Choose your own Clam River adventure

Wednesday September 19, 2012

SANDISFIELD -- I came out of the woods with my head crawling in white-bottomed spiderlings. I must have gone through a just-hatched nest. I'd brush one off my cap, and another would tickle my ear. Still, they were preferable to ticks.

I was exploring a short stretch of the Clam River in Sandis field. Narain Schroeder, director of land conservation for Berkshire Natural Resources Council, had told me the organization just this summer completed acquisition of a 55-acre parcel of land that, along with previous holdings, creates a contiguous 475 acres with river frontage from the bridge on Hammertown Road to the bridge on Route 57 in Montville.

"The purchase protects two miles of wild river where you can wander in peace," Schroe der said. "It is open to anglers, birders, hunters and hikers."

Amanda L'Etoile, BNRC's trails and outreach coordinator, led hikes there this summer. There are no improved hiking trails at the moment. But there are a wood road or two and a lot of room to explore. It's a make-it-yourself woods adventure.

"The hikes begin at the pull- off on Hammertown Road, nearby the red gate," L'Etoile said. "We enter at the gate and travel along the woods road until reaching the wetland, and then we make our way down to the river. From the river the group bushwhacks back out to the road I see lots of wildlife signs and appreciate the greenery provided by the hemlocks and moss-covered stones in the dull winter months. BNRC recently invested in a trail camera, and so far we have captured a herd of deer and a fisher passing by. I truly love it there."

Schroeder said an early industrial site on the property is easy to find, near the town bridge, on the small chunk of acreage on the east side of the river.

I found the site but saw no sign of a dam, which was probably just below the bridge. The river was heavily scoured in the infamous raging 1955 flood, so it is surprising that sawmill remnants survived at all. There's a major flood control dam now just upstream, and above that is the Hawley Farm and the Sandis field State Forest preserve that protects another chunk of the Clam River and a Lower Spectacle Pond tributary.

The old-time sawyers ran water through either a large wooden pipe or trough several hundred yards to the sawmill. The distance was in order to achieve a sufficient drop in elevation (several feet) to power an overshot wheel. I'm guessing it was an overshot wheel, as there is no tailrace, and the river would have backed up and impeded an undershot wheel.

Stone walls on either side of the river suggest the sawmill structure spanned the waterway. There's no obvious road entry from the east side of the river. There is on the west, however. And just up hill are more stone foundations. As I walked that area, and across the road, it became apparent these were a barn and other outbuilding east of the road, a dwelling on the west. A small farmstead.

A deed search revealed that Milo Stratton and his partners John Deming and Henry T. Deming acquired the water privilege in 1848 and established a sawmill and box shop. Milo Stratton sold to Theodore A. Stratton in 1856. The next owner, Lucien Hotch kiss in 1865, put in a new waterwheel but failed in the business, and Stratton re sumed the title to the land.

He sold to George H. Hulett in 1870. Deeds refer to a shop and machinery "for making tubs, pails, cheese boxes &c, and all the tools" and the right to repair the race and dam near the "old bridge."

Hulett acquired the neighboring farm from Harvey and Esther Beals in 1889. The mill apparently went idle. I found an interesting newspaper ac count: "George Hulett, 80, has purchased a saw mill [presumably meaning the equipment], which he proposes to work alone."

That was in 1906. He died the next year.

The sawmill never operated again.


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