Hatchet Mountain is Hope's salient point - visible from most parts of town, the highest point in the second range of the Camden Hills. Its name celebrates the ceremony in 1617 (three years before the arrival of the Pilgrims) on the northeast flank of the mountain ending the Wawenock-Tarratine war.
As European settlers arrived, Hatchet Mountain furnished timber and firewood. When the lime industry grew along the coast, its forest cover became fuelwood to reduce limerock. Hatchet Mountain was covered with pasture. In winter in the late 1800s, townspeople would ice skate on a small pond in a natural depression atop Hatchet Mountain; no forest was visible in any direction!
While the focal point of Hope, Hatchet Mountain has always divided the town. The first Europeans settled around the mountain, especially on the northeast side in Hope Corner. Hope's best mill site is at the foot of Fish Pond, South Hope, which became the town's economic center. Hatchet Mountain stands between. Even today, getting over Hatchet Mountain is a factor in buying fire engines. It was a major division when roads were little more than primitive, often muddy trails.
As the lime industry collapsed in the 20th Century, Hatchet Mountain's (and most of Hope's) pastures reverted to forest. Farming didn't, and doesn't pay. The summit was sold for transmission towers. Non-farm houses have encroached on Hope's, and the Midcoast's, largest undeveloped area. The threat of real-estate development near the top of Hope's central symbol has attracted the town's attention, stimulating debate on what to do about it, and an effort to preserve traditional uses..
In pre-historic times, geologists tell us that what is now Maine was formed by successive bits of the European techtonic plate, generally from around what is now Ireland, Wales and Scotland, breaking off, floating west, and crashing up against the North American plate. On one such occurrence, what is left to us as the Camden Hills were thrown up. Many millennia later and after much erosion, risings and lowerings, invasions of the sea and glaciers, there are four distinct ridges. The coastal and highest ridge consists of the Northport highlands (Mount Percival), Ducktrap Mountain, Frohock, Bald Rock, Megunticook - the highest at 1380 feet - Bald, Ragged, Spruce (and Crabtree in Hope), Pleasant and Meadow.
Hatchet, at 1101 feet is the highest of the second ridge, which consists of Levenseller in Lincolnville, Moody in Lincolnville & Hope, and Kimball, Hatchet, Philbrick. Thomas, Simmons, and Jones in Hope. The third and fourth ridges - Appleton Ridge and the Frye-Haystack Mountain ridge, are to westward.
Glaciers and rainfall have worn down the Camden Hills, leaving only the hardest, rockiest bits of earlier landscape. Even in their reduced state, however, when European fishermen, explorers and finally settlers arrived from the 1400s to the 1600s, the Camden Hills were the salient feature of the Maine mid-coast from the sea. Hatchet Mountain was clearly visible to arriving European ships when not obscured by closer, coastal hills.
To European settlers as to the Amerindians who lived here before them, Hatchet and other mountains, though useful as landmarks, were not so much useful as in the way.
Except for the first and most important historical event in what was to become Hope (see below), our Indian residents probably avoided Hatchet Mountain and didn't use it. Before 1780, Hope's only inhabitants were Indians. In recent times, they were of the Abenaki part of the greater Algonquin family, a group variously called the Wawenocks or Pemequids. Wawenock is probably our misunderstanding of Weli'na'kiak -- people of the bay country. The Indians in question lived in the saltwater bay estuaries of the St. George, Sheepscot and Damariscotta rivers in summer. From March until May, they lived well on spawning smelt, alewives, sturgeon, salmon, then on fish caught by hook and line, weir or net and on shellfish, as indicted by the massive shell heaps we still find there. From late September to March, the Indians broke up into small encampments of extended families in areas back from the coast, traveling up these rivers by canoe and on foot to inland hunting camps in sheltered spots by ponds or streams. From there, the men moved out on foot along hunting trails.
The Wawenock had little use for mountains. Mountains were obstacles. They appear to have had no irrational regard for mountains as Europeans have, feeling a need to climb to the top "because they are there." Rather the reverse. As historian Fannie Eckstrom concludes,
"Indians were superstitiously afraid of
mountains and seem seldom to have had names for those which were not associated
with some myth or used as landmarks."
As we shall see below, what we call Hatchet Mountain was used by the Indians and the present name comes from that use. Still, the Indians of what is now Hope, at least in the period immediately before European settlement, ignored Hatchet Mountain as much as they could. If, as Hope tradition and archeological evidence suggest, they came up the St. George River and Quiggle Brook to spend winters on the lower end of Hobbs Pond and on Fish Pond, then their hunting paths went around Hatchet Mountain to the low swamps and brooksides where deer yards were, not over the mountain.
It is a mistake to imagine that the number of Indians in what is now Hope was ever large. South and west of roughly the Kennebec, New England Indians practiced agriculture. They grew corn, beans & squash, and derived two-thirds of their diet from grains. The annual frost-free days are about 200 in middle New England; 150 or less in central Maine. North of the Kennebec, Indians practiced little or no agriculture. They were fully hunter-gatherers. They had no storable grain. They ate and dried or smoked what they could of the fatted deer and bear they killed in the fall, but they still had to hunt through the winter and there was rarely enough. Before spring, there was hunger and often starvation. The population density of the non-agricultural Indians was about 0.41/square mile, compared with about 2.87/sq. mi. or seven times as much for agricultural Indians of southern New England. So the greatest Indian population that 21-square-mile Hope could have supported is about nine.
So the small bands of Wawenocks who lived near Hatchet Mountain in winter before European settlement generally avoided it and probably didn't even name it, except when it served as a landmark in 1615.
Burying the Hatchet - Smoking the Peace Pipe
Hatchet Mountain's most important event took
place 187 years before Hope was incorporated in 1804, 169 years before its
planned settlement in 1786, and about 165 years before the first Europeans,
the Philip Hilt family, settled here. As A.J.Dunton described the events
to the Hope Grange in about 1920,
"Many years ago this part of the country was inhabited by two divisions of aborigines, the Tarretines and the Wawenocks, the former having dominion over the eastern, and the later over the western portion. The Megunticook mountains were said to be the barrier or dividing line, that separated the two great confederacies. Nultonanit was the sachem of the eastern tribes and Besheba the sagamore of the western. The eastern tribes were headed by the brave Tarratines and the western by the mighty Wawenocks.
"During the year 1615 a sanguinary and exterminating war broke out between the two great divisions of aborigines in this State. This war was waged with fury for two years when the Tarratines became the victors by killing Besheba. After this a truce was called between the two nations and the chiefs of all the tribes while seated around a council fire at a place not far from what is now Hope Corner smoked the pipe of peace and agreed to bury the hatchet.
"The hatchet was buried on the side of the mountain which overlooks the village, beside a great boulder and this boulder turned over on it; since which time it has been called "Hatchet Mountain." On the upper surface of the boulder there is a facsimile of a hatchet, or Indian tomahawk, carved with some blunt instrument, presumably a stone chisel, in the hands of one of the red men .
"Shortly after peace was restored between the two nations a famine ensued among the red men, followed by an unknown epidemic or pestilence, which continued for more than a year, exterminating several clans and devastating the western tribes from the borders of the Tarratines on the east to the Naragansetts on the west. This locality was embraced in the territory of the Wawenocks, but Basheba's dwelling place was near Bristol, then called Pemaquid."
Since Dunton's paper was presented about three centuries after the event in question, and since he says that his account is "partly historical and partly legendary," which part is the peace treaty of Hatchet Mountain?
Parts of Dunton's account are clearly speculative and/or wrong, e.g. that Hatchet Mountain is of volcanic origin and that it is 1300 feet high. However, his account of burying the Hatchet is entirely consistent with what we know about the local Indians in the early 1600s. European explorers started showing up on the coast of Maine in the early 1500s. By the mid-1500s, English and other fishermen were fishing Maine waters and sometimes over-wintering at such places as Monhegan and, with the permission of the Wawenock Sagamore, at Pemaquid. Our best source is Captain John Smith who, in the summer of 1614, mapped the coast from Penobscot Bay to Cape Cod and traded for furs in a small boat with 8 men while his crew collected 25 tons of fish off Monhegan.
Smith started his mapping at the Camden Hills and moved south, trading for 1,100 beaver, 100 martins and nearly as many otters, and learning from the Indians. By that time, the Tarratine expansion was already under way but the Camden Hills were Wawenock as Dunton says.
Eckstrom sums up Smith's findings. Mount Megunticook (Smith's Mec-ad-a-cut) was
a high mountain, a kinde of fortress
against the Tarratines, adjoining to the high Mountain of Penobscot, against
whose foot does beat the sea.' We get the picture if we remember that the
Tarratines were not a native Maine tribe, but invading Micmacs from Nova
Scotia who for several years previous to Smith's visit had been coming to
harry the region and who later conquered it
. The Indian village was
where the center of town [Camden} now is
Tarratine, she explains, means the traders. The Tarratines were getting European goods from the French and trading them to the Abenaki. As for the Camden Hills, "the Tarratines left after an occupancy too brief to have affected the place names, many of which, recorded by Captain John Smith a few years before they came, are still in use ."
None of this mentions Hatchet Mountain or the 1617 treaty, but it is scrupulously consistent with Dunton, as are historical records of the plagues, probably of smallpox, that devastated the Indians of coastal Maine.
How could A.F. Dunton, three centuries after the fact, know the place, date and details about the treaty of Hatchet Mountain? The Duntons were an extraordinary family. Though no more formally educated than their peers, they had a tradition of keeping records and of home learning, for instance, of Latin. A.F. knew his extraordinary grandfather, Abner Dunton (1807-1911), who was one of Hope's early settlers. In Abner's childhood, the Wawenocks, though definitively defeated, were still present as itinerant hunters, fishers, and gatherers of ash strips for basketry. During the Revolution and again during the War of 1812, there were units of friendly Wawenocks encamped with the Anglo-American defenders at the camp overlooking Glen Cove in Rockport that is now being excavated. Indian stories about the land must have passed from these remnants of the once-powerful Wawenock nation to the Anglo-American youth of the area, including, for the War of 1812, young men from Hope. Through such links, a young Abner Dunton got details of events 200 years earlier. The historicity of A.F.Dunton's account rests on the accuracy of Wawenock oral tradition over 200 years and of Dunton family oral tradition over 100 years.
So, while there is room for historical doubt about the veracity of the details about the Wawenock-Tarratine treaty of Hatchet Mountain, those details are plausible. Moreover, the kernel of the story, the kerygma, must be true. How else, after all, is there to explain why the mountain is called Hatchet?
Changes with European Settlement
Indians left the tops of mountains alone. But, even though the Indians living around Hatchet Mountain were few, their life style had quite an impact on the ecosystem. Starting several centuries before the advent of European explorers, our Indian predecessors had been practicing intensified hunting and gathering. They had exceeded the population densities that plain old hunting and gathering would support, and they were manipulating their winter environment -- clearing out the forest by burning it, thereby creating edges and increasing the population of deer, beaver and other animals on which they depended to get through the winters. Without these measures, this land would not even support 4/10 people per square mile.
So, it wasn't as if Hatchet Mountain and the area around it was, in Portlander Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's romantic view, the "forest primeaval, the murmuring pines and hemlocks, bearded with moss and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight." On the other hand, Hatchet Mountain's area would probably not have been as cleaned out as land around the saltwater bays where the Wawenocks spent most of their time. When Capt. George Weymouth and his men sailed into the St. George's River in 1605, they reported that it "did All resemble a stately Parke," where there was pasture between the trees for European cattle. Future Hope probably was not as "park-like" as future Thomaston, but the Indians of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were managing their hunting grounds, which included Hatchet Mountain.
Strong evidence that the practice of burning extended this far is theprevalence of wild blueberries (Vaccinium typhoidium) at higher elevations. Wild blueberries do not thrive in the deep forest priveaval but in open fields with plenty of sunlight. They tolerate burning better than other plants in our ecosystem, as European farmers soon discovered. Perhaps wild blueberries evolved their burn tolerance to take advantage of Indian hunting-ground management. In any case, wild blueberries did thrive on and around Hatchet Mountain under Indian management and were already a major part of the ground cover when Europeans arrived. That fact strongly indicates that Hatchet Mountain's forest cover had been repeatedly thinned by burning in Indian days.
European settlement did not touch back-from-the-coast areas like Hope until the fighting of the American Revolution was over. With the French and the British gone, the Indians had no ally against the expanding settlers. The Abenaki in this area who had survived the wars and plagues generally moved west and north, leaving a vestigial population living on the margins of European society. These are the natives howling in grief as Union's settlers desecrate their island burial ground in Williams's Come Spring and the Indian raiding party on a Hope pioneer's log house in Dunton's In Redskin Days. East and north of here, the Abenaki preserved more of their way of life, though they were inexorably pushed into the tiny reserves they now people at Peter Dana Point, Pleasant Point and Indian Island.
Security from the Indians led to more European demand for their land. As the Revolution waned, this spurred two developments. Firstly, Revolutionary War veterans, most of whom fought effectively without pay and with promises of future reward, moved to occupy the vacant land in Maine, access to which they had been promised. The wave of settlers that poured into the Province of Maine in the 1780s and 1790s from lower Massachusetts and New Hampshire were not all war veterans. Many were younger sons of non-wealthy families who did not stand to inherit and who were forced to try to make a go of life on the frontier. All were spurred by the conviction that most Maine land was res nullius - that it had no owner because the Indians had left and because the holders of royal grants had taken the Tory side and forfeited their titles. The land, therefore, was free to whoever claimed it by sweat equity.
Secondly, in the Boston legislature, lawyers and politicians were conspiring to make the titles conferred by royal grants stick. As historian Alan Taylor describes it,
"Contrary to the settlers hopes, the commonwealth
[Massachusetts] failed to confiscate the Great Proprietors' claims. The
war's end in 1783 brought the slow and incomplete confiscation proceedings
to a halt. Thereafter three powerful men in the commonwealth's new political
assumed control of the three great land companies with the
grudging consent of their loyalist partners. Taking the legal offensive,
the resurgent proprietors successfully parlayed their political connections
and savvy into legislative confirmation of their claims, which enabled proprietors
to prevail in court suits against settlers who claimed they lived on public
In this process, what is now Hope fell under the control of Boston-based lawyers, businessmen and politicians called the Lincolnshire Company or Twenty Associates, who got the Boston legislature to confirm to them the royal title of the Ten Associates.
It is interesting to see how "revolutionary" general Henry Knox obtained the royal title to lands both east and west of Hope. Knox had been a Boston bookseller of modest means who married into a powerful Tory family. He got the Flucker's royal patent, presumably vacated when they chose the royal side and left, confirmed to himself. As Taylor explains,
"Henry Knox privately conceded that, without legislative confirmation, the Waldo Patent 'was entirely nugatory as no action of trespass could lye where there was no legal description of boundaries.' Indeed, the original patent 'was so obscurely worded and written with so little knowledge of the subject that no person could possibly make out the boundaries.' By exercising his considerable political talents and contacts, Knox converted his legally dubious patent into a precise tract of land endorsed by the commonwealth. The General Court obliged 'in great haste' on July 4, 1785, the last day of the session, after the few representatives of the settler community had left for home."
The Revolutionary hero proceeded to build a manor house, Montpellier, to set himself up as a noble, and to hire agents to extract money from the war veterans and others who had cleared and settled the land.
Hope was spared the ensuing guerilla war that Taylor describes between patriot settlers and proprietors' representatives because no one had settled here prior to 1782. In that year, the Hilts, from Rutland MA, settled, with permission of the Twenty Associates, above what is now Camp Bishopswood, near Eric & Tim Pearse's Rocky Top Farm. On November 9, 1785, the Twenty Associates contracted with Charles Barrett, a developer from New Ipswich NH, to have 45 settlers in the new town within three years, in return for which he got two-thirds of the land. He laid out 120 rectilinear lots of 160 to 168 acres. Settlers could have 100 acres in return for clearing 3 acres in 3 years and building a cabin; Barrett, and the Twenty Associates, hoped to sell the settlers the other 60-68 acres. Thus, Hope's settlers, unlike those of most other Midcoast towns, accepted the proprietors title nd knew their legal status before they came.
Developer Barrett fulfilled his contract. By the 1790 census, there were 53 households of 173 people in Hope.
Changes with Hope's Rapid Growth - 1790-1850
That modest population in 1790 was roughly 11 times what Hope supported under Indian intensified hunting and gathering. And Hope continued to grow at a very rapid, though declining rate: 9% per year in the 1790s, 6% in the 1800s, 4% in the 1820, 3% in the 1830s, and 1% in the 1840s. Hope's population peaked at the 1850 census at 1107, after which it declined until the 1970s. Where did Hatchet Mountain fit into this expansion?
The settlers' land use was radically different from that of their Indian predecessors. It had to be to support the population that lived here. Hope's settlers were farmers and animal husbandrymen. They had to be. Their links to the outside world were onerous and expensive. People and goods mainly moved on foot or by ox cart. Only a couple of "squires," like the Hobbs's, had horses. The "all necessary roads made to the town and through it" that Barrett contracted to build "at the sole expense of himself and his company" were no more than dirt trails, muddy ones in springtime. Hope was at the end of streams that were navigable by Indian canoe and beyond what Europeans could use for goods transport. Barrett's and Knox's attempts to canalize the St. George River failed. Settlers resorted to use of the "winter roads" - frozen ponds and brooks - to move goods from and to Camden via the Megunticook or Warren via the St. George. This forced economic isolation meant that Hope's early residents had to strive for the Jeffersonian ideal of being independent, largely self-sufficient yeoman farmers.
That meant clearing and farming as much land as they could manage. Settlers typically cleared with human and animal power, burned the slash, and planted a crop of rye. Gradually, stumps and rocks were cleared and land could be plowed. The land chosen for this kind of improvement was not the steep slopes of Hatchet Mountain, but neither was it the richest bottom land. The latter was too hard to drain. Moreover, here, where a few more days of growing season is the difference between a good crop and disaster, lowlands just did not thaw and dry early enough. "Early land" had poorer soils but better drainage. Thus, we find the pieces chosen for improvement and cropping (and the last to be abandoned in the 19th century) were rather high on the flanks of ridges - for instance, the two Pearse dairy farms and the recently abandoned Morse and Ludwig dairy farms.
Hope's first settlements were on the flank of Hatchet Mountain. In part, this was because Hope's proprietors contracted to have Hope developed after they developed Camden. The first necessary road was built where Rte 105 is today with minor adjustments, linking Camden to the St. George River at North Appleton through Hope Corner and North Hope. It passes north of Hatchet Mountain.
Settlers urgently needed power to supplement their muscles and their animals, and that meant water power, and damming streams - something that happened immediately after settlement. All of our ponds and lake have been augmented so grain could be milled. As soon as people began to replace their log homes with frame ones, saw mills were added, and, on lesser sites, shingle mills. South Hope has the best mill site and, early on, became the economic center. The other necessary road linked the South Hope mill site to Union, Warren and Thomaston in one direction, to Hope Corner, Lincolnville and Belfast in the other. It ran along Barrett Hill, along Rte. 235, then west of Hatchet Mountain to the Camden-St. George's River Road at Athearn's Corner and along High Street.
That put the early center of Hope on the north and west sides of Hatchet Mountain, not where Hope Corner is today. The town's original "meeting house built of 40 feet in length and 30 feet wide," which Barrett's contract required him to build, was on the west side of Hatchet Mountain because that was where the Union-Belfast road passed.
As Anna Hardy reports, in 1787, settlers from Union laid out a road to the Barrett's Town line, whence
"a trail was swamped out which ran easterly as route 235 does today from Buzzell Hill, passing, the small Mansfield Pond. It then swung northeasterly to pass Isaac Bartlett's and then Daniel Barrett's , intercepted the Camden-George's River trail at the foot of Bull Hill [the north side of Hatchet Mountain] and continued easterly , much as High Street does today, to the Lincolnville line. Eventually these trails were improved as rocks and stumps were removed and swampy areas corduroyed with logs so that they were eventually usable for carts."
From 1787 to 1842,
" town meetings were held in the meeting house which Charles Barrett had had build on land owned by Walter Philbrick and later sold to Jones Taylor and which for many years was called 'Meeting House Field.' Afterward the meeting house was turned into a barn, when the new one was constructed in 1842."
Hope's developer had had the town house built on the land of his nephew, Daniel Barrett. As a relative, he got choice land on the flank of Hatchet Mountain.
The 1859 Hope map shows that the area around Hatchet Mountain had the highest road density in the township. The Methodist church was there too. And the hall of Mount Hope Lodge of freemasons which the Hobbs's built for them.
As we now know, the Barretts and the early settlers who built the road along the west side of Hatchet Mountain did not choose well. The parts of that road nearest to Hatchet Mountain, what we now know as the Gordon Hill Road and Bull Hill Road, did not dry early but had a long and encumbering mud season. The inconvenience was such that, at some date, the townspeople cut and filled an alternative road on the south and east side of Hatchet Mountain. This road, known as the dug way, dried earlier, although it still contains steep grades. Its construction led to the focusing of life in Hope north of Hatchet Mountain at what is now Hope Corner, the intersection of the new dug way and Rte. 105. Hatchet Mountain is still at the center of town, but the focus has shifted from the cold, wet northwest to the warmer southeast. Farms on the Bull Hill side were abandoned long before those on the dug way side.
From the beginning of Hope's settlement, life was not easy for Hope residents. Forced near-subsistence was a struggle. Even the best of Hope's land is stony and hilly. Gold was not found. Anna Hardy's history shows that many settlers gave up and left from the very first years. Those who stayed did not find gold, but they never stopped looking for something that they could vent for surplus, as Adam Smith called it. Self-sufficiency is never complete. Hope residents needed something to sell for cash.
Sometimes that something was their labor. There are early and persistent reports of out-migration, e.g. shipping out as seamen. Those who stayed found something to sell when the lime industry blossomed in Rockport and Rockland. And that really affected Hatchet Mountain.
Effects of the Lime Economy
Lime burning on the Maine midcoast is older than Hope. It was recorded in Thomaston as early at 1733. However, the industry's dimensions were probably not such as to affect Hatchet Mountain until after 1820. Before that, growth was restrained by the Embargo Act of 1807 through which President Jefferson nearly broke up the United States and by the War of 1812.
Before the blossoming of the lime industry,
Hope farmers used wood for construction and for heating. It is unlikely,
however, given their isolation and high transport costs, that they exported
much wood to other towns. Therefore, since only a small portion of the landscape
had been cleared for cropping or for pasture, it is likely that most of
Hope's forest cover persisted. Hatchet Mountain was probably nearly as forested
as it had been in Indian times.
When the limeburning did blossom into a major industry, it had a major economic impact on Hope and on Hatchet Mountain.
Analysis of some economic data inadvertently
published by Rockland's Roger Grindle, historian of the local lime industry,
shows why. In Thomaston, in 1836, 88% of the ex-kiln price of lime was spent
on inputs, leaving 12% for return on investment and profit. The four inputs
% of input cost % of ex-kiln value
limerock delivered to the kiln 23 20
fuelwood delivered 34 30
casks delivered 11 10
labor 32 28
return on capital, management & profit 12
Hope farmers supplied fuelwood and casks. These accounted for 45% of the input cost and 40% of the ex-kiln value of the lime. This was an activity that complemented farming. Fuelwood was best cut and moved in winter. Small water-driven mills could increasingly turn out barrel staves. During long winters, when farm work was at its low, available time could be used profitably making casks. Hope Historical Society's collection contains early photos of horses pulling hay wagons, piled high with empty casks, to the coastal limekilns. Thanks to the proximity of the lime industry, Hope farmers could turn their spare time, their draught animals, their wagons, and their woods into cash by cutting and delivering fuelwood and by making and delivering lime casks.
Other locales were obviously supplying the burgeoning lime industry too, but, for once, Hope had a positional advantage. By sometime after the mid-19th century, Hope's forest was entirely gone. Hatchet Mountain was pasture. The same thing had happened to all nearby towns, and to the islands of the bay. By the 1850s, the local supply of kilnwood was drying up and it started to be imported from the Canadian Maritimes, which became the major source for Midcoast kilnwood by the 1880s.
The sale of the forest cover of Hatchet Mountain, and of the rest of Hope and neighboring towns for that matter, led to major ecological changes. Forestry on slopes always increases erosion, sharply in the short run. Whether or not there are major long-term consequences depends on what is allowed to regenerate. Hope's deforested uplands were almost entirely converted to pastures. Pastures that are not overgrazed provide good erosion protection. Overgrazed, they don't.
So were Hope's animal husbandrymen wise in adjusting their herds to carrying capacity? We don't know. We don't even know what stock grazed the pastures. There were dairy cows and draught cattle of course, and horses played a much bigger part in the Nineteenth Century economy, but to what extent were sheep and goats involved? Unfortunately, we don't know.
Tom Wessel argues, in Reading the Forest Landscape, that the sheep craze of the 1830s deforested New England and caused massive erosion. The theory is attractive. It would have made sense for Hope's new, derived pastures to be put to use growing sheep. A wool fabrication industry grew up in Camden, furnishing a nearby market.
Unfortunately, Wessel's argument is poorly documented. There is no evidence of the great fans of alluvium that would exist in ponds and on brooks if erosion on the scale he describes had taken place, or of deep erosion ravines. Moreover, there is no oral tradition in Hope, let alone records, that point to a major expansion of sheep growing. Therefore, the case for a major expansion of sheep-raising in Hope when the forest was sold remains unproven. Hatchet Mountain may not have been covered with grazing sheep in the last half of the Nineteenth Century.
We do know, however, from eyewitnesses, that not only Hatchet Mountain, but all the land visible from the top of Hatchet Mountain, was deforested in the 1890s. It may have been that way for decades. One was Olive Clough Noyes (1884-1977) who loved to recount how, as a child, she would join townspeople ice skating on the pond at the summit of Hatchet Mountain. The only trees visible were those around houses or on property lines, and that covers quite a distance.
Hope's Decline - the Forest's Recovery
Hope's forest resources had been sold off long before the collapse of the lime industry in the early 20th century. During its heyday in the 1880s and 1890s, lime was reduced by burning fuelwood from the Maritimes, or by burning coal or oil. The demand was there, but not the furnish. We don't know what kind of animals grazed on Hatchet Mountain, but pasture it was.
Hope's farmers had lost a cash crop. Without supplemental income from fuelwood, casks and their delivery, more Hope farmers decided that trying to make a living from Hope's thin, stony, hilly land was too hard.
Census figures show virtual stagnation in the 1850s and 1860s, followed by a persistent decline of an annual 1% in the 1870s and 1880s, 2% in the 1890s, 1% in the 1900 decade, 2% in the 1910s and 1% in the 1920s. By 1920, Hope's population had dropped from 1107 to 424. It remained pretty stable at this low level until 1970.
Hope's lack of forest resources to sell to the lime industry as fuelwood and casks was just one factor leading to decline. Hope contributed more than its share of soldiers to quelling the Great Rebellion of 1861-5. The soldiers who lived saw better lands to the west and south. Some didn't come back, or didn't stay. As the industrial revolution rolled along, Hope was ill-equipped to compete in location, transport links and resources. Yeoman farmers had an ever-dimishing role to play in the economy.
In our amazingly robust ecosystem, pastures that aren't needed are reclaimed by forest. Steeper pastures were neglected and lost first. A.F. Dunton reports, ca. 1920, that the pond was filling and forest was reclaiming Hatchet Mountain.
"On the top of the mountain is a piece of level or table land in which there is quite a depression, which used to be filled with water. In fact, it was quite a pond at certain seasons of the year. It has gradually filled up and is now covered with a growth of woods."
Our idyllic view of Hope people ice skating atop Hatchet Mountain and taking in views as far away and Washington County and Mt. Washington in New Hampshire should be of the 1890s, not of the 1920s.
Reversion to forest was a gradual process that is still going on today, although Maine is now, by some measures, the most heavily forested state in the Union. As grazing declines, woody shrubs like hardhack appear, then the pioneer tree species like alder and popple (aspen to non-Mainers). Softwoods, mainly balsam fir, volunteered too. Larry Hobbs, whose ancestors owned most of Hatchet Mountain, when being interviewed by Hope Historical Society about the Christmas tree industry in Hope, explained how each boy would be given an axe so that, when he wandered through the under-used and reverting pastures, he could chop down the hardwoods that were volunteering. This left the balsam fir to grow without competition, causing them to grow to a nice shape for Christmas trees.
Hope's remaining families had to be ingenious. One manifestation of their ingenuity is uses they made of pastures that were no longer needed. One use was that mentioned above - managing the volunteering balsam fir and controlling their competition to produce Christmas trees. Miller Hobbs pioneered this business on the south flank of Hatchet Mountain in 1909. His enterprise expanded until trees were coming from as far away as Quebec and boxcar loads were being railed to Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC, and continued until his son Roy (1901-1985) gave it up. Grandson Elston Hobbs (1933-2005) explained, " browsing animals kept the trees isolated from the hardwood, sometimes solitary so they grew better." Without meaning to, Miller Hobbs was starting an industry with competition. Elston continues,
"I remember Father saying once that Grandfather was the one who started the Christmas tree business around here. He said they'd hire someone to help them, and then after a year or two, the guy would turn into their competition, working for himself. Then they'd hire someone else . Pretty soon, a lot of people were doing it."
Elston also understood why this way of extracting cash from pastures that were being abandoned came to an end:
" there weren't many animals in pastures anymore. The beautiful, solitary Christmas tree growing in the pasture was hard to find."
Pretty soon, the volunteer balsam fir on Hatchet Mountain, and elsewhere, were surrounded by alders, then popple, then gray birch, then red maple and all the trees we call mixed northern hardwoods.
The other, and more important, use Hope farmers made of abandoned pastures was wild blueberry cultivation. We have seen above how Indian burning to improve game habitat favored blueberries. These wild plants were well established when European settlers came and persisted through Hope's most intensive period of land use, roughly 1830 to 1900. In fact, low quality pasture also favored them. Blueberries, like cranberries and all other members of the vaccinia genus, tolerate acidity better than almost any other local plant, certainly than those that make up the ecology of a low-grade pasture. Using pastures constantly without improvement causes them to be "run out," which process includes leaching of nutrients out of the topsoil and some erosion, which increases soil acidity. This is particularly evident on well-drained (and well-leached) slopes, like those of Hatchet Mountain. It doesn't take an acute onserver to see that native wild blueberry lands are concentrated on hills.
Certainly by the 1920s, and perhaps quite a bit earlier, the agricultural economy of Hope had collapsed to the point where it was quite difficult to make a living; farmland simply lost its market value. Farm families or the descendants of farm families couldn't pay their taxes. Most of the great land-owning families of Hope today acquired a lot of their land at tax sales, thus acquiring abandoned farms and converting pastures (and fields) to blueberries or sometimes Christmas trees.
On the west side of Hatchet Mountain, Irving Wright (1881-1962) bought the Philbrick farm, one of the oldest in town, when Mary Roy (1852-1925) died. The Roys had operated a family farm that specialized in horses and boarding other people's horses. Irving converted it to blueberries, nurturing the blueberry vines that already existed, and gradually turning it into one of Hope's most productive fields. He had no need of the buildings. He burned the house and sold the barn to Frank Messer Payson, who dis-assembled it any moved it to the other side of Hatchet Mountain, moving it with horses and oxen along the abandoned trace of Charles Barrett's original road to his house on the dug way where is was turned into an apple barn.
Next door on the west side of Hatchet, the last of Jones Taylor's descendants moved to California and Vermont, abandoning the farm that once belonged to nephew Daniel Barrett and whose barn had been Hope's town house from 1787 to 1842. Miller Hobbs bought this farm, also in the 1920s. He harvested Christmas trees while he could and fostered the wild blueberries on the pieces higher elevations. Because this farm is farther down the flank of Hatchet Mountain, he was less successful than the Wrights. The Taylor Place land is less acid. Its blueberries suffer from greater weed competition and have never been profitable. By the 1960s, the land had been abandoned and was at varying stages of reversion to forest.
We can roughly trace Hatchet Mountain's natural reforestation. It had started at the top before 1920. Land continued to be open on the northeast slope facing Hope Corner where Jim & Barbara Barrett Carver's dairy farm kept it so. On the southeast, the Payson apple farm kept some slopes open. On the west, the Wright's and, to a lesser extent, the Hobbs's blueberry operations preserved open space. Not incidentally, all of these surviving farm families had become specialists.
When Hope's school districts were consolidated into a single primary school at Hope Corner in 1934, at recess, pupils would wander up the northeast flank of Hatchet Mountain to recess among the boulders where the hatchet was buried in 1617. From 1926 to 1938, Hatchet Mountain Camp's boys and councilors engaged in hunts for the hatchet on the same site. That side of Hatchet was quite open then.
By 1960, the only bites out of the forest cover on Hatchet Mountain were at the four farms mentioned. The encroachment of the forest into the edges of these farms was an indicator of their vitality, or lack thereof.
Hope's Renaissance as a Suburb
The 1980 census revealed what everyone had noticed. Population had grown by 4% annually during the 1970s. This trend continued with 3% annual growth in the 1980s and 2.5% annual growth in the 1990s. By the millennium and the bicentennial of Hope's incorporation in 2004, the 1850 population peak had been passed.
A small part of this new population was internal growth -- children who formed families and settled down on part of the family spread. Others were from away, most often builders, plumbers, caretakers and other artisans who could no longer afford to live in the coastal towns, but sometimes retirees, these often former summer people.
From the 1920s, Hope's ponds, all visible from Hatchet Mountain, started to attract rusticators. Among the earliest were the summer camps: Alford Lake Girls Camp, still going strong, Hatchet Mountain Camp (1926-1938), Camp Merestead on Megunticook (now Bishopswood) and Camp Highfields (later Portmanicut) on Alford Lake. These camps were important to Hatchet Mountain in two ways. Firstly, they augmented some farmers' cash income by providing a market for vegetables. Secondly, Hatchet Mountain Camp reinforced the history of Hatchet Mountain with their Wawenock-Tarratine tribal wars and hunts for the buried hatchet.
The boys' and girls' camps were followed by
development of summer camps on Hope's ponds, principally Hobbs at the foot
of Hatchet Mountain, Lermond, and lower Alford Lake. While this development
reaches back into the 1920s, it flowered in the late 1900s. Cabins initially
belonged exclusively to summer people from away, but, gradually, local people
got pond-front camps too. About a dozen of these have been converted into
year-round dwellings. Pond-front real estate now accounts for about a quarter
of Hope's valuation.
Except for Hatchet Mountain campers, the new people don't seem to have climbed Hatchet Mountain. In summer, being all grown up, it offered little view to reward the climb. The summer people climbed Maiden's Cliff, Battie, Bald Rock, even Ragged and Megunticook, but rarely Hatchet. Like their Indian predecessors, deer hunters normally went around the Hatchet, not over the top. But Hatchet Mountain was home to deer and other wildlife for it stood at the edge of what had become the largest undeveloped tract of land in the midcoast region stretching from Hatchet Mountain itself to the Peabody Road in Appleton and from Rte 105 and the Ludwig Road to Rte 17 in south Hope and Union. The demise of farms on Barrett's old road behind Hatchet Mountain (Gordon Hill and Bull Hill), on the Peasetown Road, on Notch Road, on Jones Hill Road, and on Barrett and Gurney Hill Roads left a huge area devoid of houses. There were blueberry fields around and within this area of over a dozen square miles and a dairy farm at the edge; these enhanced the natural environment for wildlife.
The area from Hatchet Mountain, over past Philbrick, Thomas, Simmons and Jones to Sherman's Mill Pond in Appleton was a hunter's paradise. Of special interest to deer and, therefore, also to hunters, were the surviving apple trees on the sites of abandoned farms. Except for hunters and the episodic blueberry operations, this area was left alone.
Hope's new residents are not farmers. In the Hope Volunteer Fire Department's early days, if you had a fire, you drove to the fire station and drove the fire truck to your house with siren going, which was a signal to your neighbors to come help. Now Hope's firefighters are trained and of a much higher technical caliber than their predecessors. However, because all firemen/firewomen but a few remaining farmers work away from town, response time has not declined. Retirees are usually not mobile enough to be firemen.
New houses are not farmhouses. As they have used up more of the house lots along paved roads, newcomers' houses have moved onto the abandoned town roads, including those leading into the large, undeveloped part of Hope behind Hatchet Mountain. Specifically, next to Hatchet Mountain, Matt and Alana Thomas Brown built their house on Bull Hilll Road on the northwest side of the mountain and have sold lots for other houses there. Ellie Goldberg and Barbara Robideau built their geodesic dome along the Gordon Hill Road. Nate Pease Sr., then Siobhan Neilan and others built on the road to the Jones Taylor place. Only the continuing farm operations: the Wright family's blueberries and the W.I.Jones's blueberries and Christmas trees at the Taylor Place, keep development from encircling Hatchet Mountain and cutting it off from the rest of the undeveloped area.
Guilford and Ruth Payson were still growing and selling apples on the southeast side of Hatchet Mountain through the 1980s. They realized additional cash from their ownership of the top of Hatchet Mountain by selling five one-acre lots and a right-of-way for communication towers, of which there are now four on the mountain. That led to building a power line up the south side and an access road, as well as a little-used clubhouse for the Knox County ham radio club and a building for Industrial Communications & Electronics of Marshfield MA, which owns the largest tower. The access road has led to more foot traffic to the top (the road has a locked gate); the attraction of climbing the towers, which is forbidden, has proved irresistible to some. The Hatchet Mountain Snowriders built a snowmobile trail up and over Hatchet Mountain, following the tower access road and winding down the north side. It formerly joined the rest of the trail network via Bull Hill Road. Now, that route is blocked by houses. Joel Morse and Bill Jones re-located the trail in 2005 to remaining undeveloped land on the west side of Hatchet, through the farmland of the Wrights and the Jones Taylor place.
Until the millennium, the front face of Hatchet Mountain, the steepest side, had resisted encroachment. To be sure, Guilford and Ruth Payson build their new house farther up Hatchet Mountain than anyone had before. Ruth recounts how she came down her driveway sideways in her car one slippery day. The W.I.Joneses bought the Payson's old house and promptly moved higher up, though still in the existing field. Rick Payson and Candy Payson Crespo and Steve, as well as Dave Smith Jr. put their houses in the woods, but near Rte 235, the dug way.
There have been other encroachments on the undeveloped zone away from Hatchet Mountain. Houses have been built on Barrett Hill Road in Union, Jones Hill Road both at the Appleton and Hope ends, an entire development by Nate Pease Jr and other houses on Gurney Hill Road, on Notch Road, Smith Drive to the Taylor Place, Bull Hill Road and Peasetown Road. Dr. Edward Steele has built a new road to his house on Light Hill. A Camden developer has plans for houses on Philbrick Mountain in the very heart of the undeveloped area.
In 2001, the Light Hill property subsequently acquired by Dr. Steele, previously a wood lot, was logged and offered for sale. A group of Hope people who wanted to put that piece and adjacent properties under easement to preserve traditional uses (hunting, hiking, x-country skiing, sustainable logging, snowmobiling and horse riding) formed the Philbrick Mountain group and turned to the Coastal Mountain Land Trust (CMLT) for help. Nevertheless, this initiative failed.
Shortly thereafter, on the northeast side of Hatchet Mountain itself, facing Hope Corner, Barbara Barrett Carver, descendant of Hope's founders, used CMLT to create and administer an easement on her farm. Quite probably this easement includes the site where the peace pipes and hatchets were buried by the Wawenocks and Tarratines in 1617. The Carver farm, an independent dairy farm before husband Jim's death, is now used as part of Ralph C. Pearse and Sons diary farm, Hope's oldest. Under terms of the easement, this flank of Hatchet Mountain will always be used for farming.
With all this encroachment on Hope's remaining wild area, the part of it which most outsiders see, the steep front face of Hatchet Mountain had not seen change until recently. It was sold by the Hobbs family a decade ago but its buyers found that it was too steep to develop, just as everyone else had through Hope's history since the construction of the dug way and earlier.
Until two years ago. A new buyer, Walter Lamont Jr. of Searsmont, constructed a switchback road up the front face of Hatchet, against the advice of neighbors who, nevertheless, defended his right to do what he had done. Lamont's road became known locally as the scar or the vertical road. It attracted attention. It is on the steepest part of Hatchet Mountain, the visible face of Hope's undeveloped area, in full view of wealthy people in coastal towns.
A sense of exasperation and, for some, outrage has prompted strong reactions. One was a proposed ordinance change that would not have affected Lamont's development and his road but would have restricted others from doing the same. Consistent with our liberal tradition of respect for property rights, the town voted down the proposed ordinance in a well-attended and vociferous special town meeting.
Another reaction was an initiative by Hope citizens to try to buy the land with its "vertical" road in order to put it into a conservation easement. In 2005, the Hatchet Mountain Committee started raising funds for this purpose and is working with the Coastal Mountains Land Trust, which would manage the conservation easement on this property if the effort succeeds. A contract has been signed with the owner and a down-payment made. The committee plans to let the road regenerate and to keep the land for recreation.
The Hatchet Mountain Committee's initiative affects only the front face of Hatchet Mountain. That is the most visible part of Hope's undeveloped north and west. This initiative has provoked some hard thought in Hope about the town's direction. Hatchet Mountain, as it always has, stands at the center of the town and the discussion.