Drive-In archeology

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The Native American statue over Endicott Rock looks out over the Weirs Channel on Friday. (Alan MacRae for The Laconia Daily Sun)

Weirs Drive-in site is one of best in state for archeological study


LACONIA — A look at the deserted Weirs Drive-In Theatre on a sunny afternoon reveals an expanse of cracked blacktop, four movie screens, an aging snack bar, boats stored along the periphery and the blue water of Lake Winnipesaukee in the distance.

But unseen below the blacktop is what puts this land in the top rank of archeological sites in New Hampshire, State Archeologist Richard A. Boisvert said.

The drive-in has been here since 1948, but the land was heavily used by Native Americans for almost 10,000 years. The tools used by these people and perhaps even some of their skeletal remains could be beneath the ground.

Al Mitchell had agreed to acquire the 12.5 acre drive-in property for $2.5 million but backed out amid uncertainty over the expense and complication of archeological exploration and recovery that would be required as a condition for redeveloping the area.

The duration and extent of this archeological work won't become clear until building plans are produced. Testing would be done at various places at the site to determine through consultation with state officials how much archeological excavation would be necessary. Archeological investigation of construction sites can get complicated, as developers often need to employ specialists to sift through excavated material.

Sometimes, sites have been so disturbed through previous construction work that artifacts that were once there have been destroyed.

Mitchell had planned as many as 80 condominiums, together with shops and other commercial development.

Previous archeological explorations in the general area have found extensive evidence of ancient encampments, Boisvert said.

“It doesn't take a lot of imagination to realize what an attractive place this would be to Native Americans, a mouth of a lake with fish coming through,” he said.

“A weir is a fence in a river to channel fish into a spot where you can take them. They would roast them, dry them, eat them. It was well known in the historic period, with reports that 200 canoes' worth of Native Americans went there to take the fish.”

Shad, which spend much of their life in the Atlantic Ocean, and return to freshwater in the spring to spawn were hugely abundant until modern times when dams interfered with their yearly runs. Salmon and eel were also plentiful.

The native Abenaquis, members of the Penacook tribe, used the fishing village.

Paul Pouliot, council chief and speaker for the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook/Abenaki People, said a complicating factor in any development of the area is the likelihood that burials took place there.

“It fits the profile for a burial ground,” he said. “It is on high grounds, has the right soils and the right exposure. It’s a very sacred site. It is our people, our ancestors. If anything is uncovered, there are serious issues to deal with.”

He said that when remains are found, they are studied to determine their age and if they are thought to be those of a Native American, they are reburied in a spiritual ceremony. Any discovery of religious artifacts, including pipes, would be of particular interest.

Charles Bolian, a retired University of New Hampshire professor, did archeological excavation at Weirs Beach in the 1970s. He found ancient tool kits, projectile points and scraping implements. Long, manmade stone rods were also found. They may have been used as files, but their exact purpose remains a mystery. Some of the items were nearly 10,000 years old.

He didn’t find any human remains, which often hold up poorly in New Hampshire soil conditions.

“If you did find human remains, it would make the site more important,” Bolian said. “A burial site could show indications of religious activity and would bring up a whole set of issues.”

Boisvert, the state archeologist, said the Weirs Beach area is truly special.

“Here you have the largest lake in New England funneling out through a channel,” he said. “This is most unusual. Things were happening there that didn't happen elsewhere. Was it a major gathering place where people came from great distance to socialize and exchange goods? Did its importance change over time?”

The earliest evidence of human presence in the area started after the end of the last ice age.

Some of the tools that have been found, including axes and gouges used to make dugout canoes, seem to date from the time when forests returned to the area after glaciers receded. Pottery and bone fish hooks have also been found.

Although thousands of artifacts have been discovered in the area over the decades, there is still much to be learned.

Modern scientific techniques allow for microscopic and trace analysis that can shed light, for example, on what was cooked in an ancient pot. Tools can be examined to determine how they were used.

“We have new techniques to study archeological materials we didn't have five years ago,” Boisvert said. “We have the opportunity to bring to bear new science and technology to answer the questions of just exactly what were they eating, what time of year were they present, how they lived. You often need to get artifacts fresh out of the ground for this sort of thing.”

One mystery is where those who populated the fishing village in the warm-weather months went in the winter.

“Indicators are very scarce,” Boisvert said. “Some people say they went to the Seacoast, or that they may have dispersed into small hunting camps for moose and deer and other animals that were amenable to being stalked and taken by lone hunters. They may have also gone to river areas that take longer to freeze and were able to catch the odd fish or aquatic bird.”

Boisvert said he and his colleagues will closely monitor what happens with the site.

The Weirs was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 as a major Native American archeological site.

”I would say this is one of the most important remaining archeological sites in the state,” he said.

weirs dig 1977

This is a "stratigraphic profile" of the Weirs Beach dig, as shown in the book "The Archeology of New Hampshire: Exploring 10,000 years in the Granite State," by David R. Starbuck. (Courtesy photo)


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A storage trailer and the projection booth at the Weirs Drive-in Theatre border a small visual opening to Weirs Bay from the drive-in parking lot. (Alan MacRae for The Laconia Daily Sun)


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Jessica Conrad, drug counselor

With new school year, student adviser is busier than ever


LACONIA — Drug and alcohol counselor Jessica Conrad has been busy since the start of the school year.

Jessica ConradShe spends four days a week at the high school and one at the middle school, educating young people about the danger of substance abuse and imparting knowledge about life skills that could prevent drug use.

Conrad presides over sessions in health classes that provide instruction about drug, alcohol and substance abuse, adolescent brain changes, stress management, healthy and unhealthy coping skills, family and relationship stress and succeeding in environments where there is history of addiction in a family.

“Students may be of higher risk if there is addiction in the family, if they have transferred into the district and if they have mental health issues, including anxiety and depression,” she said. “These groups tend to be at more risk of using. Most of the time, drug or alcohol use is the result of something going on mental health-wise. They don't have the coping skill and they'll use a drug to not feel something.”

Health teachers provide a unit of instruction on mental health, drugs and alcohol. The students also have access to a health and wellness coordinator who teaches relaxation skills, mindfulness and breathing exercises.

Conrad also presides over gatherings in which outside speakers, experts and peers talk about addiction and recovery.

The last week of October will be “Red Ribbon Week,” which promotes a healthy, substance-free lifestyle. The ribbons will raise awareness about substance abuse and serve as a symbol that the wearer has taken a pledge against taking drugs.

There will be a poster contest and tulips will be planted as a symbol of hope. There will also be an alcohol awareness month and a homecoming event around the theme of having fun without using substances.

This is Conrad's fourth year at the high school, which also has a mental health counselor this year.

She meets with students individually and in groups geared toward high-risk populations, including students new to the district, those dealing with grief and people with family members who have overdosed.
Behavioral problems can be an early indicator of the potential for substance abuse.

“Anybody who gets in trouble in the building, those kids get referred to me for counseling,” she said.

She has seen a lot of students with issues already this year.

“We've had a lot of referrals first thing,” she said. “This year's been busy. People at school are becoming more and more aware and are recognizing when kids are using.”

Other times, young people approach her directly and ask for help.

“I love working in the schools,” she said. “I get more information about students than if I were just to see them in my office.”

High school and middle school are stressful times for many students.

“For this community, there is so much going on,” she said. “It's nice that they can come and talk to me and they don't have to worry. I am somebody to trust.”

Conrad said she did an internship in drug and alcohol counseling while attending New England College, and decided this could be a career path for her.

Then, on Oct. 22, 2010, her brother-in-law, who was in pain from a back injury, took some fentanyl left over from medical treatment of a late grandparent. He was also drinking beer. He never woke up.

“He was 25 years old and had his whole life ahead of him,” she told students at an assembly about drug use. “That was something that never needed to happen. It wasn’t his intention to die. That’s something that impacted his whole family for the rest of our lives. He will never be there to be an uncle to my little girl.”

The Laconia School Board on Tuesday had a first reading of a policy on teaching about alcohol, drugs and tobacco use.

Superintendent Brendan Minnihan said the policy codifies procedures that are already ongoing in the district.

The policy calls for the students and parents to get information about drug and alcohol counseling, including a list of counselors and treatment resources.

“The district shall provide age and developmentally appropriate drug and alcohol education to pupils based upon the needs of the pupils and the community, as a component of the kindergarten through grade 12 health education program,” the policy states. “An evidence-based prevention program, approved by the superintendent, may be used for this purpose.”

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Belmont police face teen problems


BELMONT — Police have been responding to a number of juvenile complaints recently and, in one case last week, a 15-year-old was charged with being a habitual runaway.

Lt. Richard Mann said many teenagers are reported as being beyond their parents’ control and, in some instances, they repeatedly run away from home. When a teen runs away three times or more, the statutes call for police to charge them as habitual runaways, and they are arrested and serviced through the juvenile court system.

Juvenile cases remain confidential, and name of the 15-year-old, who was charged on Sept. 15, is kept anonymous.

In another case on Sept. 15, police charged a 17-year-old with two counts of simple assault.

In other police activity, Holly L. Sylvester, 49, of 19 Appleton St., Laconia, was charged on Sept. 15 with displaying a false inspection or registration sticker.

Police on Sept. 17 arrested Krystal Rogers, 35, of 273 Riverside Drive, Campton, on a theft warrant from the Plymouth Police Department.

Police on Sept. 20 charged Ralph Charles Alexander Sr., 58, of 12 Rural Drive, Franklin, with criminal trespass after a property manager reported that Alexander was not supposed to be on the premises.

Also on Sept. 20, police arrested Rachael Mount, 40, of 210 Endicott St. North, Laconia, on a domestic disturbance warrant out of Franklin District Court.


  • Written by Tom Caldwell
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