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The Chadbourne Site (ca. 1643-1690) in South Berwick, Maine, is a well preserved archaeology site of an early English homestead and industrial complex. Excavations between 1995 and 2003 led by Dr. Emerson Baker and sponsored by the Old Berwick Historical Society recovered over 40,000 artifacts and evidence of a series of buildings, making the Chadbourne Site one of the most important and best preserved colonial archaeology site in New England. The artifacts provide important clues to life in early New England and have been studied by archaeologists across the United States, as well as Canada and Europe.
Through the Chadbourne dig and subsequent exhibits, the Counting House Museum has served as a base of exploration of the Piscataqua estuary’s earliest colonial history. The river area of today’s South Berwick is the site of one of the earliest settlements in Maine, dating to 1634. The falls where the Great Works River enters the tidal, ocean-bound Salmon Falls is the location of one of the oldest water mill sites in America.
In 1995, what began as a short archaeology workshop there for local teachers suddenly turned into an exciting community history project.
Excavating a tiny section of a hayfield, this group of volunteers led by Dr. Baker discovered the homestead of one of the first pioneering mill families in North America, the Chadbourne's. Humphrey Chadbourne was an Englishman whose father William had been one of the first sawmill operators in America, and about 1650 he built a house near the mill on land his family had purchased from the Indians. The homestead became one of the largest in New England in its day; records and archaeology show the family had indentured servants as well as a well-appointed household with fine clothing and utensils, glass windows, and even the luxury of horses. The house seems to have been destroyed in a devastating fire about 1690, probably in Indian raid during King William’s War in the days when Maine stood on the wilderness frontier.In our summers of exploration with Dr. Baker and the Chadbourne Family Association, teams of volunteers have uncovered about 40,000 artifacts. Now preserved at the Counting House Museum, these objects provide materials for displays on 17th century life as well as interpretive material shedding new information to history scholars about early colonial life in the Piscataqua region.