“I used to be afraid to sleep in the bedroom,” said longtime homeowner Barbara Waite looking at the 100-ton boulder poised on the hill above her house. “But not anymore.”
That seemingly misplaced and immoveable rock in the backyard of her Hammertown Road home has withstood hundreds of thousands of winter storms, blasting in the area, and the recent earthquake that vibrated up the coast from Virginia. But, it’s not just an ordinary rock.
Some historians believe it’s “a round glacial deposit”. Others have labeled it a “dolmen or megalithic tomb” going back some 4,000 years. A megalith is a large stone that has been used to construct a structure or monument, either alone or together with other stones. There are a huge variety across Europe, most famous are the dolmens of Stonehenge in Wiltshire County, England.
Clues that support the tomb or, at least the ceremonial, theory are the three small rock stanchions under the boulder; the low walls of stones that fan out from it and were perhaps used by mourners or worshipers to sit on; and the fact that another similar, though smaller boulder, stands exactly 100 yards northeast of it.
The weathered face of the suspected dolmen could hold secrets and, perhaps, unnoticed carvings. Different eyes discern different shapes. Whether real or imaginary, the titanic rock was a highlight of Saturday’s Mines and Mills of Old Monroe Tour hosted by Monroe’s Historical Society (MHS).
The tour was a sell-out and required two buses to transport the some 70 enthusiastic, homegrown “tourists” and friends. All ages lined up to board with cameras and packed lunches, video equipment and walking sticks.
Ed Coffey and Marvin Moss, MHS members and the town’s own “national treasures” when it comes to historical information, led the group.
An Indian presence
Almost in the backyard of Monroe’s Ed Wilcox, but on town property, is another historical find, an authentic Indian mortar.
“This doesn’t look like much,” said Moss standing above a rain filled rock, “but it indicates the site of a Native American village.”
The mortar and site have been affirmed as an authentic Indian habitat by state archaeologist, Nicholas Bellantoni, a UConn professor.
A 60-foot tree was recently sawed off next to it to preserve the artifact. Volunteers helped measure the stone bowl as others watched. It is 17 inches across and has an estimated capacity of over three quarts. It was used to grind corn by hand using a stone pestle.
According to Moss and Coffey, old village sites are all over Monroe because the Indians never stayed in one place long. Residents just need to keep their eyes open in the woods and know what they’re looking for.
John and Sue Selk don’t have to leave their Hammertown Road property which sits on the site of an old sythe factory to find remnants of Monroe’s past.
“Everywhere I dig, I find these old things,” he said holding up rusty blades and pitchforks for everyone to see. The remaining walls of the factory are very much evident in the precise stonework just up the road from his circa 1770 saltbox. The factory gave Hammertown Road its name.
On board the tour were four Monroe firefighters not for safety, although they did help direct traffic around the parked buses and called in a “popping” electrical transformer on a back road, but for their interest in mines and minerals.
“I grew up in these woods,” said Stepney Volunteer Firefighter Carl Lewis, amateur spelunker. “They are full of old mine shafts and hidden caves. Some are closed off. A lot are not.” His knowledge of the terrain is invaluable for rescue efforts.
“I taught him everything he knows,” chimed in Firefighter George Lattanzi laughing. He grew up with Lewis and volunteers at the Monroe Fire Department. Lattanzi has a special interest in minerals. He was seated with his wife, Christel, behind Stepney Firefighters Jonathan Kearney and Samantha Cassidy.
Once a mining town
According to Coffey, the hills of Monroe used to be alive with the sounds of mining- chalk, silver, copper, granite, quartz. Monroe sits on some 40 minerals hidden deep within its 26.3 square miles.
The group hiked through the woods off Barn Hill Road to the entrance of the old Booth Bismuth Mine. Bismuth is a distinct metal in the family of metals which include tin and lead.
The opening, now offering only crawl space, was six-feet tall six months ago, according to firefighter Lewis who had visited the mine then. Now silt, quartz rocks, stones and other debris, probably the result of tropical storm Irene and other summer rains have obscured the opening. The shaft itself runs back some 30 feet before it's closed off..
Historical indications are that some of the rock once mined in Monroe was granite cut for flooring and shipped to Fort Sumter near Charleston, South Carolina.
“That’s our connection to the Civil War,” said Coffey. “It’s there that the first shot was fired.”
“But mining wasn’t really profitable in Monroe,” he said, “except for sand and gravel. During the '80s and ‘90s the hills were raped around Masuk High School.” There used to be an old sand pit under the new soccer fields just off Rte. 111.
From the high school participants traipsed through the adjacent woods to see the remains of the old Clark brothers’, James and Ezra, Saw Mill on a nearby stream.
“The land for the high school was given to the town by the Masuk family,” he said explaining that it used to be a farm. “Then the town had to spend some $50,000 to buy up right-of ways through the neighboring farms to get to it.”
The buses also stopped near the old Cargill Hoopskirt Factory deep in the woods off Barn Hill Road. Situated on the on the edge of a small river it used a water wheel to produce its hoops in the 1850 and 60s. When hoops went out of fashion it changed over to wagon production and then paints.
A welcome Twombly respite
The grassy gardens at Twombly Nursery on Barn Hill Road were the site of the group’s midday picnic. Owner’s Andrew Brodtman and Barry Bonin offered up their 15 acres for a welcome break, as well as supplied the buses for the tour.
Several children of MHS members passed through the gardens selling cookies and blueberry squares to benefit the society.
Shane Cardi, 13, son of Karen Cardi, president elect for MHS, accompanied the tour. He ventured into crumbling ruins and hop- scotched across river rocks better than most.
“He thinks history is pretty cool,” she said.
Coming the farthest for the tour was probably “C” Van Derkeift, a member of MHS who lives in Stamford.
“I tried out several historical societies,” she said. “This one has such great events with real historical meaning to the town, and they are so friendly. They bring a high level of knowledge to every event and keep them affordable.” She can’t wait until the next one.
The next event is slated to be a haunting affair Oct. 22 with the hoped-for appearance of Monroe’s own historical witch, Hannah Cranna, who had a questionable death according to her tombstone. Several people on the Mining and Mills Tour were certain they saw her likeness already lurking in the woods.
For more information on Monroe Historical Society events or to support or join the organization, visit www.monroehistoricsociety.org.