Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Stonewalls and Shepherd Songs

Like the rest of our blogs for April, this post explores how our local history ties in with celebrating NH Archaeology Month and National Poetry Month. It also explores how a war in Europe led to the stone walls we have in New England.  

Earlier this week we received a donation of a very rare piece of local history, a copy of Thomas Randall's The Farmer's Meditations or Shepherd's Songs. While it was printed in Limerick Maine in 1833, the author was known as the Eaton Poet, for Eaton, New Hampshire.

It is a small leather bound volume of 255 pages and 108 poems that cover a wide range of farming subjects from oxen, horses, apples, wheat, barley and corn. He also covers money, cities, stores, lead mines, cholera, the Saco River, a tall lawyer and George Washington.

Within the book, the poet Thomas Randall wrote of loss and several poems are designed to provide comfort to those who survive.

The book was donated by a family in South Paris, Maine in memory of their daughter Sherry Lynn Foster.

Much of the poetry in the book celebrates the kind of rustic county life expressed in Silas Draper's painting of sheep grazing in the shadow of Mount Chocorua from 1900 at the Conway Public Library.

Caring for livestock is about clearing land, maintaining pasture and controlling livestock. Most livestock are relatively docile and have a strong herding behavior. As a result, they have traditionally been shepherded by a sheep herder, often with the help of sheep dogs. On a tangent, New Hampshire's State dog breed, the Chinook, is descended from the Anatolian Sheep Dog (more on that in a future blog). 

If livestock escaped their herders they could be identified with markings. In an essay on this book, Nella Braddy Henney (for whom the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room is named) describes the mark the poet Randall registered to identify his sheep. It was "A swallers tail cut out of the Right ear and a notch out of the under part of the left ear"

To keep livestock from straying from their fields or from roads while being driven between fields or to market, stone walls and wooden fences were built. These structures can be seen in many of the paintings of Chocorua. As a result, sheep herding has left a mark on the landscape that can still be seen or "read" today even if the buildings and wooden fences are long gone due to fire and rot.

Tom Wessels has written a couple great guides for learning to read the historic landscape.

In Reading the Forested Landscape, Wessels argues that Napoleon’s victory over Portugal in 1809 led to a series of events that led to the stone walls in New England.

In Forest Forensics, he provides a formal system using a dichotomous key for more detailed analysis of the historic landscape. 

For example, if a stone wall has small, softball size stones (cobbles) in them the adjoining field was most likely used for crops.

On the other hand, if the wall contains mostly large stones and no small stones, the adjoining field was most likely used for livestock.

These two types of stone walls can be found across the street from each other at one of the most famous views painted by White Mountain artists, Chocorua.

Compared to the wall on the east side of the road, this wall on the west side of the road is lower, wider and includes a large number of small stones or cobbles among the larger stones. This cobble wall was associated with crops. Compared to the next wall we will examine across the street it can also be said to have been "cobbled" together instead of carefully laid. The lidar imagery on the stone wall mapper site clearly shows the furrow lines made by years of plowing resulting in a smoother, flatter field. See it at this link and in this image below (click on images to enlarge them).

...and the detail here.

Just across the street to the east is a taller, narrower wall made of large stones. This was a wall for livestock.

This type of wall is also known as a "lace wall" as it is only one stone wide and as a result you can see through it and imagine it as a piece of lace. It is also layered and well laid. The alliterations should help you remember the different types of walls.

If you want to learn more about how to read the historic landscape, The Conway Public Library offers free outreach programs for schools and community groups about these subjects.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Song of the Stone Wall

This post is a combination of local history, above ground archaeology and poetry (April is National Poetry Month in addition to New Hampshire Archaeology Month). It is also a follow up from Women's History Month in March.

The person who ties this all together is Helen Keller. Helen was a frequent visitor to the Mount Washington Valley. She also wrote the poem entitled "Song of the Stone Wall." You can read it here at this link or check out our copy in the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room. It begins with the magnificent and evocative phrase

"Come walk with me, and I will tell 
What I have read in this scroll of stone"

Children's books are often beguiling and wonderful ways to explore complex topics. The book Stone Wall Secrets is also featured in our current display near the library's front entrance. For details on the display see this link.

We also have several books by Tom Wessels that can help guide your exploration of stone walls in the field using subtle clues to determine if a field was used for haying, growing crops or raising sheep.  

If you are interested in learning more about studying stone walls contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Farmer's Invisible Hand

April is Archaeology Month 

I took this photo last week. I was interested in the way the white snow traced the outlines and defined the contours of the sharply contrasting dark shapes of the old iron. I enjoy old iron. I find it very artistic, aesthetic and appealing. For previous blogs on old iron see this link and this link.   

I also find old iron mysterious, yet revealing, on a number of levels in part because it can be seen as "above ground archaeology" as evidence, in this case a key to the farmer's invisible hand that formed a landscape loved by artists and tourists that for the most part has disappeared. The clues of the farmer's invisible hand can be seen in this remarkable paring of images on the stair hall at the Conway Public Library.

For previous blogs on these images see these links here, here and here. In the large print on the right can be seen the natural raw materials for the posts in the painting on the left. These large stones were shaped and spread out by the glaciers thousands of years ago.

They were perfect for farmers to split for the foundations of the buildings you see in the print as well as fence posts, sign posts, bridge abutments, culverts, chimney supports, well covers, curbs, boundary markers, mill dams and races, door stoops, steps and so on.

The smaller stones ranging in size from baseballs to basketballs were piled with care and skill to create the stone walls which encircled fields for livestock to graze. In the detail of the print above you can see the stone walls as they meander up and over the hills. In the detail below, you can see how they extended out like a patchwork quilt into the flat fields of the intervale that extended out along the Saco River.

It was through this farming activity that these fields were cleared and kept clear for artists to discover and create thousands of paintings of the White Mountains.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Archaeology Month

April is Archaeology Month. 

The Conway Public Library's new Technology Librarian, Katie Belisle set up a display on the topic next to the circulation desk. For a listing of statewide events see this link here

The poster for this year (seen on the top right) features how remote sensing such as lidar and computerized historic map overlays help reveal new archaeological sites.

Katie will put on a program on how to use these new resources at the Conway Public Library on April 12. See this link. Included in the display at the library are a number of books that you can check out to explore 10,000 years in the Granite State.

Over time, much of the physical remains or evidence of previous life deteriorates such as wood, leather, and so on. However, items such as stone, ceramics and glass remain to help tell the story.

You can also read a recent article on stone walls in a recent issue of the Mt. Washington Valley Vibe magazine...

... and pick up a free copy here at our display.

The article was written by Phil Franklin of the Bartlett Historical Society. Stone walls are one of the ways of exploring abandoned farms and towns (ghost towns). By the way, Phil is working on an article on these lost places for the summer issue of the Vibe. 

Our display includes books on ghost towns and lost places such as Sandwich Notch and Goshen.

Kevin Gardner, the author of The Granite Kiss, will be offering a program on stone walls on April 10 at the Bartlett Historical Society see this link. For more information on this subject check us out at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.