HALLOWELL — Hallowell historian Sam Webber is convinced there are artifacts and pieces of history buried deep under Water Street, so when the Maine Department of Transportation reconstructs the busy corridor next year, everybody will have a chance to find out.

During a meeting to brainstorm ways to promote Hallowell during next year’s construction period, Webber proposed hosting “What’s Under the Street” archaeological digs, which would especially benefit children during both the school year and the summer.

“Things found under the road will be assembled into a pop-up museum downtown,” Webber said. “Hopefully, artifacts will span the many years of commerce on Water Street and will give students and adults a visual example of our past.”

Trolley tracks from an old trolley line built in the late 19th century were discovered during the construction of the Quarry Tap Room’s outdoor patio last year. The historian thinks there are sure be some interesting things, including more trolley tracks, found under the busy road that will help link Hallowell’s present and future to the city’s past.

“I think there will be scattered pieces of this and that of interest once the construction workers reach the original gravel surface,” he said via email. “There were years of commerce and surface disruptions on Water Street when the storm drains were constructed and trolley tracks were laid in 1890.”

City officials have discussed running high-speed internet lines under the road during construction, but City Manager Nate Rudy said nothing is official.

One of the things the state hopes to fix during the project, which includes reconstructing an approximately 2,000-foot stretch of the road, is the exaggerated crown in the middle of the busy street.

As part of brainstorming creative ways to keep spirits high and keep people coming to the city during the construction period, the Hallowell Arts and Cultural Committee discussed “crowning” a Hallowell prince and princess to be unofficial mascots for the city while construction takes place.

The committee held two public brainstorming sessions and is moving forward with plans to hold community events throughout next year’s reconstruction period, which the state has said will begin in April and end sometime in October.

“We’re forming the universe of ideas for what we want to focus on, and we’re looking for ways to clarify that message to everybody,” Rudy said. “If somebody has a good idea, we want them to bring it forward now.”

At the second meeting, the ideas from the first meeting were split into six categories — marketing, logistics, funding, education, arts, and community and events. Clio Barr, a Bates College student interning for the city this summer, said people found what they were interested in and formed groups and subcommittees to continue with the process.

“The next steps are for committees to meet on their own and pick one event to start planning,” Barr said.

Deb Fahy, the chairwoman of the Arts and Cultural Committee, said one of the best ideas has been around since the first brainstorming meeting in 2014. She said it started out as a paint-the-street block party where people can use paint and chalk art directly on the road the weekend before the project breaks ground.

“As more people get involved, it’s starting to sound like a bigger, city-wide party down Water Street in the true spirit of Hallowell,” she said via email. “We’ll invite Maine DOT staff and the contractors and it’ll be a great opportunity for everyone to meet each other at the very beginning.”

Other ideas include a construction song contest, arts contests, waterfront tours, construction equipment demonstrations for children and a dine-in-the-street or Taste of Hallowell event.

Barr said there were about 20 people at the second meeting and everyone was engaged in the process.

“There’s definitely enthusiasm and interest in coming together to make this work,” she said. “It’s happening, so what can we do to make it better?”

Hallowell already has a lot going on in the summer, including Tuesday night’s Rock on the River concert series, the Old Hallowell Day celebration in July, gallery openings and events in restaurants and other businesses. Rudy said it makes sense to do more to make sure people remember Hallowell is open for business even if parts of Water Street are closed.

“Why not add to the great stuff that’s already happening and give people more reason to come to downtown Hallowell next year?” he said.

Barr said the hope is that subcommittees will meet sometime in July to “keep the momentum going” and then the big group will convene sometime in August to check everyone’s progress. Rudy said getting everyone on the same page is a challenge, but it’s something everybody is working toward because the city can’t do it alone.

“It’s challenging to get everyone together around one idea, which is why this group is meeting now,” he said. (They’ll) see what kind of enthusiasm there is to be a part of it.”

He said the groups need to weigh the pros and cons of each idea and determine how realistic each one is, and it’s important to make sure there is enough of a commitment to see the idea through.

Community interaction and engagement, in addition to events and contests, will be key during the construction period. Barr said the arts and cultural committee has a lot of online engagement on its Facebook page, and the plan is to use that as a way to communicate during construction.

“We will post a lot on there and take advantage of their (reach),” she said. “I would expect the Hallowell Board of Trade to post things on their page, too.”

Barr said they’ll use Twitter and Instagram to share information, and there have been discussions about putting up a banner over Water Street. She said the group hopes to have an informational booth at this year’s Old Hallowell Day July 15.

Rudy said everything is on the table when it comes to marketing and advertising that Hallowell will be open for business despite the road being closed.

“There’s a group of people starting to put together a (marketing) framework and what those messages will be,” he said.

Susan MacPherson was one of the organizers of the recent brainstorming sessions and said it’s never too late for people to get involved in these efforts. She hopes the hard work of the committees will be a morale booster for Hallowell residents and a way to attract people to come to Hallowell during the construction period.

“We hope to build on the sense of community that is already very strong in Hallowell to help each other get through this temporary inconvenience,” she said. “While we’re doing this, we hope to remind people that Hallowell will be open for business and the minor nuisances created by the re-construction are no reason to stay away.”

Rudy made sure to give credit to the people of Hallowell for their tireless efforts and understanding and patience leading up to next year’s reconstruction. The people of Hallowell are very interested in, and have been a good steward of, the city’s historical assets, Rudy said.

“There’s a lot of history under that street,” Rudy said.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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