Isolation Adventures: Peabody/Fitch Quarry

We’re big fans of south-central Maine’s Loon Echo Land Trust, to which my family has donated time, talent, treasure and land over the decades. They recommend responsible use of their wide-ranging network of trails for variety in this time of social distancing, and we felt the same!

The newest addition to the Loon Echo family is the Peabody-Fitch Woods, acquired by the trust last year. It just so happens to be literally around a country corner from my parents’ house, so we decided to make a Saturday outing up the hill.

The hardest part was the first and steepest trek up the sandy shoulder of the state road. I wasn’t here for the winter, but Mom says it was icier than usual and that’s why there’s an epic amount of road sand on the shoulders, practically a whole beach on either side and filling the deep drainage ditches up to the top. Fortunately, there was unusually little traffic, and we got a nice respite as we turned onto Ingalls Road and paused to chat with family friends.

The walk down Ingalls Road, which is mostly dirt, was a nice easy warm-up/respite from the initial hill climb, with the exception of the half-feral dog that confronted us midway (eventually the owner called him back inside). Same for the turn up Naramissic Road towards the historic farm complex.

I think my last time at Narramissic, the Peabody-Fitch farm built in 1797, must have been shortly after it was donated in 1986 to the Bridgton Historical Society, because I think I was still in elementary school when Mom and Grandma took us up the hill to see it. It would have been August — that’s always when we visited Grandma and Grandpa for a week in what is now my parents’ house — so the house would have been open for tours, and I think there must have been some sort of special event going on that day. I don’t remember much about being there, except that the house was big — we’d been to a lot of these “living museum” historic houses and settlements by this time in my life, a family hobby I often miss — but I do remember that it was a big deal to Mom and Grandma.

While a new accessible trail and parking lot with interpretive signage is coming next year from Loon Echo, there is an existing trail put in by a local Eagle Scout for hiking, four-wheeling or snowmobiling out to the old Peabody/Fitch quarry.

Initially the trail, built wide for four-wheelers and snowmobiles, was pretty easy, with some ice that was still negotiable, but as we got farther into the woods, there were more of these stretches where the snow, with a crust of ice that you could sometimes break through and sometimes not, stretched clear across the trail.

I joked that the “post-holing” we were doing, raising our knees up high and stomping down through the crust, was good variety for our workout. By the time we were walking home down Ingalls Rd, I could already feel that workout in my quadriceps, on top of the strain on my hamstrings from five days of lunchtime yoga this week!

The trail is only about three quarters of a mile long, though, and sooner than you might think, we went up a leaf-strewn hill and around a corner, and there was the quarry. But this was not a vast hole filled with water like the played-out slate and marble quarries of Delta, PA, and Cardiff, MD, where mom swam the summer she was pregnant with me.

Rather than an industrial quarry, this was a small surface ledge quarry, a private source of granite for the Peabody/Fitch family that lived at Narramissic, and perhaps also serving some of their neighbors. Here, my father is explaining to us the simple method used to break off these massive stones:

These 6- to 8-inch holes would be drilled along the grain of the stone in a line where the “cut” was to be made, and then filled with water. As they froze over the winter, the expanding ice would cause the granite to crack, hopefully along a fairly uniform line. In the summer, the Peabodys and Fitches could come back out to the quarry and drag away the stones that had sheered away over the winter. (More close-ups of rock edges in this blog.) Alternately, they may have used the feather and plug method.

As it always goes, the return trip from the quarry seemed half as long and half as challenging — it was very pleasant, really!

When we came back out into the fields of Narramissic and approached the house and barn again, there were examples of Peabody/Fitch stone quarrying jumping out at us everywhere.

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