Dresden Falls Archaeological and Wildlife Preserve, Dresden
This 31-acre parcel, made up of meadows and river frontage, is one of the most important prehistoric sites in Maine. Native people camped seasonally at this resource-rich area for 4,000 years, approximately 9,000 to 4,500 years ago.
As the world emerged from the last ice age, the riverside site was abundant with fish, deer, beaver, and turtles. Since the ocean was 200 feet lower then, the Kennebec River — which is a tidal river today — was narrower and carried fresh water. At the nearby Goodwin or Lovejoy Narrows between the mainland and Little Swan Island, the river cascaded down a “spectacular” 30-foot waterfall, creating a plunge pool filled with salmon (as big as 30 pounds!), striped bass, sturgeon, and maybe shad and alewives, according to Arthur Spiess of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.
The Dresden site is the largest and most intensively occupied site of its era known in Maine, according to the Friends of Marrymeeting Bay, which helped protect it with The Archaeology Conservancy and Land for Maine’s Future. More stone tools have been uncovered here, like spear points and cobblestones for net sinkers, than any other Early to Middle Archaic (8,000 B.C.-3,000 B.C.) site in New England. “It is probably key to understanding this period in Maine, for which we know very little,” Spiess said. Archaeologists still don’t know who the people were, whether they’re related to modern tribes, or what language they spoke.
When you’re visiting the site, you’ll see that it is mainly composed of open fields. After walking down the gravel road to the back field, you’ll face a lower area on your left, the “lower terrace,” and a higher area on your right, the “upper terrace.” The Native people’s camp was on the lower terrace, while traces of a Revolutionary War-era settlement have been discovered on the upper terrace.
The gravel road ends at a boat shed and you can continue down to the shore for views of the river. There’s also a basic map of the preserve posted to the shed. I plan to return in the spring and will take better—and more colorful—photos then!
Directions: The parking area and trailhead on River Road (Route 128) is about 0.75 miles from the intersection of River Road and Route 197. If you’re coming from the south, look for Popp Road on your right, and the parking area is 1,200 feet farther along on the left, just after a little house. Thank you to the Maine by Foot user who let me know about this wonderful place! (Which is also home to the largest stand of the rare spongy arrowhead plant.)