Sunday, February 12, 2006

George Krusen's notes

Here is a picture of George Krusen, of Boxborough, sitting one one of the hundred or so features that remain near the top of the hill called the "Hill of 500 Cairns". George gave me a copy of the following notes and said I could publicize them:

11/11/03 DRAFT

Preservation of the Boxborough Esker started in the 60's and today it is an 80 acres preserve owned by the Nature Conservancy; this preserve is in the western part of Boxborough and bounded by Rt 495 on the East and by Beaver Brook on the West.

Byron Dix discovered native American stonework on the Preserve, the most interesting of which is a stone row up the eastern side of the easker in line with the summer solstice sunset.

Prior discovery of Indian sites had been made on the Towermarc land west of Beaver Brook and to the South on a hill now east of Rt 495. The latter site was written up in the Boston Sunday Herald on September 18, 1960. That location has been kept secret by a Dr. David Cheney who only shared it with his friends.

This writeup is concerned with Dr. Cheney's site.

Morse Payne and I went in search of what might remain of this hill which was probably destroyed by the building of Rt 495. To our surprise we found some remnants of rock piles and also learned that the land was now owned by the Harvard Conservation Commission. A talk by Cheney to the Harvard Historical Society on October 3, 1960 had some important ommissions:

1. The original cairn field has been completely surrounded by a stone row. The parallel ends still exist on either side of the highway.

2. No evidence existed of any of the limestone that was said to be the material of contruction of the cairns.

3. Over the summit of the cairn field on the eastern side of the highway is a large boulder about 15 feet high.

4. Cheney made the point that a tributary (Elizabeth Brook as it is known today) flows by the site to the Nashua River via the Assabet River. This would have made the site accessible by canoe. What wasn't mentioned was the possibility of paddling north about 1.8 miles and portaging a short distance into Beaver Brook which flows north along the esker to the Nashua via Stoney Brook thru Westford.

Unfortunatley, the site had been stripped of much of the stone work before the DPW Commissioner, Jack P. Ricciardi, ordered a survey locating what was left of the mounds. About 80 pages of survey notes are available. About 14 of the mounds were assigned Peabody Numbers (P. B.) and presumably examined by an archeologist, Fred Johnson, of the Andover Museum. We have been unable to find this report altho we know the conclusion from notes at the Harvard Historical Society; they were the work of farmers. Neither do the Peabody Museum at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Historical Commission nor the Andover Museum seem to have the report.

Three people (other than the Herald photographer) were known to have taken pictures at the undisturbed site. They were Norman Schmidt, George Fuller and Dr. Paul Dudley White. All are deceased but Mr. Schmidt. Cheney said in his paper that:

"My friend of the decades, classmate (Harvard 1908) Dr. Paul Dudley White; the late George S. Fuller of Newton; my friend Norman B. Schmidt of Harvard; Dr. Byers of Andover; Frank Croty, the State Editor and Columnist of the Worcester Telegram-Gazette, Globe reporters, Herald reporters, Vernon Kilgour of West Boylston, Dr. Bok of Harvard, - these are a few of the questers who have trodden this old way with me."

Mr. Schmidt has looked in vain for his pictures, no photos were known to the two childern of Mr. Fuller and Dr. White's daughter, Penny, knows of pictures taken by a stereo camera but now lost. However, the latter has vivid memories of riding her horse thru the cairn field. "they looked ancient covered with moss and pineneedles and made with stone foreign to the area."

Dr. Cheney advances four possible builders of the cairns and eliminates all but one. "My sole desire has been to learn the truth. At present the Red Paint Indian origin is the only tenable theory". I give a lot of credence to this man since he had some formal training in Archeology(Dartmouth College).

There have been two other living witnesses to the original cairn field. Russell Lawrence of Stow helped a logging crew work in the area before Route 495 was built. He saw the cairns and was so inspired by them that he was careful not to disturb them while cutting and dragging logs. The second witness was a lad of about 13 who saw one cairn remaining on the southbound lane of Rout 495 after all the trees had been removed but before earth moving. This Edward Tatten took the cairn apart hoping to find bones: He removed rock after rock of this five foot high cairn and found rocks still there at ground. He removed them to a knee high depth before stopping. Stone still remained in the foundation. This corroborates Dr. Cheney's account that the cairns had well planned foundations, probably not the work of colonial farmers.

"I have carefully removed, with the aid of my friends, three cairns, to study their structure and to excavate under them. All three were built with great care. A pit was first dug, rectangular, and perhaps a foot in depth. A large, flat limestone slab was laid in the pit; a smaller rectangular slab lain on top of that; and the cairn then built up with care, to last. The blocks of stone, many of a large size, were of calcium rocks we call "limestone". The chemistry of resultant weathering cemented the stones together and so helped to preserve the cairns. Originally the majority of these structures were roughly conical. One, with its back to the prevailing wind, is rudely shield shaped, and still stands. Another of mighty stones, was what my friend, George Fuller, called "the altar cairn". They have carted those stones away."

Could the one "still standing" be the one that Ed Tatten took apart? Two inconsistencies appear. Only Cheney mentioned the weathering together. Ed Tatten thinks "his cairn" was just made from local rock, not limestone or material brought in from elsewhere.

Further work will include:

1. Tracing the deed trail back at the Worcester Registry of Deeds.

2. Go back to the Peabody Museum and ask that they look for Fred Johnson's report in the file of Professor Phillips. The latter was the Curator there. a good firend of Fred Johnson and lived on Sugar Road, Bolton close to the Hill of Cairns.

3. Continue the search for the report at the Andover Museum where D. Johnson worked.


Norman Muller said...

I recall that Cheney wrote that the "Algonkians did not use stone." Thus when he writes that he believes the stone piles date to the Red Paint people, he is implying that they predate the Algonkians, meaning 4-7000 B.P. But we really don't know how old the cairns are, and they COULD have been constructed by the Algonkians.

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