GARDINER — The white container that sits in front of Chapman Fuel at the corner of Bridge and Water streets is the latest sign that change is coming to that busy intersection.

By the middle of March, the businesses, including a garage and vehicle sales, that have been run from the site of the gas station Dan Chapman’s father built in 1946, a year before he was born, have to be out.

“It’s a good location,” Chapman said. “That’s my biggest problem.”

The high visibility corner for the family businesses now sits next to a heavily traveled route for southbound tractor-trailers that have a hard time negotiating the intersection’s tight confines when making the turn west toward interstates 95 and 295 from Bridge Street, which is also Route 201, onto Water Street, which is also routes 126 and 9.

The Maine Department of Transportation has acquired the lot through eminent domain as part of a construction project to replace both the Bridge Street and Maine Avenue bridges. As part of the project, the intersection in front of Chapman’s building will be expanded to accommodate westbound traffic. And to do that, part of the Chapman property will be needed.

“It’s obvious we need to rebuild the bridge; there’s no two ways about it,” Chapman, 72, said.

But to make that happen, he will lose the building that sits on the property, about a third of an acre, at 2 Bridge St. The office for Chapman Fuel Inc. will move across Water Street to a location next to the U.S. Cellular store, the trucks will be parked at the fuel depot on Highland Avenue and the garage will close.

Danny Chapman washes the fuel trucks he and his brother, Greg, utilize to deliver heating oil at their downtown Gardiner shop on Feb. 6. Chapmans has been selling chainsaws, repairing cars and delivering heating oil for more than 50 years from the building, but it will be demolished to make way for construction on Bridge Street. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

“We will continue with the fuel business. I really do enjoy it,” Chapman said. “I’ve always dealt with the public. I’ve developed relationships with most of my customers. We’re on a first-name basis.”

Over the last two years, representatives from the Department of Transportation and its consulting engineers have been meeting with members of Gardiner’s Bridge Advisory Committee and with residents in a series of committee and public meetings. As the plans have taken shape, they have reviewed  the logistics of closing down two heavily used routes in Gardiner and routing traffic around the work area while accommodating the restrictions of building over a stream.

As part of this project, the state Department of Transportation already bought the Dennis’ Pizza building, located 0n the east side of Bridge Street right next to Cobbosseecontee Stream, and tore it down a year ago this month.

The construction project is not expected to affect the A1 Diner, which stands on the east side of the bridge just south of where Dennis’ Pizza stood and is part of Gardiner’s downtown historic district. Diner owner Aaron Harris has said he expects the diner to remain open through most of the construction, but he plans a 30-day closure for a planned kitchen renovation if access to the building is still possible.

Earlier this month, the Department of Transportation awarded the bid for the project to Reed & Reed for $12.6 million, Ted Talbot, spokesman for the department, said via email Friday.

And now progress on that project is driving changes for Chapman.

Angie Anderson laughs at her partner, Danny Chapman, in the shop the family operates Feb. 6 in downtown Gardiner. Anderson manages the heating oil business from the building, where chainsaws are sold and a garage is operated on Bridge Street. Construction work to repair Bridge Street in the spring of 2019 will be relocating the business, which has been a popular gathering spot, after 50 years. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

“The DOT sent me a letter in the latter part of January saying on Feb. 4 they were taking control of the property,” Chapman said Friday while delivering heating oil in Gardiner. “I didn’t respond to the letter, but it still happened.”

He was also told he has to be out of the property by March 1, but he managed to have the date moved to March 15 in deference to the winter heating season, which is still going strong.

“June 1 would have been better,” he said.

As soon as the weather allows, Chapman said the contents of the garage will be packed up and stored off-site. He won’t be able to take the lift, which is embedded in the cement floor of the garage.

“I could have sold the garage business to some young guy, and he would have done quite well,” Chapman said. “It’s a great location. I have been trying to explain to them it’s the location they are destroying. We haven’t seen eye to eye on that yet.”

Chapman said he was offered $73,000 for the building and what he calls its front yard. The city of Gardiner lists the assessed value of the entire property at $130,900.

When the bridge project is completed, Chapman said the property, minus the building and the turning lane, will be returned to him. He’s not sure now whether he would or could build on it; an engineer he consulted said replacing the building he has now may cost $260,000 to $300,000.

When Chapman’s father built the Esso gas station in 1946, the corner of Bridge and Water streets was already busy. Historic postcards show, in the middle decades of the 20th century, the factory that housed the Gardiner Shoe Company just west of the gas station stood six stories tall. The city’s paper companies were in operation, as were other manufacturing operations.

“It was a bustling town,” Chapman said. “Friday night was a big night. I worked till 9 at the gas station. Men would be out by their cars (on Water Street) shooting the breeze, and women would be shopping. We never will see that again.”

 

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632
[email protected]
Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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