on the new display were historical society members Cari Quater, Dana Hughes, Paula Bennett, Harvey Bennett and Norma Keim.