BELLOWS FALLS -- Annette Spaulding has been scuba diving in the Connecticut River for more than 30 years and she loves the peace and beauty she finds when she is exploring the world below the surface of the water.
She loves the challenge of maintaining her equipment and diving safely, she loves the silence under water and she loves witnessing the fish and aquatic life that live in the river.
But what she really loves is the thrill of the hunt.
There are hundreds of years worth of history sitting at the bottom of the Connecticut River and every time Spaulding jumps into the water she prepares herself for discovering something special.
That's what happened last week when she and three other area divers were exploring the river near Bellows Falls.
Sitting in the mud, just below the Bellows Falls hydroelectric station, the four divers found two 3,500-pound mill stones which were likely used in the paper mills that once stood on the banks of the Connecticut River in Bellows Falls.
On the day the divers discovered the stones a construction crew was working along the banks, building a walkway for the new Bellows Falls Historic Riverfront Park and Trail System.
Within an hour an excavator dragged the two massive stones out of the muck and now they are standing on the banks of the river and likely will become part of the interpretive historical trail system that is being built.
"This is why we dive, to find something like this," Spaulding said this week while standing near the stones. "This is part of the history of Bellows Falls and I love discovering that history."
Last week Spaulding was diving with John Ferrier, Hans Hug, and David Cunningham, who are all members of the North Shore Frogmen's Club, a diving club based in Salem, Mass.
She says the area just below the Bellows Falls Hydroelectric Station can be very challenging to dive in because of the turbulent current that is created as the river water rushes through the hydro station and rocky falls.
She had tried to dive there in the past, but the conditions then were not good, and last week when the divers arrived the water was perfect, she says.
Spaulding is a member of the Bellows Falls Historical Society and she said historic documents show that workers at the paper mills used to roll the massive mill stones into the river when the stones were damaged or no longer usable.
The enormous mill stones were used to crush wood pulp, and according to historic accounts, many of the pulp stones were carved out of huge pieces of rock by skilled craftsmen.
About 15 years ago she found a smaller mill stone in the area, and she had been searching for other remains from Bellows Falls' historic past.
The find was accentuated by the fact that the construction crews were on hand to haul the stones out of the river.
National Grid donated the land along the river to the historical society, and grants from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Windham Regional Commission, Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation and TransCanada, have allowed the historical society to begin construction on the riverfront park, which has been in the planning since 2001.
The Bellows Falls Historical Society eventually hopes to develop walking trails, green space, river access and interpretive displays along the seven-acre river front property.
An access road and related sidewalks and curbing were completed during phase one and phase two, which the crews are working on now, should be done in September.
After the diver discovered the stones they talked with the machine operators on the shore.
The divers went back down and attached cables to the stones and the excavator dredged them out of the river.
Spaulding said there are undiscovered treasures up and down the river, and she said she can't wait for the next time she dives back in.
"It's so exciting to find something that hasn't been seen for maybe one hundred years," she said. "If we don't find stuff like this it might never be seen again. I love the Connecticut River."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.