York Village archaeological dig uncovers colonial artifacts on Davis grounds


YORK, Maine – Archaeologists began digging up, examining and documenting colonial-era artifacts last week on one of the last open lots in the village of York.

The excavation was part of a state-mandated process before the development of more than 100 acres owned by the Davis family. Knowing that planning was underway for a major development on the property, some community members had urged the city to step in and purchase the land, but voters rejected the purchase proposal in 2019.

At the beginning of Last week, a team from the Northeast Archeology Research Center began scratching the surface of the site at 142 York Street, looking for traces of historical value. This was the first of two excavations planned for the site, with the second scheduled for next spring, according to Hutch McPheters, deputy director of administration at Northeast Archeology.

State law requires that certain development projects, including those occupying more than 20 acres of land and which may have a substantial effect on the environment, be reviewed before a permit is issued. Part of that process includes a review by the Historic Preservation Commission, which determines whether an archaeological study may be necessary, McPheters said.

All artifacts recovered from Davis’ lands will return to the Northeast Archeology Lab to be cleaned, cataloged, analyzed and preserved as needed, McPheters said. So far, the team have found a number of interesting artifacts, including many old tobacco pipe pipes, ceramics, and traces of trenches used by soldiers in the late 17th century. They expect to find more in the spring, he said.

“It’s all tied into that (colonial) period, so it’s a nice site to work on,” McPheters said.

Once the objects are preserved, some will go to the Maine State Museum, he added.

York site already approved for 115 housing units

The Mary McIntire Davis Trust, a family trust, currently owns the property, according to city records.

The trust received final approval in July 2019 from the Planning Council to develop 115 residential units on the property, including six housing units for the workforce and over 40 units for those 55 and over, according to the plan.

Ultimately, the Davis family plans to sell the property to the developers and distribute the proceeds from the sale to the beneficiaries of the trust, according to family spokesperson Mal Davis.

“I have no other information to share at the moment,” he said on Monday October 18th. “Archaeological excavations will determine when the additional information is released.”

The family sought to get the city to buy the property, but ultimately couldn’t get enough political will or support from the city for the price. The city and family members discussed potential purchase prices which ranged from $ 7 million to $ 8 million.

A local group, York Village Future, pushed the town to buy the land, arguing that it was the last large undeveloped private plot in the village and that it would disappear forever if it was not bought by the town. city. The board presented the measure to residents, asking if they wanted the board to negotiate a purchase price of between $ 7 million and $ 8 million. Voters backed the issue, with 2,831 votes in favor of negotiating a deal and 1,309 votes against.

Some community members said the city should buy the land first and then figure out what to do with it later, but members of the budget committee and board of directors said they could not support a measure. to undetermined duration. Both bodies voted to put an article on the ballot to make voters decide to buy the land.

The city later hired its own appraiser for the land, who determined it was worth around $ 5.3 million, which is 2.2 million less than the $ 7.5 million price that would be presented to the voters in November 2019.

Mal Davis disputed the $ 5.3 million valuation at the time, saying he did not take into account the purchase of 85 acres from Kennebunkport for $ 10 million to prevent development of those lands . York City Manager Steve Burns said at the time the assessor said Kennebunkport voters overpaid to take the land off the market.

York voters ultimately rejected the proposal in November 2019 for the city to buy the Davis land. This paved the way for the trust to develop the land.

At the end of last year, the 142 York Street property was put up for sale for $ 6.5 million by Century 21 Atlantic Realty realtor Ray Pape. The status was listed as “pending” on the Century 21 website on Monday, October 18.

Pape said on Tuesday the sale was “definitely moving forward.” Lawyers for both sides are finalizing a deal, he said.

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Pape said JHR Development is buying the land.

JHR Development real estate agent Tracy Jackson of The Aland Realty Group declined to comment on the pending sale. Jackson referred the questions to developer’s attorney, Jason Howe, and project engineer, Beals Associates.

Howe and Bryan Sutherlin of Beals Associates did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

The first archaeological dig, which was due to end earlier this week, is part of a process needed to allow developers to begin work on a road in the middle of the property, according to McPheters.

What is the particularity of the Davis field?

Ownership is important for several reasons. It was once owned by 17th-century settler Abraham Preble, one of York’s first settlers, according to the preliminary subdivision application.

In 1642, Preble and three other settlers were granted adjacent undeveloped lots west of the village center on the condition of creating and maintaining a road which is now known as York Street, the request says.

Preble built the original residence on the property in 1642, which would later serve as a small fortified dwelling in times of conflict.

“This garrison structure is believed to have survived the ‘Candelmas Day Massacre’ of 1692 which claimed the lives of many residents and resulted in the loss of many of York’s early structures,” the request says.

McPheters said archaeologists expect to find remains of the fort’s foundation next spring when excavating the eastern part of the property.

Preble was also captain of the city of York, and his descendants remain in the city today, according to the Maine Historical Society.

The Davis property was owned by the Preble family until 1847 before it was sold to a farmer, Richard H. Walker, who owned the property until it was sold to the McIntire family in 1911.

“Given the location of the property (near the center of the village) and the significant growth York experienced at the turn of the century and throughout the 20th century, the fact that this land remains open and undeveloped to this day is remarkable, ”says the request.

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