Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Shrinking Stow - Part Two

The 1630 on the plaque refers to the beginning of the Massachusetts Bay
Colony. A few families settled in Pompositticut around 1660, but were all
driven out or killed in King Philip's War (1675-78). Resettling commenced
around 1681 and the territory given name Town of Stow on May 16, 1683.
The early years were marginal at best - by the end of 1687 down to
only 28 families, and no resident Minister until 1689.
Last week's column left off with Stow having gained land from Sudbury and given up land to Harvard and Shirley. After the Shirley subtraction, Stow was contained within seemingly sensible boundaries (no more Stow Leg), but would subsequently lose land and people to Boxborough, Hudson and Maynard.

Boxborough was created as a District in 1783, officially becoming a Town in 1835. Its creation took parts of Stow, Harvard and Littleton. Stow amiably gave up hundreds of acres, but Boxborough's situation with Littleton was contentious. The compromise was that individual landowners within the District of Boxborough could consider themselves residents of Littleton and pay taxes accordingly. Over subsequent decades most of these landowners or their descendents finally agreed to become Boxborough-ites, but two farm-owning families were still holdouts until 1890. Finally, a piece of the border between the towns was shifted south, making them legally part of Littleton. Earlier, in 1868, there had been an attempt to expand Boxborough by acquiring West Acton. This failed.

In 1846 Stow tried to annex a small but crucial part of Sudbury. The Assabet River was a boundary dating back to 1683. William Knight and Amory Maynard starting buying water rights and land on both sides of the river circa 1843 with intent to build a dam, canal and woolen mill. The dam site was entirely in Stow; the mill site and what later became Maynard's Main Street entirely in Sudbury. A petition by Knight to shift the boundary southwards, so that all of their property would be in Stow, was joined by the town of Stow, ostensibly to straighten the borderline and strengthen one of Stow's school districts. (Ha!) Sudbury opposed the action. Stow lost. More on this next week

Back in 1702 Stow had tried for a much larger land acquisition. In the aftermath of King Philip's war, the Indian town of Nashobah, some sixteen square miles, had been vacated. Individuals were moving in, and towns such as Groton were shifting borders. Stow reasoned that the land was adjacent to its northern border, and would be a gain toward raising taxes to support a Minister. Stow lost. Nashobah was later incorporated as Littleton. In another border brouhaha, there was a thwarted early attempt to chop off a southern portion of Stow via a petition to create a new town from land in Sudbury, Framingham, Marlborough and Stow in 1739. This was opposed by parent towns in 1740. Nothing came of it.   

Stow, MA, 1856 = before north part of Marlborough became
Hudson and before Maynard created from parts of  Stow and
Sudbury. Boon's Pond not yet enlarged and Gleasondale was
known as Rock Bottom. Click on images to enlarge.
Hudson nibbled on parts of Stow in 1866. The creation of this manufacturing town came mostly from Marlborough, but included about 350 acres from Stow's southwest corner. The small loss of land to Hudson did not raise opposition from Stow. Two asides: a downward dip in the middle of Hudson's northern border dates to 1783, and was designed to leave mills and associated buildings (now the hamlet of Gleasondale) in Stow rather than partially in Marlborough, and two years after Hudson was created it bought two square miles from Bolton for $10,000.

From a collection of stories about Stow's history, collected by Lewis Halprin, there was one final minor boundary adjustment with Hudson in 1979: putting a dividing line down the center of the three upper basins of Lake Boon. Prior to that there had been a straight line border which had caused a dozen or so houses on the north side of the lake, surrounded by Stow, to be legally part of Hudson and a similar number of houses on the south side, reachable only via Hudson, legally part of Stow.

The creation of Maynard on April 19, 1871 took 1,300 acres from Stow, but of greater impact, nearly half its population, in what was informally had been called Assabet Village. There were some exploratory town-founding rumblings in 1870, followed by a petition to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, filed January 26, 1871. Supportive petitions with additional signers were submitted in January and February. All told, nearly 160 signatures gathered. Key points of the complaint were that the fast-growing population clustered around the woolen mill on the Assabet River was miles away from the town centers of Sudbury and Stow, and were not getting adequate school and street improvement spending despite taxes being paid to the parent towns.

There was opposition to the petition. Stow residents countered with three remonstrances, stating that such a division would remove “…the only portion that has increased in its population and in its valuation for the past ten years.” A total of 136 men signed three counter-proposals. Stow lost. In compensation Stow received $6,500 plus interest ($1,470) spread out over seven years. The only solace was that an initial, non-official proposal for a 'Greater Maynard' would have taken close to an additional 600 acres from the southeast edge of Stow, all the way down to White Pond. What was left to Stow after Maynard decamped was an area of 18.1 square miles (11,584 acres) with a population of about 1,000. With the exception of the Gleasondale mills, Stow remained primarily a farm town (poultry and apples) for a long time, not reaching a population of greater than 2,000 until the 1950s.

Much of the work on this topic, including the "Stow Leg" map, rests on research that Francis W. Warren, a Stow historian, conducted in 1979 for a lecture "Boundaries of Stow," some since revisited and retold by Stow historian and author, Lewis Halprin. Concluded in Part Three.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Shrinking Stow - Part One

In the decades after the creation of Stow in 1683, certain boundaries, fluid, were settled, and neighboring towns gave up or took land. There are statements in historical documents that Stow at its largest was more than twice its current area of 18.1 square miles. The saga begins with Stow attempting a land grab of the vacated Indian town of Nashobah (now Littleton) in 1702. This would have added 16 square miles. The petition was rejected. Next was Stow gaining about 250 acres from Sudbury in 1730. When Stow was created, Sudbury still retained a bit of land north of the Assabet River, bordering what would become Acton in 1735. As the settlers there had no easy means to get to church or town meetings in Sudbury, they petitioned to joint Stow. The area included 200 acres that initially belonged to the Browne family. It roughly matched land now site of Maynard golf course, Christmas Motors, and Maynard's northeastern woodlands.

Frances W. Warren's 1978 map of the original size of Stow. MA
Click on maps to enlarge. (Courtesy Stow Historical Society)
After this, it was all subtraction, subtraction, subtraction. Pompositticut Plantation, renamed Stow on May 16, 1683, had been created to fill the space between the older towns and territories of  Concord, Sudbury, Groton, Lancaster and Marlborough. "Pompositticut" was an Indian name said to mean “land of many hills. ” Summer Hill, Maynard, was on old maps as Pompositticut Hill. 

Stow included a narrow strip of land called the Stow Leg which extended miles west, to beyond the Nashua River. This  came about when Lancaster and Groton were created in the 1650s. A corridor of land had been left between the two for the Native Americans of Nashobah to travel west to hunting regions. The concept was not unique - The south side of Lancaster once included land referred to as the Shrewsbury Leg.

Towns changing size was not uncommon. Sudbury, established 1639, grew in 1640 and 1649, then subsequently gave up land to Framingham, Stow, Wayland and Maynard. Lancaster was as large as 112 square miles, then birthed Harvard, Bolton, Berlin, Clinton, Boylston, West Boylston, Sterling and Leominster.

Map of Harvard, MA, showing the strip across
the middle that had come from Stow, described as
200 rods (0.625 miles) wide. Town of Shirley,
was created later from southwest part of Groton.
Courtesy Harvard Historical Society  
Back to Stow. The creation of Harvard in June 1732 was vigorously opposed by residents of Stow, but in the end Stow lost 2,650 acres of the Stow Leg, west as far as the Nashua River. This created an oddity. Stow Leg extended farther west than what was deeded to Harvard, so that after the creation of Harvard, Stow included an isolated chunk of land on the far side of Harvard, roughly 1.25 miles in length east to west and two hundred rods (0.625 miles) wide north to south. Problem solved 33 years later when the town of Shirley, created in 1753, formally took over this 450 acre remnant in 1765.

There is physical evidence that Stow had once extended so far west. According to Ethel Childs' book, History of Stow (1983): "On the road from Shirley Center to Leominster, about 50 feet east of the Shirley-Lunenberg line is a small gully. About 125 feet up this gully one may find an old granite marker about four and one half feet high. On the top is carved the letters, 'GROTON STOW LEG OLD CORNER '." The location was visited February 2017 and the boundary marker stone still stands, although the top is so weather-worn as to be nearly illegible. The stone reads "S" and "1848" on east side and "L" on west side.  According to Chandler's History of Shirley (1883), the boundary between Shirley and Lunenberg had been disputed, not settled until 1848, at which time this marker was installed. The lettering on top was historical homage to the fact that this had once been the west end of the east-west line between Groton and Stow Leg.

The annexation of that Stow land by Shirley in 1765 resulted in a legal action that reached the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 1810. In those days, towns were responsible for the care of resident paupers, most commonly widowed women and orphaned children, but also men with physical or mental ailments, who were unable to care for themselves. These unfortunates could be supported in place, in their residences, taken in as town-paying borders in someone else's home, or relocated to a town's poor farm. Work was often required in return for support. 

Top of the stone reads GROTON STOW LEG OLD CORNER. Apparently
this marker was installed in 1848 to indicate where the northwest corner of  
Stow Leg had been until taken over by Town of Shirley in 1765. 
If a person or family moved into a town and the town decided the newcomers were unlikely to be able to support themselves, the town could "warn out" such persons. This did not mean eviction. Rather, it meant that the town legally absolved itself from providing future support. The case in question concerned James Bartlett, residing in Shirley. Bartlett owned land he had inherited from his father, but could not support himself. The land in question had been in that part of the Stow Leg annexed by Shirley in 1765. Shirley claimed that Bartlett's upkeep was still the responsibility of Stow. Shirley lost.

The question of which town 'owned' poor was not abstract. When Maynard was created in 1871 the agreements with Stow and Sudbury were that the newly created town would assume responsibility for the relief and support of paupers within its bounds. As Sudbury already had in its care - at its Poor Farm - people who had been on land now deeded to Maynard, Maynard also agreed to pay Sudbury $300 per year for ten years for their care.
Much of the work on this topic, including the "Stow Leg" map, rests on research that Francis W. Warren, a Stow historian, conducted in 1978 for a lecture "Boundaries of Stow," some since revisited and retold by Stow historian and author, Lewis Halprin. Continued in Part Two.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Beavers Invade Maynard

Gnawed tree near Ice House Landing, Maynard
(2006 photo) Click on any photo to enlarge.
A beaver family has created a lodge on the north side of the mill pond about 80 yards east of the Sudbury Street bridge, and are destroying trees on Mill & Main property, trees bordering St. Bridget property and also on neighboring private property. Tree damage by other beaver families is evident up and down the Assabet River between the Ben Smith and Powdermill dams. Beavers will walk more than 150 feet from water's edge to take down trees for food and building material. Heavy gauge wire fencing four feet tall is recommended to protect individual trees.

Due to fur trapping, beavers were gone from colonial Massachusetts by 1750, and did not start to repopulate the state until 1930s. When colonial farmers relocated to new areas to start a new village they anticipated finding large, tree-free expanses near streams. These farm-ready spaces had once been beaver ponds. Resident beavers would have moved away after all the surrounding trees have been cut down and eaten. Or else had been trapped for pelts. Unmaintained dams deteriorated and washed out, draining the ponds and leaving fertile meadows.  

While recovery has not been as explosive as for whitetail deer, which now exceed their pre-European population, estimates are that Massachusetts is home to at least 100,000 beavers. The Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge is home to a dozen or more active colonies – all contributors to the wetlands habitat essential to many other species.

Many towns’ Department of Public Works have to deal with beaver management every year. Maynard's DPW has on several occasions brought in licensed trappers to remove beavers from wetlands near the town’s well fields. Homeowners can apply to a town’s Board of Health for an Emergency Permit to trap and kill beavers affecting private property. State law does not allow for relocation, or for that matter, destroying a dam or lodge without a permit.

When beavers are able to find a place to live without disruption, spring brings a litter of about four kits which will remain close to the parent pair for two years, helping out with chores such as dam and lodge maintenance, plus late-fall food storage in the form of underwater piles of branches. This way, food remains accessible under the winter ice. The adult male of the mated pair will create scent mounds marking the family’s territory. This territoriality results in families being no closer than half a mile from each other. If a beaver pond is seen with two lodges it just means the one family in residence upgraded.

Beaver skull purchased from licensed trapper.
Note orange tint to enamel. Click to enlarge.
Our resident adult beavers have no predators. Before the Europeans got here they were hunted by Native Americans, wolves, cougars and black bears. Nowadays, their lifespan in the wild can exceed 20 years, with adults typically weighing 45-65 pounds but known to top 100 pounds. Every spring, the two-year olds, evicted from their parents’ lodges, go a wandering. Summer sightings and new areas of tree damage are probably by these adolescents. Lodges are not always surrounded by water. If the water level is relatively stable the beaver will forego constructing a dam, and instead build a lodge next to shore, referred to as a bank lodge.

The four front wood-gnawing teeth, continually growing, are radically different from the chewing teeth. The enamel of the outer surface incorporates an iron-containing pigment which makes that surface harder and also orange in color. Because the rest of the tooth is a softer dentin material, the teeth resharpen with use.

Beaver skull showing space between
gnawing teeth and chewing teeth
Everyone knows that beavers chop down trees, but the descriptions in school-age appropriate texts omit a few facts. Yes, beavers use mud, rocks and branches to construct dams and lodges. Yes, branch tips and underbark are consumed as food. But did you know that gnawed food is only partially absorbed during passage through a lengthy small intestine? Whatever is left enters an enlarged section of the large intestine, where it undergoes bacterial breakdown. After a day of browsing on greenery, beavers retire to the lodge for the night, where they will defecate, gather up their feces, and eat everything all over again. Coprophagia (yes, it has a name) allows for enhanced energy absorption from the bacterially processed plant fiber, and is practiced by many other herbivores. The next morning the beavers defecate the twice processed material in the water outside the lodge and start the new day.

Beaver damage to large trees.
Beavers sometimes gnaw all the way around the trunk of a large tree, but do not finish the work, so the tree is dead but still standing. One theory is killing large trees will promote growth of new trees, which is what the beavers want to eat. The other theory is dental hygiene - the beavers need to gnaw on hard wood to keep their front teeth from getting too long. These two trees are next to the Assabet River on the Assabet River Walk trail. The bark is chewed to a height of about three feet. Nearby, there are stumps of small trees the beavers cut through and dragged into the river for food. The water level on this part of the river is set by the Powdermill Dam, so beavers have a lodge but no dam of their own.