A Rock in the Woods
History whispered from the woods, calling me to find it. A mere rock this time, set in place to forever mark the border between two agreed-upon places, as settlers tended to do. This one, they say, was set here in 1741, a year after being settled and eight years before Hampstead would be incorporated. The other town, Atkinson, would be incorporated twenty-six years later. That there is a carved A and H on the stone that is a handy indicator that you found it, but neither settlement was known by these names in 1741. Hampstead was known as Timberlane Parish then, and Atkinson at the time was a part of Plaistow, New Hampshire. No, the carving came sometime later. And so did the red paint used to highlight the letters.
Living on a border town between New Hampshire and Massachusetts, I’m fascinated with these border markers. Some are easier to find than others, conveniently standing aside the road they’ve watched grow over their lifetime. But others are more evasive. And town border markers tend to be less fussy still. When the plowed fields return to the woods they always wanted to be the stones become hidden. And that’s where the fun begins for adventurous history geeks like me. This one wasn’t so hidden; it appears on trail maps for the conservation land it resides in. But ask the 15,000 residents of the two towns where it is and maybe 400 might not give you an odd stare back. The rock isn’t exactly a national landmark like the fictional Plymouth Rock.
And yet, this tiny rock in the woods marking the border between two towns was set in the heart of the lands the Abenaki once used to stage raids on Haverhill, Massachusetts only four decades before. It would stand witness to the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, The Civil War and two World Wars, drawing the settlers from the land that surrounds it to fight for survival nearby and across the globe. And of course it would witness the birth of a nation.
So sure, it’s just a rock in the woods, but it’s a rock that has seen a few things in its job marking a random border set in 1741 between two settlements in New Hampshire. And I wondered, brushing the snow off it for a better look, how many of those people have wondered at it in that time as I do now? And for how long will it guard this border before such things don’t matter again? I wonder.