Romancing the Stone Mondate

Visiting a site in winter that is so popular in the summer we actually avoid it unless hiking past offers an entirely different appreciation.

And so between errands in North Conway, New Hampshire, this afternoon, my guy and I donned our micro-spikes to traverse the hard-packed snowy ice trail into Diana’s Bath in neighboring Bartlett.

Upon reaching Lucy Brook, the history of the area was briefly documented on an interpretive panel that provided information about George Lucy who built a sawmill in the 1860s powered by an undershot wheel on the brook and a home not far from its banks.

About 1890, when tourists began making regular visits to the brook, Mr. Lucy added a boarding house and barn, but business never took off the way he’d intended.

By the 1920s the water wheel was replaced by a turbine fed from a penstock pipe, the remnants of which remained for us to gain a better understanding of the passage of power.

Above the turbine we could see another piece of the penstock pipe burrowed within the ledge upstream.

Before climbing up to it, I walked below the turbine site while my guy stood over and thought about the Lucy family’s history, which in a professional way is connected to his own for the sawmill idea was eventually abandoned as the Lucys realized they could use a portable mill to harvest wood and later descendants owned a lumber yard and then one of them opened a hardware store and he and my guy periodically touch base to share ideas or stock and both could be known as Mr. Hardware.

Upon the interpretive panel, we appreciated a photograph of the sawmill for it aided our comprehension of the view before us.

To our best understanding, the cement located above the penstock was part of the mill and dam created by Chester Lucy in the 1930s. Today, water swirled through and flowed over.

Below, the natural formation of rocks obscured was reflected in the shape of icy indentations.

Above, water hugged rocks in mid-cascade and created designs and colors that changed with each moment frozen in time.

We finally moved upward where more baths were plentiful but on this frigid day the thought of a dip was quickly suppressed by reality.

Still, we were intrigued by the power of it all as water gushed between curtains of ice.

As for the name, Diana’s Bath, I’ve heard several renditions including this from Robert and Mary Julyan’s Place Names of the White Mountains (a great bathroom read):

These curious circular stone cavities on Lucy Brook originally were known as the Home of the Water Fairies; tradition says evil water sprites inhabited the ledges, tormenting the Sokokis Indians until a mountain god answered the Indians’ prayers and swept the sprites away in a flood. But sometime before 1859 a Miss Hubbard of Boston, a guest at the old Mount Washington House in North Conway, rechristened them Diana’s Baths, presumably to evoke images of the Roman nature goddess. The pools are also called Lucy’s Baths.”

In the midst of wondering, I noticed a rare sight that added to the mystique of this place. Do you see four circular discs in the water? All spun at the same rate despite their varied sizes.

They were ice discs spinning counterclockwise much to my delight. This rare phenomenon was caused by the cold, dense air formed within the eddy at the base of the fall.

After that sight, we continued to climb until the brook leveled out. And then we pause before the spirit of one made from the same crystals that flowed beyond; one who wore a smile indicating he knew the ways and whys and wonders of the brook even if we didn’t.

As it turned out, he wasn’t the only one.

The woods were full of those who listened like old sages,

and smiled with a secret knowledge tucked within their grins.

Through it all, we felt the love of the universe as we tried to interpret the romance of the stones–icy though they were. And on this first Mondate of 2019, we were grateful for our “dip” into Diana’s Bath. It’s so much better in the winter than summer, especially on a weekday, for there are far fewer people about. But the sprites and fairies. They are there. Some you might even find among the rocks and boulders; I know. I saw a few. And others, might be upon the tree trunks. Or in the midst of the water.

If you decide to Romance the Stones, do know that unless you have a White Mountain National Forest Pass, you will need to pay the $3 fee to park. For some reason, the sprites don’t take care of that. Hmmm . . . one would think.

Merry Christmas from Narramissic

With Christmas rapidly approaching I decided to visit Narramissic, the Peabody-Fitch Farm gifted to the Bridgton Historical Society in 1987 by Mrs. Margaret Monroe of Providence, Rhode Island.

I had the honor of knowing Mrs. Monroe’s daughter, Peg Norman, who essentially grew up in the house having spent all of her summers there. Her mother purchased the house in 1938 after the death of her father. In Peg’s words as recorded in an essay entitled “Narramissic – Hard to Find” that she wrote when the deed was transferred from her mother’s estate to the historical society, she said, “[Mother] was searching for a refuge, a place to heal.” 

Peg continued, “Inside the house I remember only clothes hung everywhere and an unmade bed in the upstairs sitting room. My mother saw beyond. She saw the fans over the doorways, 

the granite hearthed fireplaces, Nancy Fitch’s name engraved in the wavey glass window pane, the sweeping arch of the carriage house entrance . . .

and the mountains, purple massifs unfolding out of the sky. She felt the history and eternity and peace.”

Peg went on to mention that her family spent “many Christmas holidays and ski weekends up there throughout the years — just the way the Peabodys and Fitches had (the original owners of the farm), heated by the kitchen stove and blazing fireplaces — and an old Franklin stove my mother finally allowed to be set in the living room fireplace ‘just for winter.'” 

Peg’s mention of the outbuildings included the barn, “the huge barn with the biggest horse I had ever seen munching contentedly in the front stall.”

Still standing, though its had some help recently to that end, the barn was erected by the Fitches and has come to be known as the Temperance Barn; historical records claim it to be so named “because it was raised without the traditional barrel of rum.”

I chose to explore on this delightfully warm day(45˚ feels like summer given the recent temps), but also to gain a better understanding of the collaboration between the historical society and Loon Echo Land Trust as they raise funds to purchase the 252-acre Peabody-Fitch Woods from the Norman family and place it under conservation easement while adding to a contiguous forest with other protected properties both adjacent and nearby. As I crossed the field, I kept turning back–to admire the farm and the mountains, including the ridge-line of our beloved Pleasant Mountain. Between Loon Echo and The Nature Conservancy, almost 3,000 acres of the mountain is protected and LELT maintains the 10 miles of trails that we frequent. 

It occurred to me that I didn’t realize the blue trail that crossed the field and continued into the woods, as designed by Adam Jones for his Eagle Scout Project in 1999, wasn’t part of the historical society’s property. 

And yet, it’s just as important for many species depend on it. Should the property be developed, the historical and natural features might diminish.

Should it be developed, I won’t be able to return in the future to figure out why the squirrel condominium featured a muddy carpet between doorways. 

Should it be developed, I’d miss out on ice formations along the trail such as this miniature pony — saddle and rider included. 

Should it be developed, new understandings would bypass me, such as the fact that white oaks do indeed grow in Bridgton. Well, at least in South Bridgton. This one was speckled with spring tails on this warm day. 

Should it be developed, the pileated woodpeckers will have fewer trees upon which to excavate. 

And selfishly, I’ll have fewer opportunities to search for their scat — filled with insect body parts. 

Should it be developed, there will be fewer toadskin lichens to admire. Thanks to the melting snow, many of the examples I found today were bright green, making the black-beaded apothecia where its spores are produced stand out in contrast. Toadskin lichen may be indestructible, but should the property be developed I wondered about the lichen’s immortality. 

Should the property be developed, where would the snowshoe hare scat? 

And the same for the ruffed grouse? 

Should it be developed, what would happen to K.F. and T.B.? 

Should the property be developed, would I see sights such as this and come to another new understanding?

I was actually searching for bear claw marks that alluded me (and I know they are there for I’ve seen them before) and instead saw this red bloom decorating some beech bark. It was quite pretty and festive given the season. 

At first look, I thought it was the apothecia of a crustose lichen, but do you see the tiny white spots mingled occasionally among it? Those white dots are the minute beech scale insect. The holes the tiny insect makes in the bark create a perfect entry point for nectria pathogen to make its way into the tree. The pathogen, a type of fungus, kills some areas of the tree at the point of entry. In reaction, the tree develops a canker as a defensive attempt to ward off the invader, but by doing so the canker blocks the vascular tissue of the infected beech by stopping nutrient flow in that one area.

And those red spots, as pretty as they appear, are actually tarry spots which ooze out of the cracks in the bark caused by the canker. Essentially, it appeared the tree was bleeding. 

Should the property be developed, what would become of the quarry and bear trap? 

This is the spot from which the foundations for the buildings were split so long ago.

Should the property be developed, would the plug and feather holes left behind as reminders of an earlier time disappear from the landscape?

The land already has been developed around Bear Trap, which is located at the end of the trail. We used to be able to hike or drive there; now one can only hike and you kinda, sorta need to know where it is.

How did the bear trap come to be? According to an August 17, 1963 article in the Bridgton News, “Enoch Perley, early settler of South Bridgton, built his first house in 1777 and brought his bride to their new home in 1778. [I believe this was at Five Fields Farm.]

As Enoch acquired livestock, he was much troubled by depredations from bears. He built a bear trap on the hill back of his first home . . .

Tradition says that four bears were caught in this trap–not enough! So Mr. Perley later had an iron bear trap made which took care of eight bears. Without a doubt, many were disposed of by him personally. A story is told that in an unarmed encounter with a bear and two cubs beside a wood road at dusk, Mr. Perley allegedly strangled the mother bear with his garters . . .”

The article continues, “The bear trap is built of stone. A large stone door is suspended and as the bear takes the bait, he trips the lever and is caught in the stone enclosure.”

In a December 1954 issue of the Bridgton News, a brief article states: “The old stone bear trap on the mountain in South Bridgton known as ‘Fitch’s Hill,’ unused for more than one hundred years, has been reactivated by Dr. Fred G. Noble and Gerald Palmer and put in readiness to capture a bear.” As the story goes, they never did succeed.

Should the Peabody-Fitch Woods be developed, all of this will be lost.

My hope is that the Bridgton Historical Society and Loon Echo Land Trust will experience a Merry Christmas as they finish out their fund-raising drive to purchase the land.

I think I walked beyond the boundary they are considering, but Bear Trap is one of my favorite historical sites. And with today’s walk I came to the realization of how important it is to protect the land around the farm.

Before I finish, I have one final historical piece of writing to share. In his memoirs, “Ninety Years of Living,” Edwin Peabody Fitch (1840-1931) who grew up in the farmhouse wrote, “Holidays were not much in evidence in those days. Christmas was so far in the shade, we didn’t think much about it. In fact, we felt that it was just a Catholic holiday and not be be observed by us. We went to school on that day and the only notice we took of it was to shout “Merry Christmas!” to the classmates. 

Merry Christmas from and to Narramissic! 

Jolly Mondate

Some Mondates are meant to be shared and this was one of them for I’d made arrangements to join the Fairs, Farms and Fun 4-H Group as they decorated a tree (or two or three) on a Greater Lovell Land Trust property this morning. 

And honestly, my guy was as excited as me to join the adventure for he loves kids.

One of the GLLT’s volunteer docents, Juli, had offered to lead today’s hike since her four children are part of the group. And because she’s a Maine Master Naturalist-in-Training, she made evergreen trees the focus as she explained when we circled up.

All together there were fifteen kids–fourteen of them walking and one young babe tucked inside her mom’s coat. At least I think there were that many. Every time I counted, the number seemed to change. 

After Juli’s initial explanation, we headed off onto the trail. Though most of us sported blaze orange because it’s hunting season, we made enough noise to announce our arrival to deer and their predators within range and beyond, I’m sure. 

We’d gone only a wee bit, when Juli stopped the group to ask them about evergreens. My guy and I were impressed with their collective knowledge.

But it wasn’t only for the trees that she stopped. She’d spied a decoration already dangling and asked if the kids knew how it happened to be there. 

What was it? A mushroom. Did it fall from the sky? Or from a taller tree? No and no. Instead, they figured out that a squirrel had deposited it and Juli explained that red squirrels place mushrooms in trees to dry. Or rather, freeze dry as was the case. 

She hadn’t walked much further when she stopped again. And again asked some questions as she showed off the five needles in a white pine bundle. 

Five needles in each bundle makes it easy to remember as there are five letters in W-H-I-T-E, the color of Maine’s State Tree: Eastern White Pine. 

It wasn’t all a lesson for the name of this 4-H group includes the word “Fun.” And so they climbed atop and under an erratic boulder and added more life on a rock than that one had seen in a long time. 

A little further on a bit of an incline invited their exploration and what to their wondering eyes should they discover but a long abandoned cellar hole with trees growing in it. For a few minutes that became their playground. 

It took us a while to move along because the kids kept finding cool things to admire, including a variety of mammal tracks and . . . even a dead spider. 

What do you see? Lots of eyes. 

And you? Fangs. 

And you? Hairy legs. 

After that discovery, we had to run to catch up with the rest of the group because they were on their way to the scenic overlook. But one of the boys had borrowed a GLLT Nature Backpack from the Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library, which I was thrilled to see, and we used the lucite insect box with a magnifier that was stored in the pack so that all the kids could look at the spider up close if they so wished. 

And then it was time to decorate a tree. But first, Juli had the kids identify three types of evergreens in the same vicinity: spruce, hemlock and balsam fir. Their decorating began with the balsam fir. 

One by one, they attached homemade, biodegradable ornaments. 

And added a tree topper in the form of a birch bark “sleeve.”

Some were hearts cut from birch bark . . . 

and coated with peanut butter and sunflower seeds. 

It took great concentration. 

In no time, the tree was fully decorated.

Some changes had to be made. For one, one of the younger boys wanted his ornament to serve as a tree topper, so the birch bark sleeve was placed in a resting place on another tree. 

And then the kids decided to decorate any branch in the vicinity that attracted their fancy.

At least one needed a boost, but that’s what someone else’s mom was for when your own mom was busy with your baby sister. 

Branches all around certainly won’t feel left out. 

And no mouse or bird or squirrel or deer will go unfed. 

The kids quickly realized that they’d created a critter cafe that even included an offering tucked between two hop hornbeam trees. 

At last, the decorating had come to an end and the crew posed for photographs. 

Our journey back to the parking lot was the same distance as we followed the rest of the one-mile loop, but we travelled much more quickly. We did pause once in a while, however, especially in a grove of young white pines, where the kids practiced aging a tree. 

They knew to begin with 5 for the number of years it takes the seed to germinate and begin to grow and then to count the whorls of branches, each whorl representing one year. 

My guy challenged them to find one that matched his age. They found one that was 43–only off by 20+ years. But a few noted that it did match their dad’s age. I chuckled for I’d had that particular dad in class way back when he was in middle school. 

We were almost done when they made one last discovery–ice! Their very own rink. One little boy wanted to live there so he could slide on the ice all day. And then jump in the water come summer. We didn’t have the heart to tell him that the ice was a result of our rainy October and its not a permanent feature. 

 It was lunch time when the group was finally ready to depart. 

All the way home and even still, my guy and I have been smiling about our morning and the fun we had sharing it with the kids and their moms. Thank you Juli, and 4-H leader Wendy, and all of the homeschooled kids who attended. We were blessed by the opportunity to spend a few hours with you on the Jolly Mondate. 

Mast Landing Mondate

What should you do when you come to a fork in the road . . . and a mailbox?

2-mailbox in the woods

Why open the mailbox, of course, enter the date and your names on the notebook stored within, and then follow the trail to the left. If all goes well, a couple of hours later you’ll emerge via the trail on the right. With lots of zigs and zags along the way, that is.

3-foundation

The story of this place dated back to the 1700s when the massive white pines that once grew there were harvested for the British navy. A dam was built and mills as well. In fact, at one time there were four mills, including a saw mill, textile mill, and two grist mills, plus a woodworking shop. We spied a foundation just off the trail, but didn’t know its part in the story.

5-lily of the valley surrounding foundation

Surrounding the foundation in abundance, however, were lily of the valley plants, their fruits taking on their fall hue. And I imagined the lady of the house tending her garden.

4-black-capped chickadee egg?

Though the homesteaders were no longer in residence, we found evidence that others called this place home–possibly a black-capped chickadee egg.

3a-old vechicle

A little further on, we found another artifact dating to an earlier time. Much earlier given its structure and how buried it was. This had once been farmland before the forest grew up again.

6-climbing under blow down

It wasn’t far into our journey, however, that we began to notice something about this land–it had been hit over and over again by windstorms, all blowing from the east, which made sense given that we were less than a mile from the ocean. We found ourselves stepping over, crawling under . . .

7-walking through blowdown

walking between . . .

8-destruction everywhere

and starring in awe at all of the destruction. It was nothing like we encounter in western Maine, and we began to feel trail snobbish.

9-uprooted

But . . . uprooted trees do offer interesting art forms from above . . .

10-underrooted

and directly below. Think of it as nature’s stained glass window.

10a-bark beetle tunnel art

There was other artwork to admire, including those zigzaggy tunnels created by bark beetles. They must dance to their own tunes as they mine their way across the cambium layer.

10b-artist conks

On the same tree we also found fine specimens of artist conk fungi. How apropos.

12-education building

Soon we came to a modern structure. A peek through the window and we knew we’d reached an education center, where cubbies lined a wall, and posters no longer quite secure rolled from the points at which they’d been tacked.

14-tick check

My favorite was a painting on the outside. Tick Check!

15-apple tree

Because the land had been farmed, apple trees danced in their forward leaning forms.

16-apple

And gave forth fruit among the maze of branches.

17-apples on ground

Some trees were more prolific producers than others.

18-eating an apple

And according to my guy, the offerings were delicious.

18-silky dogwood fruit

There were other fruits to admire, including the wedgewood blue of silky dogwood.

18a-hobblebush fruits

And the green turning red, red turning blue, purplish, blue and almost raisin-like fruits of hobblebush.

19-Norway Maple samara

Even the Norway maple showed off its seeds in samara form.

22-more asters

The asters added delightful touches of color to the rather drab landscape.

11-Nephrotoma eucera, tiger crane fly

And among them, insects such as a tiger crane fly, enhanced the scene.

23-turtlehead

We found turtlehead,

24-false solomon's seal

false Solomon seal in its fruit form,

25-beach rose

and beach roses showing their bright florescence.

26-rose hips

And where there were roses, there were rose hips and I was reminded of my father who couldn’t walk past a rose bush on our travels from our cottage in Harbor View, Clinton, CT, to town via the town beach, without sampling such.

27-dam

Eventually today, after a few backtracks, for we occasionally got fake lost and with all the downed trees, every trail began to look the same, we found the dam.

29-dam breached

It had been breached long ago, and according to the property’s history, the mills were “destroyed by fire in the early 1860s, and not rebuilt.”

29-old mill structures

We could see some evidence through the woods, but weren’t in a major gotta-see-more mode I guess, which isn’t really our way, but today it was.

j30-below the dam--low tide

Down below, the mill stream became the Haraseekeet River if we understood correctly. It was low tide in the estuary. And smelled to me like the mud flats in Clinton Harbor and I was transported to my childhood for a moment.

31-caretakers house

On our way out, we passed by the caretaker’s house, built in 1795 by mill master Abner Dennison. Sadly, it looked like it needed some care taking.

32-head start on Halloween

Nonetheless, it was decorated for the upcoming season.

34-tree spirits

At the end of our journey, we decided that the trails were not our favorite given all the blowdowns and a stagnant Mill Brook that seemed like an oxymoron, but we’d still found plenty of delightful sights. And tried not to make too many contrary comments for the tree spirits kept many eyes on us.

35-tree gnomes

And listened from their gnome homes.

On this Mondate, we whispered that we probably don’t need to return to Maine Audubon’s Mast Landing, but we didn’t want them to hear us.

 

 

Our Home is Their Home

As I sit in my rocking chair on the camp porch, the cicadas still buzz, with chirps of crickets thrown into the mix and somewhere in the background a constant trill from another. Tree frog? Perhaps, but it seems to carry on for longer than usual. Grasshopper? Maybe. And then there is the occasional call of the loon.

1-camp

What truly attracted my attention earlier today, however, were the other members of the household. Whose home this is, I think I know. Or rather, I thought I did. I thought it belonged to my guy and me. But really, I should have known better for it has never just housed the two of us. There were the boys growing up, and family, and friends, and renters, even. Actually, the latter three knew it before the boys. (Oops, I suppose I should call them young men, mid-twenty-somethings that they now are.)  But, through all these years, it has also housed many others. And so today, I got acquainted with some of its other residents. Rather than the mammals that we know also share the space, e.g. mice, squirrels, and bats, it was the insects and arachnids that I checked out.

2-cicada exuviae

My first find along the foundation was an exuvia of one I listen to day and night–that of a cicada. In their larval stage, cicadas live down to eight feet underground. When the time comes to metamorphose into winged adults, they dig to the surface, climb up something, in this case the foundation, and molt. The  emerging winged insects leave behind their shed skin, aka abandoned exoskeleton or exuvia. It’s a rather alien looking structure, with the split obvious from which the adult emerged.

3-cruiser 1

The cicadas weren’t the only aliens along our foundation. It seemed like every few feet I discovered a dragonfly exuvia dangling from the porch floor and now encased in spider webs.

3b-cruiser

One of the cruiser exuviae had dropped to the ground below. But still the structure remained intact. And I now realize that my next task is to head out the door once again in the morning and collect these beauties, the better to understand their nuances.

4-cruiser hiding

I found cruisers hiding under the logs . . .

6-cruiser and cast off spider

and even one tucked in by a basement window that had a shed spider exoskeleton dangling from it.

6a-lancet clubtail dragonfly

There were others as well, but nowhere did I find the exuvia of the one with whom I’ve spent the most time, Sir Lance(t) Clubtail. I suspect his shed skin is attached to some aquatic vegetation for he spends so much of his time by the water, even today, pausing only briefly to rest on the dock ladder.

7-bag worms and pupal case of a pine sawfly

There were other species to meet, including the most interesting of structures, those of the evergreen bagworm cases. I assumed that the young had already emerged, but their homes consisted of material from the trees on which they fed, e.g. pine needles. They struke me as the terrestrial form of the aquatic caddisflies.

And beside the two bagworms was a small, rounded brown case–the pupal case of a pine sawfly. The sawfly had already pupated and in this case no one was home.

8-pine sawfly caterpillar on screen

Oh, but they were and have been for a few weeks. I first realized we had an infestation when what sounded like the drip-drop pattern of a summer rain on a perfectly sunny day turned out to be little bits of green caterpillar frass falling from the trees. Everything was decorated. And then I began to notice the caterpillars–many falling out of trees and landing on the surrounding vegetation, and the house. As would be expected, they climbed toward the sky, hoping, I suppose, to reach the top of the trees. Good luck with that.

9-pine sawfly caterpillars

Some didn’t make it above the foundation, where they encountered spider webs and soon had the juices sucked out of them. Such is life. And today, a winter flock of birds including chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches, hairy woodpeckers, young robins, and even a brown creeper flew in and some fine dining took place. The raindrops have nearly ceased.

10-Northern Pine Sphinx

That wasn’t the only pine-eating caterpillar to make its home here. On the chimney, I found a northern pine sphinx caterpillar moving full speed ahead.

11-orbweaver

And around the bend, where the chimney meets the camp, an orbweaver spinning some silk in the hopes of fine dining.

14a-calico pennant dragonfly in web

One meal had obviously been consumed–a calico pennant dragonfly. I’d seen a few of those on the vegetation a few weeks ago, but none recently. Apparently, one flew too close to the building. The only way I could ID it was by its wings for the head, thorax and abdomen had been eaten. But the wings have no nutritional value.

11a-Northern Pine Sphinx 2

A short time later I returned to the chimney in hopes of locating the northern pine sphinx caterpillar again. I did. And he wasn’t. He’d apparently turned the sharp corner on the chimney and met his fate.

13- Northern Sphinx 4

Eye to eye. I’m amazed at the size of the insects that find their way to her web. It’s not like they are attracted to it. Instead, they come upon it quite by surprise and she makes fast work of their mistake.

14-pine tree spur-throated grasshopper

Rounding the corner back toward the porch door, one last insect drew my attention. And again, it was related to the pines, such is the local community: a pine tree spur-throated grasshopper on one of the logs that forms the outer wall of our wee home.

Our home is their home and we’re happy to share the space with them. Provided, of course, that they leave space for us to live as well. So far, all is well.

 

Remembering Sue

Our greater community has lost a remarkable woman with the sudden passing of fiber artist and historian Sue Black. Though we didn’t tramp together as often as we would have liked, when we did my journey was enriched as Sue added an historical observation to the context. And she was just plain down-to-earth and fun.

For years, she chuckled when she saw me in the audience of her talks about the mills along Stevens Brook that she gave each summer at Lakes Environmental Association. The talk was always the same, but each time I came away with a new understanding. And then I’d join her guided walk beside the brook the next morning.

As time passed, Sue couldn’t always lead the walk and so I had the honor of trying to fill her shoes. I was humbled by the experience, and though I could hear her whispering facts into my ears, I couldn’t add the personal touch that made Sue’s walks so enjoyable for she’d raised sheep and as she often demonstrated at various fairs and fests, she’d processed the wool, creating her own fiber.

At the mill sites, Sue brought the former activity to life again–albeit in our minds–with her detailed descriptions.Once or twice a year, Jinny Mae, Sue and I tramped together along other routes than the brook, always a journey that included stonewalls, dam sites and cellar holes left behind. Our mission, which we delightfully accepted, was to become sleuths and interpret the various scenes, looking for evidence of those who had come before.

I last saw Sue and her husband, Sam, two weeks ago and she and I started chatting about our next adventure with Jinny Mae. We knew the location, but hadn’t yet set the date.

Jinny Mae and I will continue to tramp, and will take Sue along in spirit, our lives forever imprinted with her smile and voice and love for the next adventure.

Two years ago I posted this blog about the mills along Stevens Brook and here it is again:

For Sue . . .

Milling About Stevens Brook

I must begin with a thank you to fiber artist, historian and friend, Sue Black. Sue has led numerous walks along the very trail I followed today and I’ve often been in her presence–usually with notebook in hand so I could jot information down and gain a better understanding of this place.

s-trail sign

Though she wasn’t with me today, I could hear Sue as I mosied along examining the old mill sites of the Stevens Brook Trail in Bridgton. And many of the words that follow are probably hers. I also gleaned info from the Bridgton Historical Society several years ago, when Sue couldn’t lead the walk and asked me to fill in. So I guess, really, what follows is like the confluence of the Stevens and Willet Brooks–two streams that meet to form one.

s-boardwalk under water

Bridgton was once a thriving mill town and Stevens Brook its source of power. Of course, to do this properly, I should begin at Highland Lake, the source of the brook, but  I’m not a proper-sort-of gal and you’ll have to bear with me. I didn’t begin at Pondicherry Park either–for the boardwalk was under water.

s-below Pondicherry

Instead, I slipped onto the trail at Depot Street, beside the Bridgton Community Center. By this point, Willet Brook has joined forces with Stevens, thus increasing the power of the water. I was backtracking, and again didn’t get far because of water flowing over the trail, but along the way I made a discovery. Those beautiful trees that lean over the brook–silver maples (Acer saccharinum). It never occurred to me that they grew here, but made perfect sense.

s-silver maple leaf

The backside of the deeply-lobed leaves are silvery gray in old age and silvery white during their prime.

I should have taken a photo of the old Memorial School because that was the sight of the train depot (Depot Street) for the Bridgton and Saco River Railroad that was built in 1883–a narrow gauge operating from Hiram, but didn’t think of it at the time. Instead, I followed the stone steps down, walked beside the brook as it ran below the deep bank by Stevens Brook Elementary School and came up behind a few old buildings, back on Depot.

s-food city bridge

And then I stood on the bridge overlooking Food City. I should note that this is power site #4. Yup, I’ve skipped the first three for now. Stick with me. We’ll get there. In 1822, this area of town wasn’t part of the main village–that was confined to Main Hill. A water-powered carding mill equipped to prepare wool for spinning, thus replacing the tedious hand work of disentangling, cleaning and intermixing the fibers was in operation in this area at the time. By 1825, James Flint and Aaron Littlefield built a sawmill, which they operated for 15 years. In 1840, this was the site of the Walker Saw Mill and Grist Mill. And then things changed. The Pondicherry Mill was built in 1865 to manufacture woolen goods. It was one of the most extensive manufacturing plants in Maine at that time and employed 50 operators. Standing where I was on the bridge, I could see the stones related to the mill and dam. The dam disintegrated in the 1960s.

s-coal trestle

s-trestle 2

In 1898, the neighboring town of Harrison wanted to be joined to the railroad and the RR owners obliged. From this spur, a trestle was built that carried coal in dump carts to the Pondicherry Mill. The structure has deteriorated immensely, but still stands as a monument to this moment in history. So wait, think about this coal situation. The mill had grown to employ 225 people and water power from the brook was no longer dependable. An immense coal-burning chimney about 100 feet in height had been added to the mill. Sixty looms produced 18,000 yards of cloth weekly. Though the building stood until the mid-sixties, the industry moved south long before that. The stones by the brook and trestle are all that are left to tell the story. A now-deceased resident, Reg Fadden, used to tell the story of knowing what color they were dying the wool on any particular day–he’d see the color in the water as he walked to school.

s-former millpond:5th site

Above power site #5, the land was flat and indicative of a former mill pond.

s-5th site

A stone dam and some other foundation work is all that’s now left. The first mill to be located here was a sawmill built in 1868. By 1871, a shovel factory was built on the west side, which was the side I stood upon. By 1899, the Bridgton Lumber Company had located to this power site, with two mills operating–one for boxes and house furnishings; the other for lumber. This apparently was a successful site because in 1911 it became the Burnham and Newcomb Sawmill, which was purchased by Harry Bisbee in 1920. He used a turbine since the water power wasn’t dependable. Though it gushed over the rocks today, in the summertime, this is the perfect place to sit on the flat rocks and dangle ones feet. I can’t remember if Sue told me this or I read it, but apparently there was a treacherous footwalk that crossed the brook in this area and even at age 90, Mr Bisbee would walk across. The sawmill eventually burned, with only the office remaining. This time using a diesel engine, Mr. Bisbee started a smaller sawmill. In 1953, the dam washed out with a flood and local lore has it that Mr. Bisbee walked out one day, leaving it all behind. He died a couple of years later, gifting the mill to the public library.

Charles Fadden and his son, Reg, bought the mill at auction and operated a box mill, using a turbine for power. The office was still standing until about ten years ago, when it collapsed.

s-narrow 1

By the mill, the Harrison Narrow Gauge crossed over a trestle; today only the stone stanchions remain. A sixth power site was never developed.

s-locust bark

It was here that I recognized another tree I don’t always encounter–a black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia). The bark appears almost braided.

s-locust pod

And below it, an old flat pod that contains bean-like seeds.

s-7th site, Johnson Falls

I followed a new trail (possibly private, but it wasn’t posted) and was delighted to get a better view of what I believe was power site #7.

s-lower johnson falls site 7

If I’m correct in my thinking, this is Lower Johnson Falls, and was the possible 1859 site of the Milliken Bedstead Factory.

s-remnants by Johnson falls

A foundation is still visible on the eastern side of the brook.

s-7th site, smith sash 1

Below power site #7, I came to the coffin shop. Hey, somebody had to build them. Lewis Smith built the two-story building with a basement in the late 1860s. It was a sash and blind factory, but he also built furniture, and yes, coffins. More local lore: he was the town’s first undertaker. While the building has had several owners since then who have tried to restore it, it still needs some (way more than some) tender loving care so it doesn’t go the way of all the other mills.

s-turbine rig

All that remains of a water-powered turbine still reaches over the brook. Originally, all the water wheels along the brook were overshot wheels. While an overshot wheel had horizontal axils, a turbine wheel had vertical axils, thus making it smaller, more efficient and more dependable given the rise and fall of the water.

s-turbine

And on the front lawn of the coffin shop, the real deal–a Perry Turbine Water Wheel. In 1877, Richard Bailey and Samuel Miller operated an iron factory and machine shop built by William Perry and George Taylor across the road from the Smith factory. When they sold their business to Forest Mills owed by William  Fessenden Perry, it was renamed the Bridgton Machine Company with George and Frank Burnham taking over as managers. In 1887, the Perry turbine was invented and it received nation-wide popularity for use in mills along small streams.

s-forest mill a

Power site #8 is one of my favorites. This is where Perry and Taylor erected a mill in 1862 to manufacture woolen goods. The dam was built to provide a fifteen-foot fall with a mill pond above.

s-Forest Woolen Mill 2

s-forest sluice

Today the sluiceway is dry, but I can imagine the water pouring through here.

s-forest woolen mill 3

With the advent of Kansas Road in 1865, the woolen mill expanded to 200 feet by 45 feet and stood two stories tall. With more looms than any mill in the area, outerwear was produced here and shipped to Boston. During the Civil War, attention turned to creating war materials.

s-9th site, Kennard Dam

Across the street, I ventured down the wrong trail at first and found myself on the upper side of the dam built at power site #9. The 13′ dam built by Boothby and Chadwick in 1864 was near Kennards Stocking Mill. It was originally intended that Kansas Road would cross the dam, but the turn would have been too sharp and too steep.

s-vp by Kennards, 9th site

Today, a vernal pool sits below the former dam. I checked it and several others along the way. No signs of life. I’ve yet to hear spring peepers.

Anyway, Taylor and Perry purchased this site in 1865 and built a three-story carding mill with an overhead walkway that crossed Kansas Road and connected their two mills: Forest Mill #1 and Forest Mill #2.  By 1879, Mr. Taylor had died and Mr. Perry re-organized as the Forest Mills Company, which employed 130 workers and produced cashmere. As Sue has told me, this was not from cashmere goats but rather a lightweight fabric consisting of wool fiber that had either a plain or twill weave.

s-power 9

A railroad spur and trestle were built in 1900 to unload coal and other supplies for the Forest Mills Company. The American Wool Company purchased the mill, which was large for Bridgton, but small compared to those south of Maine. Eventually, business moved south. In 1925, a shoe shop moved in, but it wasn’t successful either. The building was torn down in 1962.

s-powerline trail

The scene changed briefly when I followed the trail onto the present day power line.

s-powerline boardwalk

Typically, this boardwalk is under water in March and April. But this year is far from typical.

s-cmp pond

And then I reached power site #10. This is the most modern of them all, but again, it has a history. It’s possible that this was the site of Jacob Stevens’s first sawmill built in 1768.

s-cmp dam 1

Mr. Stevens would have built a boulder and gravel dam, not one of cement certainly. He lived nearby and raised eight children; the four oldest worked beside him. Mr. Stevens was a ranking member of the survey crew that came to what is now called Bridgton in 1766 from Andover, Massachusetts. He returned in 1768 under contract with the Proprietors to develop water power and make it serve the early settlers by creating mills that provided building materials and grain for food. Stevens was the one who identified twelve power sites along the almost two-mile brook with a drop of 156 feet from its source at Highland Lake (known originally as Crotched Pond) to its outlet at Long Lake (Long Pond). It made sense for him to build a site here for both a saw mill and grist mill, as this is near the mouth of the stream and would have provided him with easy access to the main thoroughfare of Long Pond and beyond. The proprietors required that the saw mill operate for fifteen years and the grist mill for twenty.

s-cmp dam 4

I don’t know what happened between 1768 and 1896 when the Bridgton Water and Electric Company took over as the first source of electricity and water for the village. The concrete dam was built in 1931 by Central Maine Power after several transfers of ownership. The greatest power could be found between this site and power site #11, where the brook drops 25-30 feet.

s-penstock start

A 790-foot penstock was built to regulate the flow of the water.

s-penstock channel

s-penstock support

Evidence remains of its position and actually, it’s easiest to see right now before the summer foliage obscures so much.

s-1

Somewhere in this area was power site #11. The Hart Tannery may have been built on an island in the middle of the brook.

s-water drops below CMP

The exact location of power site #12 is also elusive, but rumor has it that a shingle factory was located between site #11 and the outlet.

s-1922 brick

Early on, a wooden structure was used as a power house. That was replaced by a brick building built in 1922 by the Western Maine Power Company. Notice where the penstock entered. And above it, a turbine generator.

s-Long lake 2

All was calm by the time Stevens Brook emptied into Long Lake today.

s-beaver 1

Though it’s easy to miss, this area still offers a source of dams and industry.

s-beaver lodge and dams

Beaver style.

s-3

I walked back up Main Street and headed to the first three power sites, which I present in backwards order at the risk of confusing my tired readers. Power site #3 has a storied past: 1813-fulling mill (put weaving on hot water and beat it to close fibers); 1822-saw and grist mill; 1830-saw, grist and plaster mill; 1845-mill burned; 1857-rebuilt two stories; 1877-never rebuilt. Yet this was long known as the Dam Site and a Dam Site Restaurant stood here for years. Across the street was a tannery, which didn’t need water for power, but did need water to fill the 140 vats. Using hemlock bark, 10,000 hides were tanned each year.

s-shorey park dam 1

I’m only just realizing that I missed power site #2. I looked at it as I walked by, but must have been tired. Anyway, it’s below this split stone dam and served as a grist mill in 1798 and a sash and blind mill in 1835.

s-sp 3rd power site

Power site #1 was originally a saw mill built by Asa Kimball at the head of Stevens Brook. The lay of the land has changed since roads were constructed and Highland Lake (Crotched Pond) had a different configuration and lower depth. The pond served as Mr. Kimball’s mill pond, where he floated logs from Sweden (Sweden, Maine, that is). The split stone dam was erected in 1849-50 by Rufus Gibbs and others, thus providing power for the first big mill in the village that stood four stories tall, employed 50 workers, ran 20 looms and made blankets for the Civil War. By 1941, is was demolished.

s-sp millpond

This is the mill pond as we see it today, but if my vision is clear, before Highland Road intercepted it, this was part of Crotched Pond.

s-highland

And the start of it all, the thing that got me milling about today, Highland Lake and the source of Stevens Brook.

Dear reader, if you are with me still, thank you. It was a long journey and I appreciate that you came along.

P.S. Addendum, June 24, 2018. Thanks for all of your contributions to our greater western Maine community, Sue. May you rest in peace.

 

Summer Solstice Sweetness

My dear friend Carissa sent me an e-mail about this week being Pollinator Week and challenged me to write about it. Her inspiration came from an e-mail she’d received from Natureworks Horticultural Services in Northford, Connecticut–part of our old stomping grounds as babes, toddlers, tweens and teens. (She grew up in Northford, while I grew up on the other side of the tracks in North Branford–two distinct villages that formed one town.)

Part of the message included this passage: “Happy Pollinator Week. There really is a week for that? You betcha. Pollinators are vital to life on this planet. And, at Natureworks, we are teaching our customers to protect and help pollinators every single day. It all starts with an organic garden. It includes planting lots of pollinator-friendly flowers. It continues with the way you manage your landscape and the way your community manages their public spaces. Pollinators are in decline around the world. We need to take this seriously. Let me just say . . .  we have the plants for that!

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And then another friend, Pam, invited me to join her on a mini-hike to Foss Mountain today in Eaton, New Hampshire, and it all came full circle. To travel here with Pam was an incredible opportunity because she had some personal experience with the property and shared the local lore, including a story about a peddler who long ago repeatedly traveled a road that crosses the mountain and apparently spent some time canoodling with another man’s woman. And then, on one of those journeys, the peddler vanished into thin air–never to be seen or heard from again.

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Pam’s brother and sister-in-law had previously owned the land we were about to explore, but it’s now owned by the Town of Eaton and is protected in perpetuity by the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust. The property is managed by the Eaton Conservation Commission, which maintains the trail and blueberry fields.

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The blueberry fields were really a sign of early succession following a 150+ year history as pasture land. According to information posted on one of the three kiosks, there was a description of the farming heritage that included along the timeline the decade that the fields reverted to blueberries, juniper and gray birch, and the man who oversaw the blueberry crop–Frank French.

At some point along that timeline, the Brooks family homesteaded there, but not much was known about them. Pam and I wandered about the remaining cellar hole as we tried to interpret the scene, but didn’t quite understand all that we saw. (We sure wished our friend Janet had been able to join us and add her understanding of such historical sites.)

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We continued on the short journey upward, passing through a pleasant White and Red Pine forest along a well-defined trail with switchbacks to help eliminate erosion.

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Suddenly, the natural community changed and we entered an open area where White-throated Sparrows serenaded us with their “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” song. Sheep Laurel surprised us with its bright pink flowers, but . . . we spied no pollinators.

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We also discovered a cinquefoil growing abundantly among the rocks, and though it had a few pollinators, it was just that–only a few.

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Now allow me to interrupt with an explanation of the common name for this cinquefoil or Sibbaldiopsis tridentata: it’s known as Three-toothed (tridentata) for the three teeth at the tip of each leaflet. Do you see them?

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Though we only saw a few pollinators among the cinquefoil, the abundance of blueberries suggested a lot of previous action. A few blueberries had already ripened. We conducted a taste test and suggest you totally avoid Foss Mountain this summer for we certainly couldn’t taste the sunshine in those little blue morsels. (And my nose just grew longer–Pinocchio-style.)

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As we reached the summit, we shifted our attention from flowers and pollinators to the 360˚ view that surrounded us.

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In every direction . . .

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we relished the sight . . .

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of blueberry plants . . .

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and mountains–including the Ossipee, Belknap and Presidential ranges.

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After a lunch break in the middle of this longest day, we started down and made more discoveries–including the sweet flowers of Blue-eyed Grass and its fruits indicating it had been pollinated.

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And nearby on a Red Clover . . .

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a bumblebee sought nectar while simultaneously filling its pollen sacs.

But in the whole scheme of things, we saw few pollinators and wondered–what’s up? This is an organic field and public space, as Carissa’s contact at Natureworks encouraged. And yet . . . Pam and I weren’t able to answer all our questions today.

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But . . . as we looked upon the abundant blueberry crop before us on this first day of summer, we gave thanks for those who had protected the land and those who had performed the mighty act of pollination despite adversity and we looked forward to the sweetness that will follow this Summer Solstice.