Saturday, December 08, 2007

Pegan Hill - Natick, MA

Last week Jim P. asked, in email, if I had ever been to Pegan Hill in Natick. I hadn't but, prompted by his question, went to look for it on a topo map and found what looked like a place worth exploring.Jim thought it might be especially worthwhile because it is the highest point in Natick and was once a southern boundary of the Natick Praying Indian Village. We have had good luck finding rock ple sites by exploring places associated with the Praying Indian Villages. Certainly some of the hills around the Nashoba Praying Indian Village are among the best places to look for rock pile sites; so I decided to go out at the first opportunity. Also this hill is within a slow bend of the Charles River, so it would have been visible and accessible in the past.

When I got there, I read the Trustees of Reservation Interpretive signs and found that the hill had probably been burned clean of trees and undergrowth in the past.
Today the hill has a uniform, low density of oaks and some pines, with little or no underbrush. As I walked along, zig-zagging gradually up the hill from the north, it was mostly just the brown of dead leaves underfoot. This made the bright gray of the occasional rock all the easier to see. So I kept on the lookout. I went up towards the top expecting and hoping to see something on the western facing side. But when I got up there all I could see was a few scattered rocks. In one place three in a row lined up and I have no doubt this was a deliberate alignment:
The direction is roughly southwest. I would have walked further in that direction but private properties are close by on that side of the hill.

I got to the top, a very flat and gradual affair with a surveyors mark at the approximate high point. (On the map you can see the hilltop is near the corner of Middlesex County, my favorite county.) Then I continued exploring around the summit as carefully as I could. It did not look like I was going to find much and I was walking along a bit of trail up there, keeping my eye on one little bit of gray that looked like it might have a shadow underneath it, as in rock-on-rock, and then there was a bump next to the trail with several small rocks sticking out from the dead leaves.
And this was a first rock pile and the gray with shadow I had been watching was a second one a few feet away. There is a barren beauty to the spot. The Indians chose beautiful places.

In a funny way these piles were what I would expect of the Charles River water shed. They are larger piles, and made from largish rocks. But they are all broken down and it is hard to guess what they might have once looked like.

I was wondering what else might be in the immediate vicininty, looking around carefully, and wondering why the rock piles would be here instead of there. A few yards further on the trail I spotted another rock pile next to the stone wall,
and it was near a smaller pile too.
[The larger pile is visible in the background. Note the shape of this smaller pile. It is a lot like the one we saw a few days ago as the first picture in "Three in a row with turtle" [Click here], possibly a coincidence of both piles haveing five rocks.]

And now I could see a possible reason why the piles were here instead of there. They were placed at the very highest point of a gully the leads down from the summit towards the south. The gully develops into a valley which, today, is a driveway. In fact there were some other damaged piles on the far side of the stone wall, just above the driveway, probably on private land.Since these other ones could be part of the same site, it suggests the stone wall might be a more recent addition. In any case that was the scope of this small site along the trail on the southern side of the summit of Pegan Hill - perhaps four mid-sized, damaged, ground pile and one small pile, all placed at the beginning of the water flow from the hill.

Later on my way down the hill to the east, I found one more pile in a different context but that was all I could find on Pegan Hill.


JimP said...

Great report and thanks for following my lead Peter.

Pegan Hill is one of the few places in Massachusetts that we know was occupied by Indians well into the contact period. Indians chose to live on the summit, and farmed the land around its base. The name of the hill, in fact, is derived from its last Indian inhabitant -- Thomas Pegan.

Tim MacSweeney said...

Hey! , I was always wondering if this site might resemble the site near me...

pwax said...

Tim: I don't understand

JimP said...

I think he means the site of a Praying Indian Village. There were a few in Connecticut.

I'd be quite interested to know if there is any similarity between Pegan Hill and Keith Hill, which is owned by the Grafton Land Trust and part of Hassanamesitt Woods.

While Pegan Hill was the eminence chosen by the Indians for Natick, Keith Hill was chosen by the Indians for the site of the Hassanamesitt Praying Village.

pwax said...

At Nashoba, the most prominent southern hill is one hill shy of where the major concentrations of rock piles occur. When I went down to Pegan Hill, I also had my eye on some of its neighboring hills - but they look privately owned and not inviting of exploration.

JimP said...

It's very telling that the Indians chose a hill as the center of nearly all their praying villages.

Anonymous said...

They look like burial mounds to me.

Anonymous said...

I agree, the size and shape are similar to the work we have been doing in North Smithfield, RI. Over 250 mounds. Mounds, Barrows, burials.
Fred Meli

pwax said...

As for "looks like burials" I have to say: no it doesn't look like anything. However the top of a gully is a place to expect burials.