Friday, March 28, 2014

Hopkinton RI, Lawton Foster Road North Cairn Site Threatened by Subdivision

Reader Steve writes:

Hopkinton, R.I. is on the verge, if this subdivision passes the planning board on Wednesday night, of having one of the best cairn fields off of Lawton Foster Road North destroyed for good. I will enclose several pictures of this area, but unless you have seen it yourself or walked through this area, one cannot really appreciate what is here. James Gage thought I should contact you to have all of this information put on your blog. Doug Harris, myself and others are going to be in attendance for this pivotal meeting to decide the fate of this immense cairn field with cairns almost made by Michelangelo himself!!

[PWAX -  Truly a high density of piles.]

[Called a "high place":]

[Included in the email]

The Planning Board on WED APR 2 will hear an application to subdivide a property on Lawton Foster Road North owned by Joyce Devine and Eric Kingman. Plat 11, Lot 2 is presently 14.37 ac and would be divided into Lot A 11.70 ac and Lot B 2.67 ac. This is the applicants 3rd subdivision of the original larger tract over the last dozen years. They have so far created 3 road frontage house lots and two are purchased and built. They also sold a 4 ac rear section to an abuttor in Brightman Hills. The present application would create a new large and a new standard size road frontage lot with the theoretical possibility of at least one further subdivision of the large lot.

I bring this to your attention because of the density and quality of the indigenous stone works on this property and surrounding properties. See the attached photos for a sample of what is there. I spoke with Steve DiMarza this afternoon. He is Regional Coordinator for Rhode Island for the New England Antiquities Research Association (NEARA). He has walked the property and considers it possibly the best ceremonial landscape in Rhode Island. I made an offer of $1000 toward anything we can do to preserve this ceremonial landscape.

All winter I was busy in this section of town laying out and mapping trails. The amount of native stone works we came upon was incredible. A month ago I recommended the Hopkinton Land Trust look to acquiring this property and another on the east side of LFRN primarily due to the superb native cultural features. I did not know this application was already in the works.

This project is being reviewed as a Minor Subdivision. Such an application could often be a one night review and approval. There are two reasons I will likely ask the Planning Board to extend the hearing an additional meeting and schedule a site walk prior to a second meeting. First is to view the ceremonial landscape and how it will be impacted. I doubt any PB member has ever seen anything like this property before. The second is to inspect the very difficult soils on the property.

The Town Comprehensive Plan addresses ceremonial landscapes as follows"

"Eligible for designation on the National Register of Historic Places are sites, buildings, structures, districts, and objects significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering and culture. These include traditional cultural places or properties (TCPs). A TCP can be eligible for inclusion in the National Register because of its association with cultural practices or beliefs of a living community that (a) are rooted in that community's history, and (b) are important in maintaining the continuing cultural identity of the community (National Register Bulletin 38, US Department of the Interior). On December 13, 2008, the National Register of Historic Places signed a Determination of Eligibility for the first Ceremonial Landscape site, Turner Falls in Massachusetts, to be acknowledged in the eastern United States.

TCPs are reminders of the spiritual practices of Native peoples that are considered by the Tribe(s) to be irreplaceable and they may be threatened by development. There are places in Hopkinton that may be of ceremonial importance to the Narragansett Indian Tribe. The Town of Hopkinton will make efforts to work with the Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office (NITHPO) and the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission (RIHPHC) to identify and protect important ceremonial sites in Town."

The Comp Plan further designates specific responsibilities for identifying and preserving the ceremonial sites to the Hopkinton Historical Association, Historic District Commission and the Town Planner along with NITHPO.

The dominant soil on this property is CaD - Canton-Charlton-Rock outcrop complex, 15 to 35 percent slopes. Quoting from the Soil Survey of Rhode Island, "The steep slopes, the stony surface, and rock outcrops make this complex poorly suited for community development. Onsite septic systems require special design and installation to prevent effluent from seeping to the surface, and rock outcrops make excavation difficult." "Although this complex is poorly suited to trees, most areas are in woodland, and the soils are better suited to woodland than to most other uses." The Canton "soil is extremely acid through strongly acid" and the Charlton "soil is very strongly acid through medium acid". "These soils are not suited to cultivated crops. Stones, boulders, and rock outcrops make the use of farming equipment impractical. The hazard of erosion is severe."

I understand there is at least one cellar hole on this site. My speculation is that the Brightmans or whoever occupied this property prior to the Civil War made their living from the water powered sawmill just down slope to the west on Canonchet Brook South Fork and any farming was incidental to the main occupation. They may have raised a few sheep or goats but would have had to procure winter time fodder from off-site. I am not sure a single stacked stone on this site can be attributed to farming.

I am requesting all other organizations interested in preserving the integrity of this ceremonial landscape to make their interests known at or prior to the Planning Board meeting six days from now.

Wouldn't it be great if a bargain can be struck to preserve this wonderful landscape? 


Anonymous said...

When did NEARA start financing the protection of these sites? $1000 isn't going to do much for this site but it'll add up fast when you take into consideration that there are hundreds of site in need of protection in New England alone. They better rase the membership fee before going broke.

Jeff in RI said...

Reader Steve:
I have walked this area and I agree it is a very important site and way too valuable to be bulldozed. I will be at that meeting. I hope to meet you there, I'll help in any way I can to preserve this incredible site.
I've got a white beard and black sweat shirt so you can pick me out of the crowd. Thanx for this VERY important heads up......
Jeff in RI

pwax said...

Steve corrected the "offer" statement. See post.

Jeff in RI said...

Quite a turn out, several very eloquent speakers raised their concerns. The planning board decided upon a site walk scheduled for 4/23/2014, 4 pm in consideration of how to proceed ....

JimP said...

I am intimately familiar with this site -- which is not actually an isolated site but part of one of the most enormous complexes of stonework in New England which includes tens of thousands of carefully erected cairns and petroglyphs over almost three dozen square miles. At its center lies the peak just to the northwest of Ashville Pond and into the Long and Ell Ponds Preserve, Yawgoog Scout Camp, and more. I remember the day I showed Peter Waksman that hill. He remarked how all of the people hiking around that hill that day had no idea what they were walking through. And that's a damn shame. My research suggests that the site was used for generations as a winter encampment where young boys were put to tests of strength and taught the ways of their ancestors, and then during historic times is served as a "dancing place".