Thursday, October 20, 2016

Amesbury's Powder House

After our short hike up to Powow Hill the other day, Jill told me that she knew of a location in the area that would be of interest to me. She brought me down Madison Street (in Amesbury, MA) and we parked in a parking lot to an apartment building just north of Monroe Street. We walked for about 500 feet (south) down the road and came to a set of stairs, a sign and a plaque on a rock on the east side of Madison Street. She had brought me to Amesbury's Powder House which I was definitely interested in checking out.

Amesbury's Powder House how it currently looks. It's been fenced off to keep people away from it's delicate condition before renovation occurs.

The stairs lead you up a high embankment on the side of Madison Street and dump you onto a trail heading up Brown's Hill. The trail heads east the whole way (all 0.1 miles of it) and dumps you at the summit where the Powder House resides. From the summit, there's another connecting trail heading north which will bring you to the Amesbury Country Club or to the Christopher Merchant Conservation Area via a public access easement.

Stair Access from Madison Street

Plaque and Sign at Stairs

It's worth noting that the summit of Brown's Hill used to be bare and one could see the ocean from the top...it's now completely wooded. Brown's Hill is actually the 3rd highest hill in Amesbury (over 180') and Amesbury's Powder House is only one of seven remaining in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

There's not a whole lot of information out there on Amesbury's Powder House. From what I gathered on Amesbury's Trails website (here), it is believed to be constructed around 1810 for the purpose to store gun powder and munitions during the War of 1812. It is a round masonry structure (as many powder houses in New England are) that is brick with some type of mortar over it.

It's current condition is pretty poor as it's been riddled with graffiti and has holes through the walls. It's my understanding that there has been efforts in the past to restore and repair the Powder House. There's actually an active effort to do so again right now. I think it's great that the town is recognizing this historical building as something that should be preserved within the town for future generations to appreciate.

The current condition is poor

Map vs. GPS

If you're interested in learning more on the restoration effort, I would encourage you to visit their Facebook page here.

The map for the Powder House trails and the surrounding trail network can be found here. I must warn you though; it was not laid out with north at the top...which is a huge pet peeve of mine!


Monday, October 17, 2016

Powow Hill (or Po Hill) in Amesbury, MA

My daughter had the day off from school for Columbus Day so Jill and I took it off too. We decided to bring her to Newburport’s Fall Festival. It was a fun morning event and we followed it up with some local pizza from Anchor Pizzeria. After that, the afternoon was free so I suggested we head over to neighboring Amesbury, MA to hike Powow Hill.

I grew up in South Hampton, NH which is the neighboring town of Amesbury, MA. I actually went to high school in Amesbury so I’m pretty familiar with the area…but never really ventured up to Powow Hill or “Po” Hill as we called it back in the day. Powow hill is 331 feet above sea level and serves as Amesbury’s highpoint.

Powow Hill (towers visible) from the shore of Lake Gardner

Like many mountain and hill tops, this hill is rich in history. Its name is derived from the Native American tribe that used this hill’s summit as a ritual spot. I believe the Native American tribe was known as the Powow Indians, but this name would have been given to them by the European settlers of the time. The explanation in many history books was that these Native Americans congregated or “powwowed” on its summit. The best account of this is from an article entitled “Powow Hill, A Legend of Essex County” in New England Magazine, Vol. 2 which was published in 1832 and it reads:

“On the border of the Merrimac, some eight or ten miles from the ocean, there rises a steep eminence called Powow Hill. It is a landmark to the skippers of the coasting craft that sail up Newburyport harbor, and strikes the eye by its abrupt elevation and orbicular shape, the outline being as regular as if struck off by the sweep of a compass. It obtained the name from the Pagan ceremonial of the aborigines; for, in ancient times, ere our worthy and pious ancestors routed these heathen from the land, the hill in question was the grand high-place of Indian worship, and the nocturnal powwows held upon its summit were the terror and abomination of the whole neighborhood. While the savages lingered in these parts, they never failed, annually, to assemble on this consecrated mount and practice their mysterious orgies, greatly to the scandal and annoyance of all the Christian folk that dwelt roundabout – they having a pious horror of the practice of powwowing, denounced by Cotton Mather as damnable and demoniacal. Even when the last of the red men had disappeared from the country, the scene of their mystic incantations continued to be regarded with profound awe. A spirit of the Pagan mysteries dwelt about the spot; strange sights were seen; a marvelous legend was current – but let me not anticipate” [1]

Wow!!! Talk about dramatics and spooky stories. My guess is these legends and stories were heavily fabricated by settlers that wanted to justify the taking of the Native American land! I’m sure the Native American Tribe in Amesbury really gathered together up on Powow Hill to smoke peace pipes, party and talk about their glory days as worriers before the English started pushing them out!

More recently, Powow Hill was home to a small ski location which had slopes on its east side. I actually remember watching people ski down it when I was a kid. It closed when I was very young in 1993. I really couldn’t find a whole lot of information other than it was opened around 1949 and was known as Amesbury Ski Tow (which I recall from being a kid) until 1986 when the name changed to Atlantic Forest. The New England Lost Ski Area Project site has a page of limited information here. There’s also some more info and some older (unconfirmed) photos on the New England Ski History site here.

Amesbury has set up an Amesbury Trails website (click here) which has a great little map of Powow Hill and the surrounding trails. The PDF map can be downloaded here. We decided to ascend the hill from the west side starting from the Lake Gardner beach area. There is a parking lot (free) and a kiosk here which also had maps for hikers to take. Heading northeast, we walked down a paved sidewalk which quickly entered the forest on Lake Gardner’s southeast bank. The trail quickly went over too bridges to help avoid the flood plains. This first trail was called the Stagecoach Trail. At the first junction, we headed north on the Batchelder Trail and ascended this path the whole way. The trail system is marked very well with new signage.

Beach at Lake Gardner Parking Lot

Bridges on the Stagecoach Trail

The Batchelder Trail climbed moderately and was mostly comprised of roots and dirt. My 5 year old daughter had no problem skipping and running the whole way up. It soon started to level off and swung to the northwest before dumping you off on the summit, which was very nice.

The summit is actually designated as Batchelder Park and is a flat, grassy area which is perfect for a picnic. The grass continues down the eastern slope for a short distance with some benches looking out over the land. There is also a flag pole, an Amesbury specific benchmark, a kiosk with a view finding legend and some older concrete slabs (I assume artifacts from the ski area that once stood up there). There is also a set of radio towers but they are segregated from the nice park scenery.

Cool Town of Amesbury Benchmark...unfortunately the shadow was in the way

 Proof we were there!

Radio Towers

I also found online that there was reference to a USGS Benchmark on the summit, but no accounts of anyone finding it. Instead, those who have sought it out feel it was buried many years ago. I too fell short and was not able to find it. But the Amesbury Benchmark on the flagpole foundation was cool enough. More on this here!

The view to the east was really incredible. I’m shocked that I practically grew up in Amesbury and had never experienced it before. You could see the Seabrook Station (nuclear power plant), the Isles of Shoals, some local landmarks (like Cider Hill Farm) and Mount Agamenticus in Maine. I think that was extremely cool when put into perspective. You are standing in Massachusetts, literally looking all the way across the State of New Hampshire and viewing something in the non-bordering State of Maine.

View to the East

Left: Mount Agamenticus zoomed in 
Right-Top: Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant with Isles of Shoals in the distance 
Right-Bottom: Cider Hill Farm with Mount Agamenticus in the distance.

After taking a few photos and enjoying the views, we turned around and headed down the same trails we ascended on. Once back to the car, we packed up and headed to our next destination for the afternoon; Amesbury’s Powder House on Brown’s Hill. Hint…my next post will be about this

 Map vs. GPS Track

Signage from this Trek



Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Joe English Hill in New Boston, NH

While looking through some recent trip report pictures on one of my friend's Facebook pages, I came across an image of the Uncanoonuc Mountains that I was unfamiliar with. I see these twin peaks traveling west every morning on NH Route 101, the one on the left (or South Uncanoonuc...trip report here) is populated with multiple radio towers and the one on the right peak (or North Uncanoonuc..trip report here) is simply wooded. In the photo I found, the radio towers were on the right, giving it a new perspective for me. It also made me realize that the viewpoint that this photo was taken from must be somewhat close to my office given the proximity of the Uncanoonucs to Manchester. This made Joe English Hill a perfect lunchtime destination.

Unfamiliar view (to me) of the Uncanoonucs from the west, atop Joe English Hill

Joe English Hill is located in New Boston, NH and can be accessed by use of some gravel roads and a couple unnamed, connecting trails. Joe English Hill is actually named after a Native American who lived during the late 1600s and early 1700s. New Boston, at the time, was a settlement only populated by Native Americans. Settlers from Europe had only gone as far west as Dunstable (which is now Nashua). The Native American tribe that made up New Boston was very cautious of the European settlers, but Joe English was able to befriend them and help share resources. Hence, why he was given the name Joe English. Members of his tribe disliked the relationships he built with the white man so they plotted to kill him. Joe English, being a proven warrior and hunter, led his assassins up Joe English Hill and tricked them into toppling over the 300 foot cliffs at the top. Therefore, the hill was named after him. The full story and a very interesting history of New Boston can be found on the New Boston Historical Society website here.

Joe English Hill is also on the list of locations for the New Hampshire historical fire towers that once occupied so many peaks in this State. There's not much information on it other than it was a steel tower, it was operated by the NH Forestry Service and it was removed in 1959. More information and an image of the old tower can be seen on Fire Outlook here.

original credit goes to Iris Baird

I started off at the end of Summit Drive in New Boston, where there's a cul-de-sac. There's a gravel road that leaves the cul-de-sac heading south and immediately passes a beaver pond on the right. After a short way, a more traditional hiking trail begins on the left and ascends gently over rocks before giving way to dirt and roots. After a short distance, this trail leveled off and dumped into a four way intersection with three other gravel roads. Looking down the hiking trail, there were many smaller birch trees that had folded over the top of the trail forming a very cool looking tunnel.

 Gravel road from cul-de-sac at the end of Summit Drive

 Beaver pond to the right of the gravel road upon entering

 Hiking trail starting on the left of the gravel road

Tunnel formed from trees laying over the trail

At the intersection, it was clear there was a small business going on, quarrying rock slabs for pavers and granite stairs. There were piles of pallets, old truck beds setup as loading platforms and some old junkyard parts. After exploring for a bit, we took a left and headed up the gravel road. After ascending a bit, we hit a clearly marking property boundary in blue on the trees. At this point, the gravel road reverted back to a traditional hiking trail and the forest thinned out considerably. Soon, we made our way over the crest and found the hilltop to be large and pretty flat.

Quarry Operation

 Trail turns to slabs near the top

Thinned forest at the top of Joe English Hill

The summit had a small network of trails leading to viewpoints to the east (toward the Uncanoonucs), to the west (I think I could see Pack Monadnock) and to the south. Most of the viewpoints do have scrub and forest growing up and in a few years will be very difficult to get any good views. At the viewpoint to the east, someone had setup two Adirondack chairs between a fire pit. There was also a sign educating visitors about the raptor migration. It's a great location to sit and let some time pass.

 To the west, I believe this is Pack Monadnock

Uncanoonucs to the east, and the Pawtuckaways on the far right in the distance.

Picturesque cedar with raptor migration sign

 Raptor Migration Sign

Adirondack Chair sitting area toward the east and the Uncanoonucs

There's a large pile of rocks, not really a cairn as they weren't organized very well, at the hill's high point. I spent a lot of time looking for evidence of the fire tower that once stood on the summit but was unsuccessful. There are no foundation blocks or guide cable anchors left from the tower (that has been documented anyway). I was told by a friend that there's nothing left behind but I feel there must be something up there. Unfortunately, the summit top is so large that it's difficult to determine where the original location is to execute a thorough investigation. Maybe someone who reads this post can help me determine where this fire tower location specifically was.

Summit Rocks

Joe English Hill was definitely worth the drive during my lunchtime break. The hill's summit is pretty open and there are nice viewpoints in many directions. It's also rich in history. I can say the hike up is mostly enjoyable with exception to the short portion where there was a quarry business being run. This portion was a bit sketchy and made me feel, as a hiker, I had trespassed into someone's operation...even though nothing is posted and no boundaries restricted.

Definitely check out Joe English Hill if you can. It's a New Hampshire historical fire tower location and a New Hampshire town high point for New Boston. These are two lists that are gaining popularity for peak baggers!