Monday, February 06, 2006

The Story of 400 Cairn Hill - Outline

I think I might have heard about this the first time from Tim Fohl, but it turned more solid when Connie Schwartzkopf gave me some xeroxes of an old newspaper [the Herald?] article about a hill that was going to be bulldozed for the construction of Rt 495 around 1960. The story was about a man (a "fellow from Clinton") saying there were unique, mysterious stone stacks on the hill which should be preserved and the highway plan re-done. In typical Massachusetts fashion, the road builders of the state hired an archeologist to come out and confirm the piles were of no interest, then the highway construction, the pile destruction, proceeded. Apparently the piles had already been vandalized by that time and the highway construction then finished the job so that today they are all gone [or are they?]. George Krusen tried to put together the story and could not find so much as a good photo of the piles. He has the whole story, and I am sorry if I have parts of it wrong.

An intriguing claim was that the piles were made of blocks of limestone and were so old as to have become slightly glued together. George also mentions a first-hand account of a kid who dug up one of the piles and, according to him, there were still more stones below when he was standing up to his waist in the hole. These anectodes suggest the piles were old. Were they really made of limestone? It is possible, since limestone does occur and was quarried near here. In my xerox there is a bad reproduction of a picture of a well-made stack about 4 feet tall.

My part of the story, in brief, is that I explored several of the hills along in there and did not find anything. I heard the story of the "500 cairn hill" (or is it 400) and thought I knew where that hill was. Then today, Tim Fohl emailed about finding rock piles on one of those hills and I called George and confirmed that this was indeed the correct "400 cairn hill". I was only 50 yards off when I explored! This leads to a couple of things: (1) I am going out next weekend with Tim and George to take some pictures, and we can talk about whether these piles are the same as the ones destroyed by the highway; (2) I have to explain why I missed finding the piles when I looked: we have to analyze the failure.

Here is Tim's GPS readings for piles he found on the hill. According to Tim, these are not limestone stacks, so we have to do a little more poking around. Are these the same type as the ones destroyed?
As for issue (2), the strategy I had been following for a long time was to search out the places where water meets hill - at the foot of the hill. That strategy served me well further east but out in the western wilds of Boxborough, Harvard, Stow, there are many more hilltop sites than in the east. I didn't know that at the time and did not search hilltops, especially the southern portion of the hilltops, but instead always sought out the low wet places. The strategy failed on this hill.

But I did find rock piles on most of the neighboring hills. Another interesting part of the story is that the "fellow from Clinton" said these stacks were unique. Bruce and I chuckled over that one whe we discussed the story. If the guy had only explored the next hill over he would have found similar things over there.

The strategy Tim followed to find the rock piles was to follow an abstract line on the map which he believes has special significance. I'll try to get to that part of the story later and we can hope for more on issue (1) over the weekend.

1 comment :

pwax said...

Driving south on Rt 495 about 1/2 mile before the Sugar Rd overpass (in Bolton) we are passing through the location of the destroyed cairn site. If you look closely in the median strip, there are still at least 3 piles visible in there. It is impossible at 70mph to decide if they are made from limestone - but it does not look like it. So there does remain this vestige.