Monday, March 17, 2014

The History in Our Preserved Landscape

By Beth Sullivan
Those of us who regularly wander the Avalonia trails, are quite aware of some of the historical elements around us. We walk with our eyes on the plants, on the birds and on the natural surroundings, but we also recognize that human influence has played a great part in shaping the land we now have protected. Sometimes it is these elements that make a piece of land more valuable.

SCLA Picture
The stonewalls that criss-cross the land are probably the most familiar to us. Signs of the rural past, they speak of farming and pasturing livestock. Even rusted remains of farm implements, barbed wire, cart wheel rims, old buckets and tools add to the story of our land.
Fence posts and wire are signs of the past.
Some of our properties, such as Hoffman Preserve, Perry Natural area, and Stony Brook Preserve, among others, have old cemeteries within their borders. A meditative walk among the weathered stones will tell of the families who lived on the land in centuries past. These and others have stone foundations that dot the landscape complete with chimney bases, root cellars, hearth stones and stoops.
A mysterious structure that was likely a root cellar or shelter.
On Pequotsepos Brook Preserve there are cart roads, in places barely visible through the woody growth, and in other areas are still the foundation for the paths we walk on today. A practiced eye will trace their trail through barway openings in walls and then follow them as they cross the brook with sturdy stone bridges.
This stone bridge was part of a cart trail.
While Avalonias mission is to preserve our natural diversity, we also recognize the need to preserve these elements as well. Our stewardship goals often include clearing walls, exposing bridges and preserving foundations and artifacts while allowing visitors to appreciate the history of the land.
These stone walls marked out pasture land.
Over the last months, a new group has formed in Stonington to address the importance of these elements in our town This new group is The Stonington Cultural Landscape Alliance (SCLA). The group seeks to bring together numerous and diverse groups and individuals that represent all aspects of our towns past and future. From the Stonington Historical Society and the Denison Society, to land preservation organizations such as Avalonia and the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, to elected officials and members of various commissions, the group hopes to unite forces and focus on the history and culture that shaped our town.
This old well once provided water for local residents.
On Saturday, March 15 the SCLA stepped out into the town and offered three different excursions for interested invitees. A tour of the Coogan farm was one offering, a boat trip on the Pawcatuck river was another, and the third was an in- depth look at Dodge Paddock/Beal Preserve one of Avalonia’s most frequented and unique pieces of land.
The entrance to Dodge Paddock and Beal Preserve.
Led by the Avalonia team of Beth Moore, to relay the interesting history and background of the area, and myself, to offer the environmental, ecological background, the purpose was to bring attention to the significance of the area and also address the changes that threaten such an area due to environmental conditions beyond our control. On that one small preserve we could outline the history, discuss the present issues, and explore our goals and options for the future. At least 15 participants joined us on the walk, asked questions and got a greater understanding of the complexities involved in good stewardship for a historical and ecologically sensitive site.
While some efforts to preserve land in Stonington get a lot of attention, Avalonia has been quietly acquiring land for over 45 years. We steward over 50 parcels, combined on about 40 preserves and nearly 1000 acres. Many of our larger parcels have lovely trails that allow visitors to appreciate the history as well as the nature. Even those without trails are open for those who like to get off the beaten path.
Over time, we hope to include the cultural and historical aspects to our descriptions of our preserves, here on the blog. We hope you will enjoy the added direction.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan and SCLA.

1 comment:

  1. SCLA sounds like a worthwhile collaboration. Stonington has many cemeteries - many maintained to some extent by the Town Highway Department while other historic cemeteries have either disappeared, lost stones (Cato & Plato come to mind), or appear to have found new or contemporary users. How should these resources be maintained?
    Just came across this 8/16/1988 story from The Day on the Perry Natural Area which mentions the cemetery :
    The blog entry regarding the history of the Simmons Family Preserve was fascinating.
    --Ben Baldwin, Stonington Conservation Commission