History in the Stones

Octo Barnett

One of the largest and most attractive open spaces in Newton is the Webster Conservation Area, located next to Hammond Pond Parkway. The main entrance is at the end of Warren Street (off Glen Ave. in Newton Centre) . This area has over 50 acres of woodland criss-crossed by miles of walking trails. Visitors to Webster are almost always residents of Newton Centre. Few residents of other parts of the city take advantage of this jewel of a conservation area.

Fascinating remnants of the history of this area range from the marks of the sheets of ice (glaciers) that spread down from the northern polar ice cap, picking up huge boulders, gravel and sand, and scraping and gouging the hills. The last of the glaciers in this area was 14,000 years ago, but we can still see the marks on the stone and the layers of deposit of gravel. One of the favorite sites to see these stones is Gouaches Caves and Cake Rock. Another remnant is Bare Pond – which has water only in the spring, when the pond is filled with tadpoles and salamanders, but is dry in the summer.

Some time after the last ice age, people from Asia ventured southward through Canada into this area, and took advantage of the fishing, the herd animals, and waterfowl. In other parts of Newton, residents have found spear points and stone tools. It would be exciting if we could find any of these in the Webster conservation area, which would have been a good site for early camps since it was near a water supply and opportunities for fishing, with open space that would be attractive for grazing animals.

Many years later, there were active farming and probably sheep and cow herding in this area. Stone walls were used either to mark boundaries or to prevent straying. Possible evidence for an old house foundation and a dump with a few old articles can be found at Webster.

Henry David Thoreau wrote much about the opportunities and pleasures of walking in such an area. “To regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society.” “Each new year is a surprise to us… We find we had virtually forgotten the note of each bird.” “The landscape looked singularly clean and pure and dry, the trees so tidy, and stripped of their leaves – ice on the water and winter in the air, but yet not a particle of snow on the ground.”