Freeport Historical Society digs for buried treasure at Pettengill Farm

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FREEPORT — Two archaeologists rooted around the Pettengill Farm property last week and uncovered agricultural tools, buttons, pottery and a deer jaw – objects they said tell a story about the life and times of the family that lived there decades ago.

Norm Buttrick, former archaeology teacher at Freeport High School, and Jim Leamon, a former professor at Bates College, have been digging archaeological sites all over Maine for years.

At Pettengill Farm they created four test pits and meticulously cleaned over and under roots, bricks and stones in search of the old family privy and tool shed. They recorded the changing color of the soil, the items they found and where they found them. They labeled their findings in individual bags and discussed the time periods associated with each object.

Buttrick and Leamon were excavating the site because the Freeport Historical Society received a $5,000 grant from the Davis Family Foundation to locate the farm’s privy and tool shed. The Davis foundation is a public charitable foundation established by Phyllis C. Davis and H. Halsey Davis of Falmouth. It supports educational, medical and cultural arts organizations throughout the state.

Phase 1 of the Pettengill project includes finding and excavating the tool shed and privy areas to find out more about the former residents. The information will provide the documentation necessary to replace the privy and tool shed, Buttrick said, because in order to recreate any structure listed in the Natural Register of Historic Places, the location of the structure must be identified.

Pettengill Farm is a 19th century saltwater farm with 140 acres on the Harraseeket River. The farmhouse has no plumbing or electricity and is a protected public property owned by the Freeport Historical Society. Mildred Pettengill was the last resident, and she lived there until 1970. In 1975 farm owners Eleanor Houston and Lawrence M. C. Smith donated the house and property to the society. In 2006 a small milk shed was rebuilt as part of an Eagle Scout leadership project.

Since Buttrick is familiar with the Pettengill property, Christina White, executive director of the Freeport Historical Society, said he was a logical choice to do the archeology work this summer.

“We have a long-term investment in recreating the structures at Pettengill Farm,” White said. “There is interest in creating a living historical story and recreating the structures will allow us to tell that story.”

She said Buttrick studied history and archeology at the University of Southern Maine and the University of New Hampshire and received his master’s degree from the University in Maine. He is certified as a historical archaeologist by the Maine Historical Preservation Commission and taught for 38 years at Freeport High School. White said Buttrick received one of three historic preservation awards in 1993 for teaching archeology to secondary students.

Buttrick said he was familiar with the site because in 1989, he and his students drew and mapped a grid to locate a few farm structures including the milk shed, tool shed and privy. Using the data from years ago, he and Leamon had an idea where to look.

“The privy was a common place to thrown away unwanted or discarded items,” Buttrick said. “They are a great source of information about the family.”

Buttrick and Leamon found a lot of equipment including an iron pry bar, but said about 75 percent of the work is done after the dig is complete.

“Then the objects are analyzed at the lab,” Buttrick said. “They are cleaned, identified, dated and counted. It is then when we find out what the object indicates about the people who lived at that time.”

Buttrick said after the dig they will write a report and submit it to the National Historical Preservation Commission, the Davis Foundation and the Freeport Historical Society.

White said she was thrilled that Buttrick and Leamon had found historical items and were able to complete Phase 1 of the archaeological dig.

“It is so important to receive more insight into the history of those who lived and worked on the farm,” she said. “It helps us understand their lives and illuminates the past.”

White said she would like to display the found objects at Pettengill Farm Day in October.

For more information on Pettengill Farm, visit the Freeport Historical Society at 45 Main St., or the farm on Pettengill Road.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or

n-fpthistoricaldig1-081309.JPGArchaeologist Norman Buttrick, left, and Venessa Rodriguez of the Freeport Historical Society work at the Pettengill Farm dig on Aug. 4.

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n-fpthistoricaldig2-081309.JPGNorman Buttrick holds a ceramic fragment unearthed in an archaeological dig at Pettengill Farm in Freeport.