A Berlin MD ‘History Mystery’!

I need to talk to an old person, a very old person…ideally a native with a clear memory to help solve a little mystery!

Newly retired, May of 1998 found us moving to Berlin from ‘the other side’. We chose this lovely, quiet (at that time) town to pursue our various avocations; woodworking and certainly my passion, gardening. Our chosen home on West Street was just four years old at the time of purchase. Believing it to be suitably maintenance-free, or at least without imminent need of costly repairs, we gleefully proceeded to play in the dirt…aka build a favored, natural garden.

It was in the making of the garden that the ‘history mystery’ began. No novice to using a shovel…I found nowhere to dig out front (street-side) – blade met concrete within 4”. HUH? Careful probing revealed large, irregularly chunky pieces (broken foundation sized) closely scattered throughout the area. Planting anything beyond simple ground cover often proved a mostly noisy (%&#$) adventure in frustrating excavation. Finally, I asked my nearest neighbors – John and Barb. Having lived here many years before our property was subdivided, they told us that this was the site of ‘the old sawmill’ – though remembered to be located nearer to the railroad tracks – at least 200’ from the road. Visions of a sawmill had me thinking a wooden building – but this was concrete we were meeting in the front.

We persevered, placing young trees and bushes in a pleasing design, adding a few bulbs and topping the soil with plenty of mulch and a spreading ground-covers. We declared, ‘digging done for now’!

Not so…one of the earliest major issues with this supposedly new, problem-free house was the WET crawl space. After a rain we had a lake, during a dry period we had a marsh. Our first remedy was to dig a ‘French drain’ – a long, deep trench, installing perf pipe, back-filled with stone, covered with builder’s paper – parallel to the foundation. It was during this process that more ‘history mystery’ began to appear. One day Mike came across brick…not just random bricks, but a brick sidewalk laid in an intricate herringbone pattern about 12” to14” down. Anyone who has created a patio or sidewalk in this pattern knows this is NOT a random act. This prompted more ‘HUH’? Puzzled, though wanting to get on with our project we removed the blocking bricks and completed the drain. By the way, it didn’t solve the problem – due to the WETNESS below we soon found our duct work to be filled with black mold. Our problem-free home with crawl space underwent major rehabilitation – including new duct work, new hvac system, new barrier, dry wrap system and an ever, running, sump pump.

OK, OK – enough! Our gardens continue to progress, despite meeting occasional, annoying obstacles.

However, it wasn’t until yesterday when we received a large order from an online garden site that the ‘history mystery’ reappeared.

Anticipating the need to get 25 new asparagus crowns into the soil out back, Mike had pre-tilled to a depth of 8”. However, the included planting instructions recommended the trench to be dug to a depth of at least 12”. Out came the shovel…and more of that beautiful herringbone patterned sidewalk was encountered – more than 20’ from where the French drain left off.

What was here? What preceded the sawmill? There must have been a lovely home to have such a fashionably laid sidewalk of such length…

We’ve been given several explanations – perhaps there was an old brick factory in Berlin. I don’t know. Do you?

Can anyone help solve our little ‘history mystery’?

If you have an answer, please ‘click’ on this post title…a comment box will appear.  We’d love to hear your response.  Thanks!