Hale’s Land History
The organization began in 1918 as a result of Robert Sever Hale’s desire “to provide education which will develop intelligent, capable and responsible citizens” and to use the land “so long as it is charitable and benevolent in nature.” The goal of today’s programs is to develop intelligent leaders and environmentally educated citizens. We believe that the diversity of the natural environment must be reflected back in the diversity of the people who experience our programs and opportunities for people of any race, background, religion or economic status.
Over the years, the organization acquired additional land through donations, purchases and land swaps. With the procurement of a property on Dover Road in 2010, Hale has a total of 1,137 acres on the property. The property and house at 573 Dover Road are of critical environmental and aesthetic importance to Hale Reservation.
The property abuts the entrance to Hale’s Membership Beach. “For years, we have recognized this property as one of high importance for us,” commented Eric Arnold, Hale’s executive director. “The area is surrounded by wetlands that feed into Noanet Pond. This property and the surrounding area, including parts of Dover Road, Morgan Farm and Rockmeadow Road are all in our watershed area. Construction, fertilizer and other human impact directly affect the quality of water in our ponds.” The purchase of this property insures that it will be appropriately managed in the future and that it will not be overbuilt.
The land now occupied by the Hale literally abounds with early Indian and colonial history. The main road, Carby Street, was originally known as “Old Indian Path” and on early maps it was part of an Indian trail that led from a large Indian settlement in Dedham to Strawberry Hill near the Westwood-Dover line, and on eventually to South Natick. Early records show that the “Plains of Powissett” (the land surrounding Powissett Peak and certain sections of the Charles River) were favorite hunting and fishing grounds of at least six different tribes of the Powissett Indians, and as late as 1763, a few Indian families could still be found in Dover. At least nine ancient, felsite quarry sites have been identified on Reservation land, which indicates that the ancestors of the Powissett Indians also were frequent travelers or residents of the area. The felsite was fashioned into arrowheads, spears, and other objects. Archaeologists from Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology have determined that these sites were being used by ancient man as early as 3,000 B.C. — the date associated with the building of the Egyptian pyramids.
During the 1700’s, most of the Hale’s land was cleared of timber and used extensively as pasture. This accounts for the extensive stonewalls throughout the area. They were used to mark property boundaries as well as to confine livestock. During this time, many of the local residents were engaged in the business of supplying Boston with timber for ship building and making of charcoal. Charcoal was in high demand in Boston by the then flourishing iron industry. Old records indicate that the remains of a “charcoal kiln” could be seen on the property south of a log cabin used by Boy Scouts Troop #39, Dorchester. These sites have been positively located in the area of Powissett Pond. Many of the local men owned oxen, which were used to haul timber to Boston — at the time, a full day’s travel away. Dover Street, Boston, was named in tribute to the men from Dover who made a practice of staying overnight in a particular tavern in that area before the long trip home. Also, the term “cart roads,” a current name for the wooded paths in this area, evolved from this time when a team of oxen was used to pull carts loaded with charcoal or timber out of the woods.
Several families lived in and around the land that was to become Hale Reservation. Probably, the most prominent of these was Thomas Larrabee. The Larabee homestead is located on Strawberry Hill on Dover Conservation Land that borders Hale but much of his farming activities took place on Hale land. Larrabee was an enlisted man during the Revolution and was assigned to the guard company that was responsible for the protection of George Washington. He fought at Fort Ticonderoga and later helped row Washington across the Delaware to attack the Hessians at Trenton. He returned to Strawberry Hill with several men who served with him and built his house around 1778. Little is known of his comrades but it is believed that he gave a parcel of land to a man named Luke Dean who built a house on the edge of a marshy area that later became Powissett pond. While much is known of Larabee, almost nothing is known of Luke Dean. The cellar of his home and several others has remained untouched for all these years; someday, we hope to learn more about him and his fellow colonials through a professional excavation of his homestead.
One of the many areas of unique historical interest is Oak Hill, located south of Dover Road. This hill, with an elevation of 360 feet, furnished three varieties of high quality granite. The courthouse in Dedham, considered to be one of the finest architectural examples of its time in the country, was constructed of granite quarried from Oak Hill. The original buildings at the State Hospital in Medfield were also built from granite quarried from Oak Hill. Nimrod’s Rock, probably named after the mighty hunter of biblical fame, was held in high regard as “lover’s lane” during one period in our area’s history. Eye witnesses of the period recorded difficulty finding a place to park one’s horse and buggy on Powissett Street on pleasant Sunday afternoons.
Discovering Hale’s first inhabitants
Until the year 1619, the land that is today the eastern half of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was part of a great Algonquian tribal federation called the Moswetuset, later known as the Massachuset. The Massachuset tribes, and their ancestors, occupied these lands for 12,000 years. We can assume they were from the Moswetuset (Massachusett) Federation who by accounts had a population of 100,000 in the combined tribes.
Contact with Europeans, beginning about 1,000AD, devastated the population with disease, war, internment, starvation, and slavery. Severe oppression and attempted assimilation forced the language and customs underground and eventually into extinction. A small pox epidemic in the winter of 1633-1634 spread across most of southern New England, coastal tribes were especially affected, further reducing the Massachuset Federation.
The Massachuset disappeared as an organized tribe before much was recorded about them. It can be safely presumed from the limited evidence available, however, that they lived in a manner very similar to the other coastal tribes of southern New England. They farmed extensively, relied heavily on fish and shellfish during the summer and hunting during the colder months. Their ancestors moved with the seasons, between fixed locations, to use the available resources. Summer villages were located near the coast. These were fairly large with mid-sized longhouses. The winter hunting camps, using family-sized dwellings called wetus and wigwams, were further inland and separated from each other. With the development of farming, villages became increasingly fixed to locations.
Today there exists much evidence to supporting the theory that Hale was indeed home to many individual tribes and families of the Massachuset Federation which included the Powissit, Cowate, Natick, Ponkapoag, Neponset, Pegan, and Wisset.
Present day Hale is host to several native sites. One that is easily visited is the rock quarry, slightly off the right side of Carby Street, just passed the Noanet Landing parking area. Here the Massachuset people chipped away a cleft in the stone to harvest felsite, a dense igneous rock. The felsite was knapped (worked) into stone tools, possibly scrappers, knives, drills, and arrow and spear points. This is just one of the nine identified felsite quarries at Hale Reservation.
Traveling on Carby Street will retrace the route known as the “Old Indian Path.” Near Powissett Brook, beyond Storrow Pond, is the site of a rock shelter where archeological evidence revealed that native people stayed for days at a time as they moved between summer and winter villages. The shelter was also most likely used by bands of the Massachuset as overnight hunting lodges. Native artifacts have been uncovered, including a stone adze, a tool used in creating dugout canoes. Present day Noanet Pond was once marshland. The use of dugout canoes would aid in the harvesting of valuable resources. Common reed was used to make mats to sit or sleep upon, and to cover wetus and wigwams. Cattail fluff, gathered in the fall, was a good tinder product and was stuffed into infants’ breechcloths to make diapers. And wild rice could be collected to supplement meats, fruits, nuts, and grown crops.
History of Dedham, Erastus Worthington, Dutton & Wentworth Publications, 1827
The Story of Dover, Massachusetts, Frank Smith, 1897
Biographies and Legends of the New England Indians, Vol. 1, 2, 3, Leo Bonfanti
The First Peoples of the Northeast, Esther K. and David P. Braun, Moccasin Hill Press, 1994