Crews at a worksite in the New Brunswick town of St. Stephen have found the remains of a long forgotten soap factory - once a big industry in the U.S. border area.

A collection of milling stones was unearthed this month at the construction site of St. Stephen’s new civic centre.

“We got down to…about eight metres in the ground when we got the last ones out. They were way down. They’d been there for some time,” says project manager Kingsley Bailey. “They were in the heavy compacted clay at the bottom.”

Bailey says the area was once home to the St. Croix Soap Manufacturing Company, which was founded in the 1880s by the Ganong Brothers - the same brothers who went into the candy-making business a few years earlier.

The company made Surprise Soap which was marketed across Canada and in the United States and was a big seller for decades. The plant closed in 1946.

The mill stones that were discovered by the workers are believed to have been used to grind soap ingredients that were shipped to St. Stephen from around the world.

However, soap manufacturing wasn’t the only business in St. Stephen at the time. The Milltown Cotton Mill also dated back to the 1880s and at one time 1,000 people were on the payroll.

The industrial history of St. Stephen is similar to that of many other Maritime communities. Huge factories once employed hundreds of people for generations, but eventually those factories left town and took the jobs with them.

Mayor John Ames says they may use the mill stones in the new building.

“Even replicating it in the civic centre, or a little display showing what was here at one time, or what we found in the process of building the civic centre would be nice,” says Ames.

Since being unearthed, the sandstone is showing signs of decay and crumbling, so officials are also working on a method of preserving the soap, making artefacts for future generations to see.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Mike Cameron