Old Fort Western will build a replica of the colonial trading post in Augusta
AUGUSTA — Old Fort Western is entering its 100th year as a museum with a Memorial Day weekend celebration and the launch of a fundraiser to create a replica of the old Cushnoc trading post.
Saturday’s event helped kick off what the city has dubbed “the year of the fort.”
Linda Novak, director and curator of the museum, said the organization hopes to complete the replica trading post by 2028, which would mark the site’s 400th anniversary.
Novak said the city approved the reconstruction project in 2010, when the museum was run by Jay Adams, but it was quickly put on hold.
“Now was not the time,” Novak said, adding that the next anniversary in 2028 is his new completion goal.
She said they aim to raise $250,000 as it will be built in the most authentic way possible and will become a future exhibit when completed. They hope to raise the money by 2026, as they need to buy wood from Canada that will take two years to dry.
According to Novak, the replica trading post will have a post-and-beam structure with earth-resistant construction, meaning that the load-bearing vertical posts of the roof will come into direct contact with the ground.
“There is no foundation,” she said. “And it has either a dirt floor or a plank floor. And it was not until the 19th century, when some of these structures survived, that they salvaged them and laid foundations under them.
She said they aim to be as authentic as possible while adhering to safety codes.
“Fire alarms and sprinklers, things like that I can’t avoid,” she said. “If I bring the public into it, I need it. I can’t avoid it.
The replica will be built as close to its original site as possible, which would be on the lawn of a church at 6 Williams St. The new structure will be a few hundred yards on the lawn behind Old Fort Western.
Novak let the church owners know that for the opening weekend event, they would like to stake out the exact original location of the trading post.
“Pilgrims built the trading post here, and it was very active until 1628,” Novak said. “In 1636, this one trading post made enough money to repay its London backers. It was their most successful post. The Kennebec went to the headwaters of Canada, it was a major trade working route , the natives were going down, going to the coast or going up to go inland, so it took off and it was very profitable.
Old Fort Western historian Cindy Arnold said the post was called Cushnoc because pilgrims believed that was what members of the native Abenaki tribe called it. In reality, the word “cushnoc” refers to the most upstream point that an ocean tide typically reaches, but it was not intended to name a specific location.
Jonathan Yellowbear, living historian and Abenaki, said the Pilgrims encountered the Abenakis of Cushnoc as they came from Plymouth to begin their trading venture.
“They were named after where they lived, and what Cushnoc means in Abenaki is ‘end of tides’,” he said. “So the salt water comes from the sea when the tide comes in, it stops here, that’s why it’s called cushnoc. And if you go down further down to where Gardiner is, you have the Cobbosseecontee River there. The Abenakis of Cobbosseecontee lived there. There were three villages on this river alone, and Cobbosseecontee meant a “place of the sturgeon”.
Yellowbear said he is able to say greetings and farewell phrases, and is currently learning more about the Abenaki language.
“It’s been a lifelong process,” he said.
Yellowbear said he hopes Old Fort Western can see the trading post project come to fruition, adding that he is working on a similar project with the city of Richmond to create a large-scale Abenaki village on Swan Island.
Saturday’s event included tours of the archaeological site; a recently reprinted book by Maine archaeologist Leon Cranmer, entitled “Cushnoc The History and Archeology of the Plymouth Colony Traders on the Kennebec”; and several artifacts he unearthed, including arrowheads, tobacco pipes, and bottle fragments from centuries ago.
Going forward, the museum will hold events and tours throughout the year to celebrate its 100th anniversary, including fireworks on Independence Day, marking the day it opened in as a museum on July 4, 1922.
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