Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Parker Woodland

    Recently my mailbox yielded a surprising piece of  mail.  The Winter 2013 issue of  the Audubon Society of RI  Report has an article about the history of Parker Woodland, by Jim Gass.  This is the ASRI 860-acre  wildlife refuge in Foster and Coventry, RI, and the site of the tall, conical cairns and other mysterious stone structures.  Unfortunately, the Report is not posted online, so I will quote from the article and add my own photos of the sites described.

     "Moving east along the Paul Cook Trail you will come upon one of the well-known attractions at Parker Woodland, the stone cairns.  These are cone-shaped piles of stones that have been carefully crafted by human hands.  There are dozens of these structures at Parker, and no one is quite sure how old they are or who built them.  Colonial farmers often made piles of stones when they were clearing fields for plowing.  Sometimes farmers would make piles of stones and sell them like cordwood.  Also, both the Narragansetts and Wampanoags have stated that the cairns found in Rhode Island and Massachusetts were built by their ancestors for ceremonial purposes. The fact that the cairns at Parker are very carefully constructed seems to point to Native American origins, but this has not been confirmed".

This is somewhat of a departure from the sign posted at the site, which was described in my post of  2/8/2012.

     "Along this trail (the Milton A. Gowdy Memorial) are two colonial-era rock quarries and Table Rock, a structure that is believed to have been used by Native Americans to communicate over long distances".

The article does not mention how Table Rock was used, but presumably it was struck to produce sound.  The crystalline structure of some  granite allows it to vibrate when struck.  Some rocks, such as Bell Rock in Fall River, MA, are reputed to make loud sounds.

     "Also near Table Rock is a foundation of a house that has small cubby holes.  According to Laura Carberry, 'they appear to be storage areas attached to the outside of the foundation, the largest being about as big as a sheep or adult person could fit into, then they become as small as a jar.  I think perhaps they were used for storage or for shelters for animals'".

     Here as an overview of the cubbyholes at the foundation.

The largest cubbyhole has fallen in.

Light through the back of the smallest cubby hole indicates it is not part of the building foundation. I might speculate that these were used for firewood and kindling, keeping them close to the house and out of the weather.

     This is the doorstep of the house.  Imagine how many generations of feet have crossed it.
"Returning to the Paul Cook Trail, you will eventually come to the remains of the Vaughn family farm.  The Vaughns came to Coventry in 1750 and their farmland was comprised of fields, pastures, and woodlots."

This  farm is also surrounded by cairns, which presumably were from field clearing and quarrying for stone walls. Some may have been left behind by natives.

    If you are within driving distance of RI, this is a great place to visit and see plenty of cairns, walls, propped boulders, and other structures right from the trails.  The directions and trail map are online at


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