The Resurrection of Adamsville’s Mill Pond
By Jon Alden
March 1, 2008
As far as mill locations go, the spot on which Gray’s Grist Mill currently resides is surely one of the oldest sites still operating in North America. The first mill was constructed in the early 17th century.
Ralph Guild is Chairman of the Board for Interep, the largest independent national sales and marketing organization specializing in radio, the Internet and new media. He has homes in New York and in Acoaxet.
Ralph first heard in the late 70’s that the Gray’s Grist Mill and Adamsville Pond property was up for sale. Fearful of a change in its use, he purchased the property in 1980, insuring then current owner, John Hart, with a handshake that he would preserve and continue to operate the grist mill. Ralph was true to his word.
Much work was done to restore the mill with the help of restoration expert Pete Baker among others. Now attention was turned to the ailing Adamsville Pond. Years of silt and sediment accretion of up to 18 to 24” accompanied by increased aquatic plant growth had reduced the overall water surface by 60% as compared to photos taken in 1929! The pond’s capacity to effectively operate the mill was greatly reduced. Ralph and members of the local community wanted the pond back to the way they remembered it as youths. Dredging and habitat restoration was the only answer.
Left: Pond, dam and stone fish ladder fully restored - March 8, 2008.
However, many complications would be encountered with the governing bodies that controlled altering sensitive ecological areas and wetlands; 15 years worth to be exact. The Westport Conservation Commission, The Mass Department of Environmental Protection, the Army Corp of Engineers, and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management; this multi-state bureaucracy needed to approve the project. One would defer to another. It was an odyssey. Studies were done to assess the impact on the wetlands system, and to determine its functions and values. Finally, in 2001, Ralph turned to expert Scott Rabideau, an environmental consultant, to help guide the project through the murky waters of the permiting process. The last permit was obtained from Massachusetts in August of 2006. Ironically, it was the smallest of fishes that help save the day.
The alewife is a small herring having a greenish to bluish back and silvery sides with faint dark stripes. Russ Hart of Westport, then the Fish Commissioner, had obtained by 1999 two grants for the installation of a new fish ladder to assist the anadromous alewife in its migration upstream to spawn. The protected alewife and Westport’s efforts to preserve it softened resistance and the project was finally allowed to move forward.
As the last permit was obtained from Massachusetts, Don Lemonde was chosen as the excavator. Dredging and excavation started immediately to gradually lower the grade of the pond’s outer perimeter, while deepening the middle finger to support the habitat of hundreds of unique aquatic species. Along the way Don’s keen eye spotted many artifacts (some on display today), including a possible fish weir near the dam that may have been used to catch the herring. Up to 5000 cubic yards of mud and silt were removed to the Tiverton Landfill.
Above left: 60% of the original pond’s size was excavated and dredged to provide sufficient capacity to power the mill. Above right: A large filtration bag was used to “freshen” the deep center pool during excavation, protecting aquatic life from silt suffocation. Lower left: Laying the foundation of the massive stone wall that will support the old, crumbling road-side retaining wall. Lower right: 2004 summer photo showing the encroachment of vegetation in to the pond.
Ralph was required to retain a prescribed peninsula in the pond a bird sanctuary and wetlands, and many springs had to be avoided during excavation to protect their integrity. For now, part of the ramp used to transport machines and mud will remain in place. In the future look for a possible boat ramp for canoes and kayaks, and the introduction of salmon into the pond.
Historical footnote: In 1983, the Fish Commissioners (Daniel P. Sullivan, Edward T. Earle, and John Doherty) were directed to establish a memorial dedicated to the memory of Albert Rosinha at the Herring Run at Adamsville Pond. Mr. Rosinha, a fisherman and former Fish Commissioner, died July 24, 1981. He was injured in a shell-fishing boat accident, and died shortly thereafter. The project was completed and an appropriate sign was erected to identify the area in September 1983. (The Albert Rosinha Herring Run) In the same year, work was begun to repair the ladders of the Albert Rosinha Herring Run. The Fish Commissioners in conjunction with the Division of Marine Fisheries began restocking Albert Rosinha Herring Run and completed the work in the spring of 1984. Source: Town of Westport 1983 Annual Report.
Above left: The rebuilding of the dam’s planking with 2-inch, tongue and grooved oak boards. Right: A deep pool of water was left in place throughout the excavation to protect any aquatic life, especially alewife, which may have been trapped there when the pond was drained.
In late fall 2007, Don finished work, with the financial support of the Town of Westport, on a new stone foundation and retaining wall to support the crumbling road-side dry rock wall. He also completed a “plunge pool”, a rubble-filled walled enclosure on the southwest corner of the pond next to Adamsville Road that will filter stormwater run-off before it enters the pond. Next to the “plunge pool” Don installed a dry hydrant, a deep pit protected on two sides by a stone wall that will allow for the taking of water by the area fire departments.
Above left: Don LeMonde. Center: Thorton Simmons demonstrating the dam’s new, oak-handled sluice board controls. Right: Adamsville Pond is fully filled with November 2007 rains.
It is impossible for this encapsulation of events to fully describe the many years of time and money spent in research and negotiation to produce the ultimate success of this restoration project. That’s a story for another day!
Some funding was obtained from NRCS of the United States Department of Agriculture.
Source: Some information obtained from Jason Ringler, Wetlands Biologist, Natural Resource Services, Inc.
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