The Story of Mont Vernon’s Granite Harvest

This retaining wall/foundation for the Lamson Farm Barn is made of field stones, stones that were used in their existing shape.

Our little town is blessed with many Historic buildings, all of which were built on foundations made up of field stones found on or near the building site. Some of these foundations are topped with the smooth sided solid granite blocks that just ooze with Yankee stability. We associate stone blocks like these with quarries. But the quarries closest to Mont Vernon are down in Milford, a hefty haul for such weighty freight. Where did the farmers who settled here get all this granite? The answer to this question tells a little story that begins with the evolution of stone splitting in young America’s northeast and ends with a lesson in granite values.

Act 1: A Quick Splitting History

Without a doubt, the first New England colonists found more stone than they ever could have wished for. Most of it was broken up and spread around by the last ice age. The first colonial stonecutters didn’t bother prying granite loose from New England’s bedrock. Instead, they tackled glacial erratics, prioritizing the ones with close proximity to the actual building site. First, they would build a fire on the boulder, to heat up the rock. Before it could cool, they would drop a heavy iron ball on the hot spot to split it. If it wasn’t possible to build a fire on or near the rock, the stone cutter might drill a big, deep hole and fill it with gun powder, blasting the rock into smaller bits. Effective, but not very exact. Both methods required hitting the resulting pieces with a variety of big hammers until the proper shape was obtained. In the 1750s, one of the first stone buildings in Boston, the King’s Chapel, utilized stones that were shaped this way… a rather inefficient and labor intensive way to turn pesky boulders into useful building material. The colonists needed a better way to obtain cut stone.

A 1900’s photo of King’s Chapel originally built in 1688, the wooden building was replaced with this stone Chapel in the 1750s. The stone building was once a unique sight in a sea of wooden Bostonian buildings.

We may never know who actually invented the “better way” but we do know the man who brought it to the fore. His name was Edward Robbins.

6th Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts
In office
1802–1806

In 1803, the state of Massachusetts needed to build a new prison, but the cost of materials was prohibitive. Robbins was tasked with the job of finding cheaper stone. In his travels, he noticed a building in Salem made of stone split in a manner that was new to him. After inquiring about the stonecutter, he eventually found a Mr. Tarbox of Danvers. Tarbox used what would become known as the Flat Wedge method: a row of slots was cut into the stone with a Cape Chisel, then flat wedges sandwiched between two shims were pounded into the openings to create a split with smooth faces. Robbins brought Tarbox back to teach his team of stonecutters. This proved to be a much more efficient way to create stone blocks, and reduced the cost of building materials by a whopping 60%. The technique was fairly easy to learn, and the tools could be created in any smithy shop. Naturally, word quickly spread, soon stone cutters everywhere were working with Cape Chisels and wedges.

Less than two decades later, the technology was improved again. Instead of slots, a line of round holes were drilled for nail sized wedges with an iron feather on either side. Then it was a matter of tapping each of the wedges until the rock split as before. The advantage being that the holes for this method could be placed farther apart, reducing overall drilling and saving even more time and money. Referred to as “Plug and Feathers” or “Feathers and Wedges”, this technique spread like wild fire and continues to be used today. The drills may have improved, but the hammers, plugs and feathers are exactly the same!

Note the trapezoidal shape to the slot carved by the Cape Chisel. These marks are not as common as the finger shaped holes drilled for Feathers and Wedges.
The perspective of this illustration is turned 90 degrees from the previous illustration. While we get a good look at the “feathers” used for both techniques, we cannot see that the width of the wedge would have been similar to the length of the slot carved by the Cape chisel.

(The concepts presented so far were found on these pages: Stone Structures, Stone Splitting Methods, Granite Splitting Tools and Techniques, Stone Quarries and Beyond, Harvard Magazine, King’s Chapel Boston)

Click here to see a video made in 2019. A man uses feathers and wedges to split a large stone into 3 slices. (Zoom a head to 3 minutes to catch the splitting action.)

The fantastic upshot to all of this is that the shape of the splitting holes can help date when a particular stone was split. There were no round finger-sized drill holes before 1820 (or there abouts). To give this theory a test, I went out to check the foundation stones used for Mont Vernon’s South Schoolhouse turned residence, and found evidence of both techniques!

The school house was originally built in 1812 by Jesse Trow. It was probably one of the first buildings made with wood from his newly constructed saw mill. In the following years, the building fell into disuse, or perhaps it burned. Whatever the case, it was rebuilt and a dedication held on June 17th, 1884 (1907 Mont Vernon Town History, p. 74) These splits may show that the stone was originally worked before 1820 (Cape chisel marks) then reworked for the “new” building in 1884 (round feathers and wedges holes). But there are no granite quarries on our hilltop, nor will there ever be. Milford is too far away for hauling granite. So where did these foundation stones come from? To find the answer, I looked to the Trow Saw mill.

Act 2: Schist vs. Granite in the Old Trow Mill

The fact is, our town is full of schist… which is about as structural as it sounds. We may be proud of the Granite State, but it is less than half granite. Most of New Hampshire’s crust is schist or gneiss (thank you Wikipedia).

Examples of schist in our yard. Lots of big pink or white crystals, some black mica… interesting to look at, but not ideal for building long lasting structure.

Milford’s famous granite was formed when gigantic balloons or plutons of magma rose up from earth’s depths, broke through the schist and cooled. No such plutons in Mont Vernon, however, yet look at the amount of granite used to make the Trow Saw Mill!

Trow Saw Mill as it looked on June 18, 2022. Whether it is still part of a wall, or taking up space in Hartshorn brook, the granite used to construct this mill will be here for centuries.

The ledger for the Trow Sawmill begins recording the business of the farm and the mill in 1811. Jesse Trow would have been 23, his farther Joseph would have been well into his 60’s. It is likely that the two of them worked together to build the mill. They used the materials that were on hand, lots and lots of field stones… much of it, schist. Over the next 55 years, the family probably noticed the schist stones cracking and breaking from the weight of the stones above them. There may have been some repairs or improvements made because of this over time.

Schist over time: in the construction of what may be the oldest wall in the mill, small stones were used to shim gaps between rocks and keep them from, well, rocking… The small stone is crumbling under the weight of the bigger stones, which also show signs of cracking, breaking, and shifting.

Then came the famous Freshet of 1869. Torrential downpours intensified by the slope of our hill resulted in a flood of water that wreaked particular havoc along the Hartshorn and Ceasar brooks. The event was noteworthy enough to get several mentions in our 1907 Town History book, “October 3, 1869:   There had been no rain of any consequence for nearly three months. Seven or eight inches of water fell October 3d and 4th, doing a great amount of damage, entirely destroying the mill of Arthur A. Trow and Daniel W. Trow in the southerly part of town.” (p. 50).

The top of the east wall is graced with split granite blocks, but the bottom is constructed with field stone, some of which may be granite… but most is pretty schisty. This is probably the only part of the original mill that survived the Freshet of 1869.

The Trow brothers wasted no time. Like their forefathers in and around Boston a century before, they began harvesting the granite glacial erratics delivered to their area by the bountiful ice age, only now they were empowered with Cape Chisels, Plug drills and countless wedges and feathers. Imagine the crew it took, splitting stone all winter and transporting it to the devastated mill site where they stacked and shimmed each block!

Venture up the wooded hillside to the west of the old logging road and keep an eye out. It will not be long before you find evidence of huge boulders being split. There is so much left in the woods, it is hard to fathom all the time wasted drilling and splitting these rejected stones.
The free standing pier is only one or two solid blocks thick. At 15 feet, it has towered over the western side of Hartshorn brook for more than 150 years.
The mill walls on the western side (on the right) look to have been completely re-built with granite blocks, most are bearing the marks of feather’s and wedges, and some also feature the marks made by a Cape chisel.

One stone has marks alternating from one method to another… The marks tell us that it had to have been split after 1820. It also tells us that the stone cutters, at least on the day this one was split, were using both methods at the same time. (This may have happened on the South School house foundation as well.)

Note the split marks along the bottom of the top block. They alternate between 2 methods of splitting stone.
July 2022, looking upstream, or North on Hartshorn Brook. The west wall of the mill is made of granite blocks which are standing strong, 150 years and counting. The sagging east side is made of schist and has already started to collapse into the brook.

Harvesting granite from boulders was practiced by farmers throughout the north east. Next time you are hiking in the woods, keep half an eye out for splits caused by chiseled or drilled holes and wedges. If you find one, imagine where the rest of the stone might have ended up…

~~~~~~~~~~In Other News~~~~~~~~~~
We had a great group of folks show up for the first two MVHS Summer Events.

June 18th: Trow Mill Tour

This has been one of my favorite walks since I first discovered it as a little girl. Every time I hike this logging road, there is something new to think and learn about, it has inspired this month’s newsletter!

July 3rd: Lovejoy Quarry

We ended up using our rain date for this event, and the weather was amazing! Keith Trexler gave a great tour around the quarry that he has worked very hard to restore to the pristine condition it currently enjoys. Milford is known as the Granite Town in the Granite State and now we all know a lot more about how it earned that title! Thank You, Keith!!

Coming Soon…

MVHS Summer Event #3

~~~~~~~~~~Our Next Meeting~~~~~~~~~~
We like our MVHS meetings so much, we keep having them every month! The first Tuesday is the day we get the Selectman’s Meeting room on the first floor of Mont Vernon’s Town Hall, and we usually get things started at 7:00. Our next meeting is on Tuesday, July 5 and if you’re reading this, you’re invited to join! We’ve got a great group of history lovers, and we are always looking for more! As with all meetings since Covid, I attempt to host folks by Zoom as needed. I will send out a link to everyone on my email list on July 5th. If you are reading this without me emailing it to you, and would like to attend the meeting, send me your email address, I will be happy to include you!

~~~~~~~~~~Museum Hours~~~~~~~~~~
Our Museum on the Second Floor of Mont Vernon’s Town Hall will be open from 1:00 to 4:00 on Saturday, July 9th. There is ALWAYS something new to see in our museum, and our docents have loads of historical stories to relate, so please come on over and check it out!

MVHS Summer Events 2022

~~~~~~~~Mont Vernon’s Historical Society~~~~~~~~
is pleased to announce a
Series of Historical Events
that will happen throughout the Summer of 2022.

This year we are making history a feast for the senses… walk the land, listen to the environment, see the old architecture and get a sense of time travel as we explore the way things were before our time.

1………………………………..June 18: Trow Mill Tour (rain date June 19)
2…………………………….. July 2: Lovejoy Quarry Tour (rain date July 2)
3…………… July 16: Field trip to Fremont to tour their well preserved Meetinghouse
4……………………. August 20: Purgatory Grove Tour (rain date August 21)
5……………. September 10: Meetinghouse Presentation with Paul Wainwright
6…………………………. October 15: Cemetery Walk (rain date October 16)

The first 5 events are free, though donations are gratefully accepted and will be put to good use. You are welcome to attend as many as you like, the only requirement is that you let me know you are coming by sending me an email at annaszok@yahoo.com. When I receive an email from you, I will send you more details about the event, and answer any questions you might have. The Cemetery Walk will require a ticket purchase. Read on to learn more about these events!

~~~~~~~~June 18: Trow Saw Mill Tour~~~~~~~~

The Trow Saw Mill Tour group from 2021 explores an earthen dam, built as part of the water power works for the Trow Mill, and eventually, Wilkin’s Mill on Hartshorn Pond in Milford.


During this first event, we will explore part of the farm the Trow Family began working back when Mont Vernon was only a gleam in our forefather’s eyes. Jesse Trow, the first of the Trow family to be born here, originally built the mill. We do not have an exact date, but it’s a pretty good bet he did it before building the nearby School house in 1812, or his own family home in 1816. Participants will walk down the wonderfully rustic “Old Logging Road” past the Beaver Pond which was once a mill pond. We will see a “borrow pit” an earthen dam, the large foundation of the saw mill, and the shop ruins if we have time. On the way back, we’ll explore the source of all that granite used to build the mill. There are no granite quarries in Mont Vernon, what did farmers do? We’ll tell you all about it in June! (Rain date: June 19)

Read more about the Trow Mill here.

Read more about the Trow Family here.

We had a nice turnout for this tour last year! Hope the folks that had to miss out will be able to make it this year!!

~~~~~~~~July 2: Lovejoy Quarry Tour~~~~~~~~

The Treasury Building is in Washington DC, but the granite pillars came from
Milford, NH.
So many pillars….

OK, so our second summer event is in Milford and not in Mont Vernon, but it is still History, and a really fabulous tour! This is the quarry that provided the granite used to replace the failing sandstone pillars on our Treasury building down in DC. Keith Trexler has managed the quarry property for more than 20 years, and loves nothing more than sharing his knowledge about this quarry with all who are interested. Participants will learn about Granite Plutons, get a glimpse of the semi-functional Swenson Quarry, and get a general sense of the changing quarry culture over the last 100 years. Ever wonder why granite quarries faded away? Come on this tour to find out! (Rain date: July 3)

Click here to see pictures of the history, and how the quarry looks now!

~~~~~~~~July 16: Fremont Meetinghouse~~~~~~~~

Twin Porched Meetinghouse in Fremont, NH

Event number 3 was inspired by our 1906 Town History book which mentions a few of the changes that occurred when the Meetinghouse was moved across the street in 1837. At that time they did things like add another story under the building, and extend it with another that included a stairway and a bell tower. But it also mentions that they “removed the two porches”. Two porches? For years, I wondered about those porches. What did they look like? How were they used? Finally, I found what I think might be the answer. Someone posted pictures of the Fremont Meetinghouse on the Forgotten NH Facebook page, and called attention to the “twin porches” the building features. (The Fremont building is now one of only two twin porch meetinghouses still in existence. Back in the day, there were more than 80.) These were not the quiet, summer afternoon sort of porches that might come to our modern minds. In the 1700’s and early 11800’s, porches were added on to house a set of stairs on the east and west ends of the building! I spent an unspeakable amount of time shaking down the internet for all possible information about historic New England meeting houses, I’m afraid found a lot of frustration before stumbling across 2 amazing resources to share with you. The first is Matthew Thomas, an exemplary Town Historian who is the main drive behind the conservation of the Meetinghouse, and what a special place it is! Little has been changed over the last 200+ years of it’s existence, and yet it has been maintained well enough to be in excellent shape today. On this highly recommended tour, we’ll get a taste of what going to church was like 200 years ago!

Sally Benjamin Rorabacher takes the Fremont Meetinghouse pump organ for a spin, May 4, 2022

~~~~~~~~August 20: Purgatory Grove~~~~~~~~


Did you know Mont Vernon had a bowling alley? It was built near Purgatory’s upper falls… in the Woods! There was a dancehall, too… and an actual log cabin. The exact whereabouts for these buildings was almost lost, but in the Summer of 2021, the super sleuths of MVHS found evidence of their exact location, and I can’t wait to share it with you! For our fourth event, we will pinpoint the spots the late 1800’s/early 1900’s photographers used to photograph these buildings in their prime. And we will look for human alterations to the landscape to accommodate all this civilization while we consider the impact the Hotel industry had on a small, fading farm town. You can not get your full-fledged Mont Vernonite badge without coming to see one of the biggest tourist draws around! Mark your calendars for this one!! (Rain date: August 21)

You know you want to know more about this one! Check it out here…

~September 10: New England’s Colonial Meetinghouses and their Impact on American Society Presentation~

Mont Vernon’s Congregational church occupied the second floor of our Town Hall from 1837 to 1896. What did it look like before 1837? Paul Wainwright might give us a clue…

As I mentioned in the Fremont description, finding relevant information about old meetinghouses is challenging. There is not a lot out there… Paul Wainwright can relate. He fell in love meetinghouses when he began a project photographing them with his analog camera. He began to look for more information, and quickly became one of the most knowledgable resources around. For our fifth event, Paul will present his beautiful photographs in our very own Meetinghouse in September and discuss this iconic piece of New England history. He may even help us clear up some of the mystery about our own Town Hall!

If you are curious about Meetinghouse History, the internet will point you to Paul Wainwright over and over.
Paul explains himself in the first half of this video.

~~~~~~~~October 15: Cemetery Walk~~~~~~~~

Martha Dodge Trow
Born in 1746
Died in 1842

Good Day to you citizens of Mont Vernon. My name is Martha Dodge Trow. Father and I lived in Beverly, Massachusetts through the War of Independence. Then we removed ourselves and our ten children into a log cabin just before our Jesse was born in 1788. I lived long enough to see several generations of Trows raised on our homestead which lies within the southern district of the town. Farming in those days was a far cry from what you modern folk consider work. If you would like to learn more, why do you not come to the Cemetery where I will be joined by several other historical persons brought to life through the miraculous innovations of Mont Vernon’s Historical Society.

~~~~~~~~~~~In Other News~~~~~~~~~~~

If you are reading this, consider yourself invited to attend our next MVHS meeting! It will be held at 7:00 on Tuesday, June 6 in one of the most historical sites Mont Vernon has to offer, our Town Hall! We’ll be gathering in the Selectmen’s room which is on the first floor. However, I will also send out a Zoom link to everyone on our member list. Are you not a member? (Why not?! It’s so easy, and a total bargain at $20!) Just click here to send me your contact information. See you there!

~~~~~~~~~~~

~Museum: Got relatives coming in from out of town? Bring them on over to the Mont Vernon Museum and show them some locally grown culture.  You can’t beat the price (FREE), and the staff is just the tops!!  Put a visit here on YOUR summer bucket list!  This month the Museum will be open:

1:00 – 4:00 on Saturday, June 11 on the second floor of our Town Hall

Indians, Kings, Colonists, and a Turnpike: The Story of how Mont Vernon came to be…

On the hill, looking south, towards Milford.

How did you land in Mont Vernon? If you have ever lived in our little town, you have an answer to that question. It may be the one thing all 2584 of us have in common. But how was it that Mont Vernon landed here, on this hilly nook in New Hampshire? The story that answers that question is also the story of ow a variety of human populations connected to this land.

The people who first existed here sustained cultures that evolved with the landscape as it drifted from arctic tundra to woodland.  Not much is known about the Indigenous populations that treasured our hills, but they came here for hundreds, probably thousands of years.  As yet, we do not have exact dates of occupation, but we do have countless stoneworks they left behind.  And if we are lucky, we’ll learn more about these First Nations as interest and attention for their histories is growing fast.

Indians and Colonists… an uneasy coexistence.

Along about 1620, the first batch of Europeans successfully settled on New England’s rocky shores. The number of these newcomers relentlessly expanded, becoming a growing problem for the folks already living here. After fifty (or so) years of sharing the landscape, Metacom, a Wampanoag Chief (also know as King Philip) forged an alliance of like minded tribes and began a concerted effort to rid their ancestral land of Europeans once and for all. There were raids and ambushes with terrible losses on both sides.  Half of all the colonial towns in New England were attacked.  For 17 months, colonists had to defend themselves. Before it was over, they would lose 10% of their military aged men.

Metacom also known as King Philip

The New England Confederation declared war against King Philip and his allies in September of 1675 unleashing a series of sad events that would eventually prove to be pivotal in settling our part of New England. With war newly declared, there were growing concerns that the Native Americans were planning a spring onslaught. Governor Josiah Winslow gathered colonial militia and carried out a preemptive attack on a massive Narragansett and Wampanoag fortification in the Great Swamp in West Kingston, Rhode Island that December.  300 Native Americans, probably more, died horribly in an event that reads more like a massacre than a victory.  Even so, 45 years after the “Great Swamp Fight”, King George II felt compelled to reward these soldiers, or the families descended from them, with free land.

One might wonder why all this “valor” went unrewarded for nearly two generations. And why was it King George II who did the rewarding? He was not even born when the King Philips War occurred. Charles II was King of England at that time. After him came James II, William III, Queen Mary and finally, George I who ruled until he died in 1727, at which time George II came into power.

George II became King of England in 1727.

The new King George II found himself very rich in land, most of it “unsettled”, untaxed, and an ocean away. Unlike all those monarchs that came before him, George II mastered the technique of turning a bunch of useless, undeveloped land into a powerful asset. He gave it away. Family, friends, and anyone with whom he wished to strengthen connections received grants of land throughout the colonies. The grantees were so grateful, they happily made promises to develop and populate their land grants. What’s more, they were willing to show their gratitude and loyalty by paying tithes back to their king. And so, in 1733, six years into his reign, King George II created 7 tracts of unsettled land, each bearing the name Narragansett to honor those who had fought in the legendary Great Swamp Fight, and a whole slew of people got some “free” land of their own in New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts. From what I’ve read, it’s doubtful that George understood or cared much about the King Philips War or the Great Swamp Fight, but I imagine his act made some military leader happy. In any case, we can thank him for motivating Mont Vernon’s first recorded settlers, for they were some of the original proprietors of Narragansett Tract #3.

Credit for being the very first to arrive (according to the Mont Vernon and Amherst town history books) goes to Samuel Lamson and Samual Walton.  They received their grant in 1733 and managed to wait all of two years before leaving Reading, Massachusetts to build their log cabin on what was then the American Frontier.

Samuel Lamson is of particular interest to us, as the farm he created on what is now the north end of town is well on its way to being in existence for 300 years. If you had asked him in 1735 where his land grant was, Mr. Lamson would have answered by describing an area in Narragansett Township #3.  Twenty years later, when the township was broken in two, Samual’s farm became located in Souhegan West (as can be seen in the map above, just east of Salem Canada). In 1753, Samuel Lamson’s address changed again as Souhegan West became Amherst. All of this, and we still have not come to Mont Vernon, yet!

Besides the work of wrestling a rocky forest into a sustainable farm, the Samuels Lamson and Walton were also participating in the setting up of town infrastructure. A church on the town common was of utmost importance for religious and administerial purposes, as was a system of roads connecting it to the proprietors.  Mr. Lamson and his family would have traveled to that church on some of Mont Vernon’s first roads, including Old Amherst road. The trip was 6 miles long one way. He would die in 1779, two years shy of a much shorter commute to church. In 1781, the new Meeting House was completed, and the population in our area became known as the North West Parishioners of Amherst.

Looking north, Joe English is off to our right, the turnpike travels to a point on our left.

Big changes came with the completion the Second New Hampshire Turnpike in 1801.  Up until then, most all the residents around here were farmers.  But the technology of a regularly maintained road meant that subsistence farming could morph into truck farming, farmers could make extra money by growing and selling extra produce and animals.  Taverns were needed to house weary travelers and their livestock.  A stage coach brought people and communications.  Accessibility to materials fostered the manufacturing of clocks, boxes, and organs. This economic boon would finally win residents here a township of their own.  After 20 years of petitioning, the North West Parish finally became Mont Vernon in 1803. There was an embarrassing flirtation with MOUNT, but essentially, Mont Vernon is the name that has stuck ever since. (Mont Vernon’s Missing U link)

U removed from Mont Vernon’s Ballot Box

Between 1800 and 1810, Mont Vernon saw it’s biggest population increase; from 680 residents to 722, a growth of 12%.  The number of Mont Vernonites remained in the 700s for another sixty years. However, the Civil War marked the the end of many small hill top farms all over New England, and Mont Vernon was no exception. Many returning soldiers succumbed to the rockless farming opportunities that were opening up in America’s west.  Throughout the rest of the 1800’s, into the early 1900’s, and despite the highly acclaimed Academy and Hotel era, Mont Vernon’s permanent population was on the decline. The Great Depression brought about an all time low of 302 souls counted in 1930.

Image borrowed from Life at Sandars.

Technology would grant Mont Vernon another boon.  In the 1960’s the population began to swell with the families of people employed by the likes of Sanders Associates and Digital.  In 1970, an all time population high was achieved with 906 residents.  Here is the landing in Mont Vernon story for one of those record breaking residents…

My father, Darold Rorabacher got hired right out of college to work at Sandars with two of his fellow graduates, Greg Staradub and Alan Smith.  The bachelors shacked up in an old house they rented near Silver Lake in Hollis.  Then my Dad married my Mom, Sarah Burnham making her a Rorabacher, too. She fell in love with Mont Vernon after accompanying him to dinner at his boss’s house, a certain Alton Ryder out on Lamson Road.  When it was time to find a place of their own, Mom started looking in Mont Vernon. She found a house for rent on Main Street, and their landlord became Elaine Von Webber.  Then they moved to the last house on Harwood Road.  This is the first house I was old enough to remember, with its central chimney, killer staircase, and woods all around. I loved that place, but my folks wanted to own rather than rent.  My mom came through again when she found the sweet little school house on Old Milford Road.  In 1971 we made the move and here we still are.

Our 51st spring here on 13 Old Milford Road.

There you have the quick version of how this land became Mont Vernon, and how a few of its citizens landed here. I would love to have your story as well, Dear Reader, so please be a part of a crowd sourced history project. Type up the story of how you landed in Mont Vernon and send it to me through our Contact Link. Who knows what your story might mean in the future?

I would like to give credit to the Ladies over at the Tiny Town Library podcast for the “How did you land in Mont Vernon” idea. They truly inspire. I invite all that are reading this to join Tim Berry and I as we make our annual contribution in support of a much needed new library. With their latest grant, our donated dollars will amount to even more! Click on this link and look for the donate button.

And while your checkbook is out, please consider renewing (or beginning) your membership in Mont Vernon’s Historical Society. May is Membership month. All it takes is a check for $20 sent to PO Box 15, Mont Vernon NH, O3057. Click here for even more information.

~~~~~~~In Other News~~~~~~~~

Our Monthly Meeting takes place Tuesday, May 3 at 7:00. We will be meeting in person on the first floor of our epic Town Hall. I will also send out a Zoom link. Please do attend, we will all be so glad to see you!

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Our Museum has hours this month! It will be open from 10:00 to 3:00 during Mont Vernon’s Spring Gala event scheduled for Saturday, May 21st. If you’re in town taking part in some of the many Spring Gala events, be sure to stop by our museum located on the second floor of our Historic Town Hall. Our curator, Maryjo Marcely and her helpers do an incredible job every year, there is always something new to see!

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May is Membership Month. Mont Vernon’s Historical Society depends on financial support to find, preserve, and share Mont Vernon’s unique history. $20 a year is all it takes to secure your membership! Click here for more information.

Mont Vernon Rocks

My grandmother found Indian arrowheads in her garden.  It’s a family story that has helped to inspire my deep love of history… I’m not talking about the kind of history that documents names and dates of historical people and events, the stuff you have to memorize to pass your high school history exams…  I’m talking about regular folk, who walked this exact same earth we are walking now.  Folks that may never have done anything a proper historian might think to note, but they lived here.  Worked here.  They had families, a community.  As my grandmother coaxed vegetables and flowers out of the earth behind her home in Westborough, MA, she was rubbing elbows with a distant culture that had known that exact spot… had hunted on and around it, finding a different kind of nourishment.  We could touch the evidence!

White crystal arrowhead, one of several arrowheads found in my Grandmother’s garden in Westborough, MA sometime in the 1950’s

Right away I started looking for arrowheads!  I was 4 years old when I found a round bottomed soda bottle from the early 1900’s, a few years later I dug up a rusty clock face in our front yard. As I grew up, archeology digging gave way to landscaping, and I found a bowl of the once ubiquitous clay tobacco pipe while trying to tame our new backyard a few years ago… All very cool stuff, but I never found anything really old. Nothing that predated Europeans.  

I finally gave up on that idea. After all, there weren’t that many humans around back then, and those that were must not have found Mont Vernon very interesting.  The Souhegan River got all the “prehistoric” traffic, maybe.  As far as I could tell, there was no compelling reason to venture up our green hill until a group of farmers decided to hack out their niche in the northwest corner of Amherst. Our European history is pretty interesting, too…

Fast forward 3 or 4 decades. After living in other parts of New Hampshire for most of my adult life, I purchased my childhood home from my father and spent several years having my way with the landscape.  The house was originally built as a schoolhouse, first in 1815, then again in 1884 for the local farm children.  If there was any landscaping done at the time it amounted to the planting of Sugar Maple trees.  According to our 1958 History of Mont Vernon book, the Morgans became the owners of the building when the schools were centralized. They remodeled it into a “very attractive home” in the 1920s, then sold it to Mr. Thomas Davis who was a carpenter and continued the renovations in the 1940s. The Groves were the next owners, they lived here for 20 or so years before putting the place up for sale in the 1970s when my mother fell in love with it and it became our home.  We thank the Groves for the landscaping plants we still enjoy, but a lot of what they planted did not survive the pervasive shade that cooled all my childhood summers.  

South School house on Old Milford Road. February 2021.

Since purchasing the place in 2011, one of my big goals has been to let the sunshine in, and like every homeowner, I found it to be a far huger project than I ever imagined.  One muddy morning, I was on a mission, picking my way along a wooded edge of the war zone that would become our backyard.  I needed to make a quick decision. Ed Hoyt, our ever true chainsaw and heavy equipment guy, had ripped all the stumps out of the glacial till we are overly blessed with in this area.  Now we needed a handy, out of the way place to ditch them. Keeping sight lines and equipment access in mind, I scoped out the topography of the little hill that slopes down to Hartshorn Brook, I noticed a cluster of lichen and moss covered rocks sticking up through the forest duff.   And then another, and another.  What an odd thing?!  I made a mental note to think more about this later, and picked the spot that would be our brushpile for the next decade.

That mental note became action in the spring of 2015 when I headed back to that slope with various rakes and some clippers.  It was satisfying work, the forest duff came off like a blanket held in place here and there by a beech or birch tree root.  I found that the moss covered rocks were at the top of a circular pile of rocks about 8 feet in diameter and a foot or two high at its tallest point.  All the rocks were one or two handers (one handers can be picked up with one hand, these were a little bigger).  Many had interesting textures or colors.  The round shape of this pile was most definitely made by man rather than nature, but why?  Before I headed back inside to search the internet for answers, I uncovered another pile.  It had a similar round shape and thickness.  I suspected that all the little rock faces peering up through the duff blanket would be stone piles as well… and I could easily count at least a dozen more.  

My very first blog, Newenglandbackyard, goes into great detail about how the rocks got into my head (lots more pictures to be found in those posts!).  But the short story is this: a lot of people think that Indians built these stone piles  (New England Antiquities Research Association or NEARA) , and a lot of other people think Indians didn’t build anything (state archeologists and most everyone I knew at the time).  I decided to get more data by creating a map of all the stoneworks within walking distance of the house. (I think my favorite thing is to have a reason to go into the woods, total bonus that it is great exercise and the dog loves it, too!).  I took notes about where I saw stone walls, how wide they were, including the location of any gates.  I also noted stone oddities, that had no discernible agricultural function, yet were clearly manmade. Because I did’t have surveyors’ tools, I utilized tax and topographical maps to locate the stoneworks on paper.

Once that project was underway, I had some experts come and visit.  I spent a fabulous day with the state archeologist.  He happily bushwacked to all the sites I thought the most interesting.  But he was obliged to label them all “European agricultural practices” as science will not acknowledge a culture without some proof human remains or artifacts. This proof is particularly hard to come by as much of the artifacts created by original cultures has been digested by New England’s acidic soils.  However, of all the sites I showed him that day, he was most intrigued by our backyard circular piles, though he did wonder if they may have been created by school children playing some sort of game.   

Behind Harris’s on the north side of Purgatory Road. This area now has several new houses.

The NEARA representative was the polar opposite of the archeologist.  She thought all the walls were built by Native Cultures.  (Indians building so many walls sounded crazy to me at the time).  She was sure everything I showed her was Indian made, but she couldn’t tell me why they made it.  Ceremonial Landscape is the term I had to get used to. The pictures below are part of an extensive site to the south of Purgatory Road just west of where it intersects with Wilton Road. As a result of my contact with NEARA, this landscape is now documented with the NEARA people, and is a data point in Curtis Hoffman’s book, Stone Prayers: Native American Constructions of the Eastern Seaboard.

My conclusion on all of this is still being formed.  From all that I have learned over the last 7 years, I believe the round piles behind our house are memorial piles, something like a cemetery though it is doubtful any bodies were ever buried there. The rocks were carefully arranged by a culture some 4 to 6 hundred years ago.  Similar structures are often located near a brook or water source, but there may be many other reasons they chose the spot that would become woods behind our barn.  I think our whole town was sacred, as I have found Indian stoneworks almost everywhere I have looked for them over the years.   It may never have been a large group of folks that found and stacked these rocks, but I imagine they came back regularly for generations… perhaps since since the ice age ended, and maybe even earlier. I love to think about the people evolving with this landscape!

We may not know the purpose behind the thousands of tons of rocks they moved to create their sacred piles. But the tradition of loving this land that is now our town remains strong. Once Europeans settled here, they never left, even though our stoney hillsides were less than ideal for farming. We still farm in Mont Vernon! In the 1800’s, we had outsiders that came to our academies and our hotels, and they fell in love with the landscape, many of them returning summer after summer, a tradition that lasted into the 1960’s. And now, us modern folk have a plethora of beautiful hiking trails to explore the very same landscape that has been known and loved for 10,000 years.

In the photos above, Lou Springer stands next to one of many interesting stone works behind his house on the north side of cross road. I’ve also found a lot of stoneworks on nearby Lamson Farm, below is a supported located stack near the corner of Horton and Lamson Roads. Horton Pond is where Purgatory Brook originates, this may be part of the reason why there are so many stoneworks in this area.

A split stone propped open by another stone. This is located on the east side of Purgatory brook, a few stone throws away from the class 6 end of Dow Road.

Often times, 3 huge piles of stone were constructed, where you find one, like the pile pictured below, look around and you may find 2 others. These are in the woods to the east of Wilton road, there are many unusual stoneworks in this area.

The next time you are out walking in the woods, or even your back yard, have a good think about the stones you might notice. If they are organized in some fashion, it was by the hand of man. It could be European, which would make it no more than a few hundred years old. Or it could be Native American, which could make it several hundred to several thousands of years old. Dating these structures has been a challenge given our acidic soils and a lack of surviving artifact. However, new technologies are being tested right here in NH. If the process proves to be accurate, it could revolutionize our understanding of when these amazing structures were built.

In the mean time, please let me know about any stone structures that capture your attention. And consider picking up a copy of this book, it documents many sites like those pictured here, and does a scientific analysis of the data. Dr. Curtis Hoffman is adding to his data base, I think Mont Vernon residents will have lots more information for him!

~~~~~~~In Other News~~~~~~~~

Next Meeting: Please consider joining the Mont Vernon Historical Society team as we innovate ways to increase our relevance in the current culture. Our meetings are held on the first floor of the Town Hall, in the selectman’s room. We will be offering a virtual option as well, a cool Covid skill that makes meetings so convenient! We meet the first Tuesday of every month and it’s coming quickly in March! Please join us Tuesday, March 1st, 2022 at 7:00, on the first floor of the Mont Vernon’s Town Hall or click on this link for the latest virtual option. (I will also send out an invitation before the meeting!). We will be glad to see you!

~~~~~~~~Upcoming Events~~~~~~~~

MVHS will be working up a Historic Tour series for the spring and summer. A number of ideas being considered include: Finding the Bowling Ally at Purgatory Falls, Twin Porch Meetinghouse in Freedmont, NH, Finding Mont Vernon’s Native American Past, and another hike out to the Trow Sawmill with a look at various stone quarrying techniques. Mont Vernon may not have had quarries like Milford, but the Farmers found plenty of useful granite in the woods! Speaking of granite quarries, we have an opportunity to run a tour around one of Milford’s largest, the Lovejoy quarry. It was here that the huge granite pillars were quarried to replace the crumbling sandstone pillars around the US Treasury in Washington, DC.

Looking Back 2021

The truth about history is that it is being made all the time. As we look ahead to another year of grappling with the Covid virus, the restrictions, the political drama, and the human suffering not to mention loss of life are all things we would like to forget. But I urge you to remember the positives that are surfacing out of this adversity. The lockdown of 2020 slowed down the hectic pace of many of our lives. At home, we spent more time with our families… and our pets. A lot of yard work and home improvements got done. Folks got a crash course in socializing remotely. Our computers became lifelines of information as well as entertainment and communication. Nature caught a break as hundreds of thousands of humans stopped driving around in their cars, or riding in busses and airplanes.

We all hoped that we would have this thing licked in a couple of months, but now there are folks who are starting their third year of working remotely. It is hard to know just how this will end. Perhaps, like so many other huge changes thrust on human kind, the thing that will end is how we were living before. We will adjust to the new reality, and eventually forget this awful transition. Let’s try to strengthen all those positives as we move forward. Try to make sure that everyone has access to the good stuff. We are better people when we help others and there is a lot of need out there. This year, the Mont Vernon Historical Society encourages everyone to be good to one another, and remember your history. Some of this stuff we really do not want to repeat!

~~~~~~~In Other News~~~~~~~~

In November we gathered to thank Eloise Carleton for her service as President of our Historical Society. We are grateful that she will continue on as a member. Our new president is yours truly, Anna Szok, who does not feel at all qualified to fill her shoes.

From left to right: Tim Berry, Shirley Levesque, Claire Choiniere, Nell Trainor, Eloise Carleton, Maryjo Marcely, Marilynn and Richard Carleton, and Anna Szok

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In December Mont Vernon’s Historical Society teamed up with the Heritage Commission and several other town entities to sponsor the first annual Holiday Walk. The event coincided with the Mont Vernon’s annual tree lighting scheduled this year on Saturday, December 11. However, the weather was miserable on that day, so the event was moved to Sunday, December 12. The participants bought tickets for $10 a piece. At 4:00 docents began a tour of the town, starting with the Hearthstone house, just south of the Town Hall, and venturing all the way out to Brook Road. Tourists enjoyed the Christmas lights and decorations and a bit of history of each of the 27 sites included along the route. While the weather was on the mild side (for the top of Mont Vernon Hill) warming stations were much appreciated. These included Dan Bellemore’s lovingly restored home just south of the General Store, the Dickenson house on Brook road, and the Library. While there were many folks who made this event the success it was, the Society would like to send a special thanks to Zoe Fimbel for putting together talking points for each of the houses along the tour, and to Becci Schwarz for having the idea and nurturing it into the success that it was. If you missed it this year, do not worry, we will do it again next year, and it will be even better!

~~~~~~~~~~~MVHS MEETING~~~~~~~~~~~

We are starting the new year off by meeting on Tuesday, January 4th. Because of the current spike in Covid, and because we can, we are having our meeting remotely this month. A link will be sent to all society members on that day, please click it and tune in at 7:00. If you are not a member, or don’t get our emails, please let me know by clicking the contact button in the window at the top of this newsletter, or you can email me directly at annaszok@yahoo.com. This month we entertain the usual talking points, but we will also brainstorm ways to infuse enthusiasm of and for our Society. Maybe we should change our name from MV Historical Society to MV Historical Squad! Sounds much more action packed, don’t you think? Love it? Hate it? Tune in on Tuesday and let us know! See you then!

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I just can’t let this newsletter end without mentioning the significant anniversary we have to celebrate. 125 years ago, in 1896, the Victorian Shingle Style Congregational Church was completed. This summer represents Mont Vernon at a cultural and economic peak. The hotel and boarding house business was booming. The academies were in full swing. Locals and tourists alike enjoyed the golf course in town, and the Grove at Purgatory falls. The Isola mansion was also completed this year. Click here to read more about these two amazing buildings! Happy Anniversary, Mont Vernon!

Mont Vernon Congregational Church, designed by G. WIlton Lewis

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