NEWBURYPORT — A pre-Colonial wharf remnant unearthed during the renovation of the wastewater treatment plant last year has returned home to a hero’s welcome.
The seemingly non-descript piece of wood, buried for decades under a 4-foot layer of mud and fill along the city’s waterfront, was introduced to a crowd of about 80 guests who turned out to the Custom House this month for a celebration of its return.
And it looked a sight better than it did one year ago, when the city stumbled upon it as it was rebuilding the plant, and lifted it piece by piece from a goopy mix of river water, fill and environmentally tainted soil in hopes of learning something from it.
Unveiled at its new home at the Custom House, it doesn’t look like much at first glance, but the 45-inch piece of preserved pitch pine is the only surviving evidence of the network of wharves that once lined our city’s shores before America’s War of Independence.
If one looks closely, visible are the markings made upon the wood by an 18th century saw, and the trunnels that show where the remnant once joined with another in a manner used early on in America’s history. One begins to imagine how this small piece of wood served an important purpose.
“Once it’s pointed out, you can see some of the construction techniques,” explained Custom House curator Kevin MacDonald. “For example, it has a lap joint cut into it — two pieces of timber joined together at right angles — that would have been the construction of the actual wharf at one point. You can see a trunnel — a hole and a peg that would have nailed the two together — the remains of that are on there. And you can see some tool marks from a saw where you can see it was cut with a hand tool as opposed to a steam tool. This gives you an idea of its date.”