Posted on December 7, 2009 in 07 Mission Park by No Comments »

Gordon Smith

Natural History of the Berkshires


Field Blog #9: Past and Present

Today, when I visited my site, the area looked drastically different from the way it looked on September 13th when I conducted my first visit to the Mission Park grove. It was 3:30, cloudy and chilly, but not cold, with a cool breeze blowing through.

While the temperature and overcast sky may have had an influence on how I perceived the site, it definitely felt, looked, and even smelled dormant. The vibrant summer energy of the area is absent, replaced by the sleepiness of winter. Simply looking at the site tells the same story: where in September the entire surrounding area exploded in every hue of bright green, brown now dominates the site. Brown crusty leaves cover large percentages of the site, which gives the appearance that the ground has completely left its productive period. While it may seem as if under the leaves would be some greenery, this is not the case. Two plants represent the green that is left on the ground: the tall grass in the sunny areas of the site and wild garlic mustard. The grass, while it still seems well enough alive, is growing increasingly thin, low, and pale, with some of it having already turned brown. Garlic mustard also still has all of its color and is the only ground plant that remains dark green.

The other ground plants that had inhabited the site have long since gone into their dormant stages. The flowering plants were the first to go, though their parents in some cases remained for a time hiding among the other ground cover. The sensitive fern was gone after the very first frost on October 18th, and the bracken fern lasted two weeks longer. About the same time, the large amount of Virginia creeper sprouts on the ground also disappeared, as did the white wood aster. While goutweed has the ability to survive the winter and live perennially, it also, seemingly, has the unfortunate disadvantage of being tasty to deer. Today’s inspection saw the last significant patch of the before very populous plant completely grazed. Interestingly, thick carpets of garlic mustard, which remained completely untouched, surrounded this grazed patch almost completely. It seems that though the exotic was imported for its culinary properties, it is not much appreciated by the local fauna.

The deciduous trees have all been completely devoid of leaves for some time now, though the evergreens still appear as they did when I first saw them. Unfortunately, their foliage does not compensate for the deciduous leaves, whose absence makes the site feel open, and almost empty. As a side note, the conifers that I believed to be all one species when I first gave them a cursory glance in fact include the species white pine, eastern hemlock, white spruce, and northern white cedar, in addition to a small Japanese umbrella tree.

The brown patches where at the beginning of the semester I was able to see some dirt used to be confined underneath the branches of the biggest white pines, but are now spread throughout much of the interior of the site. While pine cones and needles still litter the area, they do not blanket it as they did even last week, allowing dirt to be seen easily in reasonably sized expanses.

Today, the fauna was also different from what I had become used to seeing during my visits to the site. Not at any point in the 45 minutes that I spent on the site did I see or hear any of the now very obese gray squirrels or chipmunks that had been out in force even last week. Of course, this is reasonable, as cooler temperatures that have slowly been coming in may have triggered the squirrels’ hibernation behavior, though some of the days (like today) remain comparatively warm. It is also possible that the gray squirrel’s hibernation behavior is based on day length (photoperiod) rather than temperature, and that even on a hot but short day, they will not be active.  Furthermore, I heard no birdcalls other than crows.

To mention my site’s future, it is likely to remain the same. As a historical park, groundskeepers have been maintaining the site in its current (or very close to its current) set up for years, and will likely continue to do so for

Posted on December 7, 2009 in 10 Stetson Hall Parking Lot Woods by No Comments »

Site #1
The Shape of the Land
At 3:00PM September 24th 2009 I again surveyed the Stetson Woods Parking lot.  I’m here to see how much has changed, and to get a better sense of the terrain here.  The first change I noticed was that the weather was nicer than last week, with a light breeze and temperatures around 70 degrees.  The clouds were at places wispy and sometimes fluffy but left open vast patches of blue in the sky.  The animals in the area seemed to agree that this was a nicer time to be out since I was greeted by two squirrels at the northeastern corner of the woods.
This was not the only change, however; on the northern side a maple tree had begun to turn red and defoliate.  The branches hung over the parking lot and so covered both the dirt in the woods and asphalt of the parking with brilliant yellow-red leaves.  Giving a quick survey of the outer edges of the woods before I went in, I noticed that all of the plants in the woods appeared to be less lush than I’d seen in the previous week and visibility through the woods was easier than before.  As I entered, I got caught on a small thorn bush, not remembering sighting one my last trip.  I was glad that there was still no poison ivy.
But not everything had changed, as mosquitoes still managed to get me itching about 5 minutes after walking into the center of the woods.  The central depression in the woods still appeared to be quite hospitable to them.  The shape of the forest had not changed either; it was still a rough rectangle with the chapel facing (Southwest) edge descending quickly about 25 feet to a depression in the middle of the site from which the ground ascends slightly to the northeastern corner.  I imagined the general shaped to be that of a bowl missing some of its walls.
Using my front bicycle tire as a trundle wheel I walked my bike around the enclosed wooded area to test out my bowl idea.  After measuring out each of the sides, my previous estimate of the area as ¼ appears to be just right.  The north curb is 105 feet long, the northwest is 125, the southwest is 175 and the East is 140 (see map).  When looking at the map, however, the distances may not match up exactly with proper proportions because of the nature of the sloping terrain.  In paying closer attention to corners of the curbs which dictate the shape of the site I realized that my “bowl” had four definite corners and had unfortunately been damaged beyond appearing like any serving dish.  As a result, I drew an elevation map which should do a better job of describing what I cannot.
From the center of the southwestern edge, there is a break in the trees with a series of large dark colored rocks that serve as steps (but are clearly not man-made) down to the center of the woods.  Looking up from any near central position gives you an obscured view of the sky.  Occasionally it is small trees that block out the blue sky ten feet above your head, and sometimes it is the large trees growing towards the outer edges of the site that seriously obstruct the majority of the view.  The trees positioned on the highest edge by the Thompson Memorial Chapel always had some of their wide reaching branches in view.
Aside from the early leaves turning on one of the maples at my site and the slightly less coy animal life, little had changed but my own perception.  I now saw thorns and shape like I hadn’t before.  The terrain had not changed and the plants had changed little.  I realize now, all that had changed in the past week was the shape of my ideas.

Posted on December 7, 2009 in 01 Ford Glen Brook Woods by No Comments »

Succession                             By: Claudia Corona                              12/07/09

Where Ford Glen brook had been covered in green luscious vegetation months ago, everything was now covered in white. It was as if my site had turned into a completely different environment overnight. Before I dug a hole, I looked around at my site. Most of the trees that had been stripped of leaves last week were now covered in white clumps of snow, the Ford Glen trail was completely unrecognizable in the snow, and even the still present ferns could no longer boast their color, having been covered with a blanket of white snow . It was a bit windy, but very bright at 10:30 in the morning, which made the scene even more breathtaking, especially when the wind would sway the tree branches and white powdery snow would sprinkle down from the high trees.

I went further into the woods, and chose to dig a 24 in. by 12 in. by 6 in. deep rectangular hole. I chose a spot where there were no trees for a couple of meters on either side and I dug. I kept digging until I hit these big red cylindrical branch-like things inside the whole. At first, I thought they were crab legs because they had a red color and a white hue to them, but then I broke one and saw that it was moist and looked like the inside of a tree, there were lots of them in my way and I couldn’t dig them out, which lead me to believe that they were the roots of a tree so I left them there and observed the soil layers in my site.

I didn’t see any clear definable soil layers in the hole. I couldn’t discern the organic layer from the A layer of minerals. After the leaf litter and the dirt and decomposed matter, all I really saw was a mixed up layer of dark brown soil filled with small twigs, little rocks, and shiny, wet, soft soil, probably the mineral layer that meshed with the B layer.

Since the native americans that inhabited this area weren’t excessive tree choppers like the first colonials, this forest must have at one point been filled with old hemlocks and undisturbed, rich soils.

Looking at the types of tree species that my site has; striped maple, black/yellow birch, sugar maples, beech, and some hemlock, this used to be a wood lot, maybe less than a hundred years ago, by the looks of the medium-sized tree trunk girth of the majority of the trees. The wood lot was abandoned and pioneer species came to repopulate the land, the first being striped maple and black/yellow birch, followed by the rest of the trees previously said.

According to Clement’s theory of succession, my site has gone through several phases of succession. The first phase occurred when the old-growth forest became disturbed and succession began with the development of the new site, known as nudation. After the forest’s natural processes had been disrupted and then abandoned, migration occurred, the second phase, which is when the striped maple and black/yellow birch came in. Ecesis, the third phase, occurred soon after, which established the initial growth of the vegetation. As the vegetation became well established, grew, and spread, species began to compete for space, light and nutrients, called competition, phase number 4.

After several years of the striped maple and the birch becoming well established, other plant communities came in, called the reaction phase, where there is a replacement of one plant community by another, known as phase 5. Phase 6 is the stabilization phase, which leads to the development of a climax community, where everything is in equilibrium.
I believe Ford Glen brook is in phase 5. The forest has been left to thrive on its own for a couple of decades now, pioneer species have dwindled in numbers and other species, such as sugar maple and beech, another wave of tree species, has come in and begun to dominate the area. Decades from now, and if there are no major disturbances, such as clear-cutting, then the sugar maple and beech will start to decrease in number as hemlocks will start to come in, which are the next wave of oldest growing trees. If Ford Glen is left alone, with time it can naturally change to become as rich in soil and minerals as it was before colonialism, all we have to do is let nature take its course.


Posted on December 4, 2009 in 10 Stetson Hall Parking Lot Woods by No Comments »

Eric Outterson

December 4th, 2009

Natural History of the Berkshires


I came into my site expecting little to have changed since I visited two weeks ago.  It was not the same, however.  The site has now been completely defoliated.  I don’t see any leaves left clinging to any branches.  I also no longer see the pretty pink sepals of the winged euonymus.  The entire site appeared desolate.  I did not hear any small mammals moving through the leaves, nor did I hear any birds chirping in these woods.

At the north end of the site, in the depression in the ground there is still a large puddle of standing water.  Using a stick, I measured the puddle’s depth to be about 8 inches deep.  After I disturbed the wet leafy mass immediately beneath the surface of the puddle, however, I noticed many small bubbles surface.  Since I did not smell anything, I assume it was not anaerobic decomposition.  Rather, I assume that it was very small amounts of air coming up to the surface.  It appears that drainage is very poor here, although movement from the surface to sub-surface may be slow.

I next moved begin examination the largest cottonwood tree at my site.  I guessed that the tree stood about 60 feet tall.  Precise measurements of width were 171 inches around.  This meant the tree had an approximate diameter of about 54 inches and a radius of 27 inches.  In this examination, I began to core the tree and slowly but surely bored almost all the way until the tree bark touched the handle of the corer.  I thought it was going to be a good haul, and it was.  I got far more than a tree core.  As soon as I pulled the tree core out of the tree a strong stream of water jetted out from the hole that I punched into the tree.  It was as about the size and strength of a garden hose for about one and a half minutes.  The volume that came out of the tree was truly astonishing.  The flow gradually slowed down to a trickle after about 6 minutes and remained trickling for the next twenty minutes.

Examining the core later I counted somewhere between 53 and 60 different growth rings.  The uncertainty is due to variable darkening of the wood, and losing small bits of core in the process of the removal.  Since the true radius should be approximately 27 inches, but I only extracted 20, I assumed the width growth to be about the same for every year, and estimate the tree to be between 73 and 83 years old.

Having examined my site in a historical context, I’ve come to see that the site had relatively thin tree cover around 1900 and very thick tree cover about 30 years later.  This makes the cottonwood presence make a lot of sense.  Typically Populus Deltoides likes to grow in areas with high light.  It seems possible that a cottonwood may have grown in around this time.

Looking into the future of this site, however, it seems as if the cottonwoods would not be a part of it.  All of the close by land on which trees might grow either already has cover, or is maintained for grass.  It seems unlikely that more new cottonwoods will spring up.  The trees that seem likely to continue on in the site are the maples there.  Since there are no white birch in the vicinity it seems unlikely that Williamstown’s primary first succession species will take hold there.  I see many small maples throughout this site, so I’m inclined to believe that as soon as one of the large cottonwoods or black locusts falls, there will be maple to takes its place.

The winged euonymus, buckthorn, barberry, wild garlic mustard, and dames rocket all make up a large portion of the ground cover, and seem unlikely to disappear.  I imagine that it we came back in 100 years we would see a more maple heavy forest with a mix of invasive exotics on the floor or the woods.  Ultimately, however, the future of the species at the Stetson Parking lot woods, will be entirely determined by what humans do with it.  Evidenced by the three large visible stumps in the woods, people have been culling the trees here for one reason or another.  There’s no reason to suspect anyone is going to stop now.

Posted on December 4, 2009 in 12 Eastlawn Cemetery Woods by No Comments »

Field Blog Journal 9

Jonathan Levinsohn

Using the data I obtained when I examined the history of my site, I aim to predict the physical and biological future of the Eastlawn cemetery woods. My examination of the history of my site revealed that the lot that contains my site used to be used for both farming and pastoral means during the early 20th century, though there are not enough data as to determine what was done specifically where the woods are now. These data could be helpful, as the type of land usage before influences the successional pattern, as shown in Farms to Forest: A Naturalist’s Guide. While one could try to back out the use, via looking at what species are there now and looking though the conclusions of Farms to Forest, the book is concerned with the Hopkins Forest and the successional pattern there would be different than at my sight for multiple reasons, chief among them the large amounts of exotic invasive plants at my sight. A photograph from the 1950’s demonstrates that the large Norway maples were planted long ago.

Intuitively, the lack of trees in the middle section (between the river bank and the upper border with the cemetery, seems to a likely candidate for relatively rapid biological change. The lack of plants larger than shrubs presents a potential niche for taller species, though the honeysuckle that populates the area complicates the matter. I might expect a species such as paper birch, a typical early successional species, to be likely to proliferate in this area, as is typical in unmowed fields, but the honeysuckle population would likely prevent this. Honeysuckle develops leaves early and loses them late. This would prevent young birch seedlings from getting the large amount of light that they require to survive. Thus the more likely successional progression would come from the larger trees near the river (mostly sugar and red maple) and the trees nearer to the cemetery (Norway maple, sugar maple, and sumac). There are two possibilities: either the honeysuckle proves to be too successful, and continues to choke out life in this section, and thus preventing the older trees from extending their range and as the older trees die of old age, the honeysuckle takes most of the area, or the larger trees are able to extend their range and out compete the honeysuckle for sunlight in nearby areas once the trees have matured, which would be repeated until the honeysuckle in the center of the woods finally dies out. This, of course, assumes that human impact on the area is minimal, however it is possible that if the honeysuckle started to take over the region near the cemetery humans might intervene as to protect the view (it is no accident that the Norway maple were planted).

Examination of other areas also along the Green River, specifically those older than sections might help suggest what the land might be like in the coming years. The flood plain might gain a Japanese knotweed population (that is found in flood plains on the Hoosic River, just a half-mile down stream), which could take over for the golden rod that currently resides in this area. The area around the Green River near Mount Hope farms, however, is dominated by white pine, at al in this area or anywhere nearby. This casts doubt as to how helpful such comparisons can be even along the same river over a short distance.

Physically, the largest change in the area would be the river straightening out due to erosive forces. This would make the bank next to the flood plain even steeper, likely causing more erosion. The end effect would be a cliff like feature growing taller yearly, though humans might try to avoid this (if it gets large enough), as they have a vested interest in keeping the cemetery and the road running through this stable and relatively untouched. Ultimately, the succession of both the physical landscape and the biological community lies in large part to what humans decide to do. If the area were to be burned as to create a meadow, the succession pattern would differ drastically (reverting to a more traditional pattern) from what is likely to happen.

Posted on December 4, 2009 in 09 Syndicate Road Woods by No Comments »

FJ #10 Syndicate Road Woods

December 4th, 2009

 Today was quite warm for a typical December day in Williamstown.  There was a nice breeze and the air was approximately 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  I observed much more of the terrain of my site today than I had been able to in the past due to the thick cover of leafy trees and shrubs.  Now that the branches were bare, however, I could see the true topography of the Syndicate Road Woods.

            Walking north along the stream one first encounters a large area, about 20 square feet, of low land on the stream’s eastern bank.  The lowland area forms a sort of semicircle shape bordering the stream, and it looks like someone has just taken a shovel and scooped out this area.  At the eastern edge of the semicircle, there is a 45° slope up about 8 feet to higher ground.  On this slope as well, there is a small, stream-like indentation running from east to west.  This has obviously been carved by water and now acts as a funnel for water from the top of the slope running into the stream.

            Continuing a trek northward, the land east of the stream suddenly becomes a cliff, and one now comes across another large lowland area in a semicircular shape, but this time on the western bank of the stream.  What is the cause of these formations?  Is it natural or man-made? The stream in the Syndicate Road woods does have its twists and turns, and like we saw at the Hoosic River, the stream could have changed course and dug out the lowland areas.  However, this is problematic because the stream at the Syndicate Road woods does not even come close to matching the power and amount of water held by the Hoosic, which is a fifth order stream.  Therefore, we must wonder, did the stream used to be larger and have more power? We know that the stream has been controlled by human hands because of the cement culvert that carries water from under Syndicate Road.  It is possible that the stream did carve out these semicircular areas and then shrunk down to its straight path through the middle.  Also, the strength of the stream 80-100 years ago when they built Syndicate Road could have been much more than it is today.  This is just one of the many natural mysteries found in the Syndicate Road woods.

Continuing north, the eastern bank of the stream becomes even steeper, about a 70°, 10 foot slope.  A deep crevice also runs from east to west, down this slope to the stream.  Up on the “cliff”, I also come across another mystery.  There is a bit of a crevice running north-south which eventually connects to the deeper crevice.  At one point, however, this small crevice becomes a more crater-like formation, about 2 feet deep.  I wonder if this crater was formed by a pool of water, but it is more likely that the hole was formed after a tree fell over, tearing out its roots and the ground that came along with it.  Water then most likely collected in the crater, and the resulting crevice was formed as the water sought a gravity-driven path down to the stream.  It is fascinating to study natural power of water at the Syndicate Road woods.  It can create canyons and cliffs and bring life to a woods that would otherwise seem dead.       

Next, I took a soil sample near the southern edge of the site.  I first had to clear away a 2 inch layer of leaves before I started to dig.  What I found was a layer of dark soil, about 2 inches thick, in which remnants of decaying leaves and organic matter could still be seen.  Then, for as deep as the shovel would allow me to dig, the ground was composed completely of clay.  Because of the recent rains, the clay was moist and cool.  Clay is a heavy soil, which has relatively poor drainage and aeration capabilities.  Although they usually hold more water than desired for optimal plant growth, clay does retain nutrients well.  Although the soil was not loam, the farmers that used to farm near Syndicate Road obviously figured out how to maximize the potential of a clay soil base.

Posted on December 4, 2009 in 04 Wall's Pond by No Comments »

It was a crisp, beautiful day at the pond. The air was cool, about 46 or 47 degrees Fahrenheit, and there was just a twinge of a wintry bite in the breeze. Four mallards cruised the pond, but no other animal life was apparent. The Clark and the grounds were relatively quiet and this afternoon was one of the more peaceful ones I’ve spent at the pond thus far.
My goal today was to track the changes since last I’ve been here. I haven’t seen the site for over a week, the longest I’ve gone without contact the whole semester. I also looked at the flora to get a sense of the natural succession at Wall’s Pond. Where the site has been (it’s past land use and the plant life that used to exist here) and where it’s headed in terms of what will grow and thrive on this land.
Brown has fully pervaded the pond and its environs. No leaves remained on any trees and the bordering vegetation swished and wallowed deadly in the slight breeze this afternoon. I noticed that a twenty-foot section of cow fence had collapsed at some point since my last visit, just to the left of the main entrance area. The knocked-over fence and the brush that went down with it compounded the sense of deadness that the rest of the barren vegetation delivered from every angle.
I turned my focus after some time, to the signs of tree succession as they refer to past land use, in order to get a better handle on the site’s history. The red maple at the north end of the pond and the white pine along the south edge are the tallest specimens on the site, perhaps denoting their advanced age relative to the other trees on the site. If this is true, and the beech, hemlock, and sugar maple in the vicinity are in fact younger than the red maple and white pine, then, according to the successional trends elsewhere in Williamstown, it indicates that Wall’s Pond is situated on former pastureland. This fits with my hypothesis from last week and begs the question: what can be predicted about the future of the site’s flora?
Red maple live to a maximum of 160 years and white pine usually not more than 200 years.  If the two types of tree began growing at the pond at around the same time, it would follow that the white pine might outlive the red maple by a few years. However, the aerial photograph of Wall’s Pond from 1935 shows the red maple (or a similarly sized tree on nearly the same spot) and not the line of white pine. Perhaps all the trees on the site were hand-planted, which would blow any successional predictions totally out of the water, but, assuming they’re not, this former pastureland has more beech, hemlock, black birch, yellow birch, and sugar maple to look forward to in the generations to come.
To get some real confirmation and to put my hypothesis to the test, I tracked down the head groundskeeper at the Clark, Pete Richard, in his office behind the conservation building. He and his soon-to-be successor, Matt Noyes, spoke for some time about their experiences growing up in Williamstown, skating on Wall’s Pond (in Pete’s youth it was known as Leak’s Pond), and watching as the Clark grew up beside the pond. Pete admitted he did not know the exact origin of the pond, but guessed that a spring on the site had been widened at some point in the 19th century to water livestock – just as I had surmised. He mentioned that the Leaks and the Walls had raised cows and horses, respectively, on the L-shaped property in his lifetime and that the gentle rolling topography of the site was most likely an effect of the pond’s excavation and the subsequent deposition of material on the north end. Neither Pete nor Matt could attribute the white pine grove to any particular human hand, so the jury is out on their origins. Pete did say, however, that the red maple at the north end of the pond is most likely the offspring of an earlier red maple that stood closer to the water on that side of the pond. After 20 miutes or so I told him I’d keep in touch, we parted ways, and I returned to campus.

Posted on November 21, 2009 in 12 Eastlawn Cemetery Woods by No Comments »

Field Blog Journal 8

Jon Levinsohn

To examine the history of my site, I visited the Williams College Archives, and the house of natural history. At the college archives, the amount of information was sparse. An aerial photograph of the area in 1953 revealed that the area was mostly open, with only a handful of maple trees, which possibly may still exist as the large Norway maple that currently occupy the site, though the photograph does not present enough detail to determine if they are Norway maple, let alone estimate their age. The relative lack of trees and shrubs makes sense given the large amounts of honeysuckle, and sumac that currently occupy the area, which are earlier successional species. The lack of many species later in the successional pattern, though some small sugar maples are on the site, mostly situated very near to the river, also makes sense given these data. Given that the Norway maples are ornamentals, it is likely that they were planted, though there was no data as to when or who planted these trees.

The book, Williamstown: The First 250 Years, revealed that the oldest graves in the cemetery date back to 1820, before the cemetery was established, and it is speculated that the bodies were moved from Westlawn Cemetery on the other side of town. The cemetery was established in 1842, by a gift from Asahel Ford, however it did not yet include my sight. Later gifts expanded the cemetery to its current size, in 1887, which was purchased from the Ford family, in 1926 a gift from the Bosford’s, in 1932 a purchase from the Jones’ and the Fred Emore gift in 1932. The Emore gift was the section was said to be the section along the Green River, though several maps reveal this to not be the case. My site was on the Jones’ land, which was the largest addition to the cemetery.

A stone fence near the entrance was built in 1899, and in 1917 all buildings near the cemetery were supposedly removed. Both of these events did not occur on my site, however, as they predate the acquisition of the section of the cemetery that I studied. The various maps from the era show how varying paths of the river, especially the width and possible pond (according to the 1876 map) near my sight along with the varying amounts of winding immediately up stream. It is difficult to determine whether this is a real change over time, or due to inaccuracies in the older maps. It would not be surprising that the river would change over a couple of hundred years given the relative speed. Furthermore, the river appears to have eroded a deeper channel since the 1953 photo.  Since the property did not belong to the college, the archives provided little more information.

The house of local history had lost the majority of the data that they had on the cemetery, aside from who was buried where. However they did have maps. The land belonged to lot 297 in the original town planning, though no data on who owned the land was provided. In 1856, the Cole’s bought the land, along with a large amount of the land around, and moved to the lot from Main Street. H.T. Cole built a general store off of Water Street on the property, which burned down in 1874, and was re-built. The land itself, was used in a manner similar much of the surrounding land at the time. The H.T. Cole had a “sloping” orchard, a garden along with livestock. At this point the land was cleared of any forest had any remained though the unknown previous owners actions. When H.T. Cole aged, Charles S. Cole, H.T.’s only son and Treasurer of Williams College, took charge of the land, and bought the neighboring Walley Family’s land (which had the Walley Bridge, possibly explaining the stone ruins east of my site near the river) before 1873. Here the information concerning the site’s use and ownership disappears. I intended to pursue this further should the House of Local history find the missing binder.

As to usage of the land before Williamstown was settled, it is certainly possible that Native Americans could have had dramatic impacts upon the land, such as clearing it for growing corn. However, there is no evidence of any Native American activity in the area.

Posted on November 20, 2009 in 01 Ford Glen Brook Woods by No Comments »

Ford Glen Brook’s past          By: Claudia Corona           11/20/09

I walked to Ford Glen Brook and I looked at it. I looked at the little brook that had less water now because the weather in the past few weeks had not been fruitful enough to provide much rain; and I saw something else.

I saw a little brook that had captured my heart enough for me to want to know as much as I could about it. I remember researching its name earlier and learning that my little brook was named after someone. It was named “Ford Brook”, in memory of “gold old deacon Zadock Ford, the edge of whose farm was washed by it” (Origins in Williamstown, p.15).  Farther into the forest, “the deepest and darkest stretch of glen through which the brook bickers along is called ‘Ford’s Glen”” (Origins in Williamstown, p.15). Zadock Ford owned land by the brook in 1796, but no other record I’ve seen shows land by Ford Glen Brook being bought until 1882.

In 1882, Alfred C. Moon bought 100 acres in what would later be known as Hopkins Forest, and within these acres was some, if not all of the land surrounding Ford Glen Brook. In 1906, Alfred C. Moon sold 40 acres to Amos Lawrence Hopkins, and in them was land by Ford Glen Brook. “By 1910, Buxton Farms (Hopkins’ land) encompassed 1,636 acres and ran from Northwest Hill to the New York state border in the West, and Vermont in the North, excluding only the Moon Lot” (Farms to Forest, p.10)…but including Ford Glen Brook. In 1912, Mr. Hopkins passed away. Alfred Moon lived on the remaining 60 acres that he had not sold to Hopkins until he died of a heart attack in 1924, the same year that Mrs.Hopkins stopped operation of the Buxton farms. A decade later in 1934, Mrs. Hopkins deeded the land to Williams College, who in turn, “rented it” to the U.S. Forest Service in 1935 for $1, with the condition that when the forest service was done using the forest for experimental research, they would give the land back to the college. The U.S. Forest Service used the land until 1968, and then they gave it back to Williams College, who has owned Hopkins forest since then.

As I looked at the brook, I remember thinking that this was the end of Ford Glen Brook interaction with humans, but then I found out that this little brook had captured more hearts. In 1905, a year before Moon sold 40 acres to Hopkins, the Williamstown Boy’s Club was founded after a judge suggested that something be done about the fact that there were many young boys without any recreational facilities to go to or use. Following A.L. Hopkins death in 1912, The Boy’s Club camp started on part of the land owned by Hopkins sometime after his death but before Mrs. Maria Hopkins, gave it to Williams College. Even though Williams College deeded the land to the U.S. Forest Service in 1935, the Boy’s Club camp, located on Northwest Hill (by Ford Glen Brook) continued using the property as a day camp, but it closed down in the 1970s because of insurance concerns that the camp had.

Another thing that I learned but hadn’t really thought about was that Ford Glen brook wasn’t created with a bridge on it. The second picture is what the brook probably looked like before it had been dammed. Ford Glen Brook wasn’t free for long, it was dammed in the late 1800s or early 1900s, I’m sorry to say that I’m not quite sure when. The first picture is another one of Ford Glen Brook, taken by Henry Art, professor at Williams College, showing the “dam”, which also served as a bridge, made to allow people and vehicles across the brook without hassle. This bridge didn’t last for long. In 1988, the bridge was reconstructed and made into a more stable and sturdy bridge, able to sustain heavier loads such as trailers and trucks.

In the end, Ford Glen Brook was not the same today. But it hadn’t been the same yesterday, or last week, or last year, or 200 years ago! Being a small brook, I never really thought that Ford Glen had much of a history, until I remembered that everything has a history, and each day that goes by makes that history a deeper one, shaped by people, climate, and time.


1st Photo: Unknown, was given to by Mike Miller
2nd Photo: Professor Henry Art of Williams College

Perry, L. Arthur., Origins in Williamstown., Arthur Perry, Williams College, MA, 1894.
The Williams Naturalists. Farms to Forests: A Naturalist’s Guide. Center for Environmental Studies, Williams College, MA, 1995.

Posted on November 20, 2009 in 04 Wall's Pond by No Comments »

The late afternoon light was stunning at the Pond today. Clear, golden sun spiked through chinks in the steely blue clouds and cast sharp shadows on the water. The wind was high, gusting probably to 10 mph. It was not cold, only about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, but the wind and the light gave it foreboding air, as if though the prefigured winter was just behind Stone Hill and would arrive anyday. I parked my car in the usual spot and got out to survey my site for signs of former land use and the impact that human hands have had on the natural features.
Based on the surrounding terrain and its current use, my first inclination is that the terra firma on my site was at one time pastureland. The cattle grazing fields on Stone Hill are my firmest evidence, especially since they’re currently in use for that very purpose. The cow fence that runs around the entirety of the meadow, sections the area off as in a pasture, but the fence, lacking livestock to pen in, seems to be only for ornamental purposes and to divide the Wall’s Pond property from the backyards of South Street. The vicinity of the pond is obviously still maintained by human hands; the mower stripes that rim the pond and the presence of picnic tables and the bench under the red maple are clear enough indicators that the Pond is now a recreation site that is kept neat and not an abandoned pasture. Vegetation succession, the subject of next week’s blog will delve more deeply into the question of the former land use, but for now, I’ll stick to the effects of human actions on the land.
Aerial photographs from 1935 show the pond to be exactly where it is today, and to be roughly the same size as it is now. The stand of white pines along the south edge is gone, but the sugar maples at the entrance show up, as does a large tree in the vicinity of the current-day red maple. Meadows to the north and west of the pond look as open and uncultivated as they do today. The line of trees down the western fence is absent from the 1935 photo, but some sort of line is certainly there dividing Wall’s Pond from the field to the west that is now the parking lot. There appears to be a very slight color change between the Wall’s Pond field and the parking lot field, perhaps indicating the difference between a pasture area and a cultivated area, but the map alone is not strong enough evidence upon which to make a ruling. Next week, when I examine vegetation succession of the site, I can gain divine just what that field was once used for. Regardless, the field had a very clear path running through it in 1935.
The 1952 aerial photograph also shows a path or road running through the parking lot field as well as the first beginnings of construction on the Clark that was indeed started that year. The massive white pines that I see today are in neither picture but the hemlock stand to the southeast is present in both. Both pictures also show a tree where there is now only a finger of marshy border vegetation at the northeast corner of the pond. The pond itself seems unchanged from the Wall’s Pond of the early and mid-20th century, which suggests that the pond was not created as an ornamental feature for the Clark, which was one of my original hypotheses about its origin. The pond obviously predates the museum. I remember Professor Art mentioning in lecture that Wall’s Pond is a man-made pond, which stands to reason considering its placement among pastures. The practical utility of having a consistent water supply for cattle supports the creation of a pond near a pasture, and Christmas Brook, while it does not visibly connect to Wall’s Pond, flows past it and could, at some point, have supplied water to it. Regardless, the Pond has been around for at least 74 years, perhaps much longer. The Coffin Map showed no water where Wall’s Pond is now so perhaps the Pond was created by human hands in the 19th century. An investigation of tree succession will tell more.

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