Pachaug State Forest
A six-page history written in 1954 by Eugene C. Winch and W. F. Schreeder of the Connecticut Forestry Department
PACHAUG STATE FOREST
For this State Forest, the first purchase of land was made in the town of Voluntown. It now extends from the village of North Stonington in the town of the same name northerly along the Rhode Island state line into the town of Sterling. It also extends westward into the towns of Plainfield, Griswold, and Preston. If the area purchased by the Federal Resettlement Administration and leased to the State is included, it is the largest State Forest, containing more than 21,000 acres.
The area in which the forest is located was, without doubt, the hunting grounds of the Narragansett Indians. After the "Narragansett War", the area was claimed by both Massahowitt, Sachem of the Quinebaugs, and Uncas, Sachem of the Mohegans.
The General Court of the Connecticut Colony, in 1696, appointed a committee composed of Captain Sam Mason, Lieutenant James Averie, and Mr. John Gallup to view the land east of Preston toward the Colony of Rhode Island. The gist of their report to the Court was that the land was "largely of poor quality and of little value".
Lieutenant Thomas Leffingwell and Sargeant [sic] John Frink, with the remaining survivors of the English volunteers in the "Narragansett War" were given a grant in this area in 1700 of a tract of land six miles square. It was from this act that the town of Voluntown or "Volunteers" town received its name.
The grants were made according to rank; non-commissioned officers received larger areas than the common foot soldiers; and, commissioned officers received the largest grants.
Voluntown was first surveyed about 1705. A copy of a map, made by one Dixon in 1737, showing the original lots granted to the first proprietors, is on file in the State Library. The line between Preston and Voluntown was settled in 1836. It was based on a deed by Owenaco, Sachem of the Mohegans.
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As the eastern part of the original grant was claimed by Rhode Island, the General Court in 1719 granted a strip of land to the north in lieu of the area taken by Rhode Island. The present town of Sterling was separated from Voluntown in 1794. The whole area remained a portion of Windham County until 1881.
Among the earliest proprietors were James Fitch and Samuel Smith of Norwich. The first settler is thought to have been one Samuel Fish. Other pioneers were Abadiah Rhodes, John Gallup and John Campbell, whose family names are still found among the present day residents.
North Stonington separated from Stonington in 1805 and Griswold from Preston in 1815. The various townships, in which the Forest lies, were then incorporated about as they are today.
Geologically the forest area lays mostly in the drainage basin of the Patchooge or Pachaug River which has its source in Pocommock, or as it is now known, Beach Pond, located on the Connecticut-Rhode Island border. The word Pachaug is said to signify "turning place". This meaning is quite applicable, as the Pachaug River, in the nine miles from its source to its junction with the Quinebaug River, traverses approximately twice that distance in the course of its various windings and turns. In the course of industrial development the river at several sites has been dammed which has resulted in a series of ponds with more than 1000 acres of water surface.
The terrain varies in elevation from slightly over 100 feet above mean sea level to about 600 feet at the highest points. While there are some areas of good farm land, most of the forest area is composed of rocky runs, ridges and ledges. In the southern part of Voluntown there is a small area of sandy loam similar to the sand plain areas of New Jersey. The underlying stone is Sterling Granite - Gneiss. This formation is common in eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island. It was early found to be "excellent to endure fire" and was used widely for chimneys, hearths, door stops, curb stones, etc. A monument quarried from this stone was erected on the green in Pachaug Village to commemorate the soldiers of the War of the Revolution.
There are extensive quarries of this stone in Sterling which are still being worked in a desultory manner. The "Silex Mine" on Lantern Hill in North Stonington is being operated today. In the same town, near the Preston line, is a vein of limestone which at one time was worked quite extensively, but has been abandoned for many years.
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On what is now State Forest land, no operations concerning minerals are known to have been conducted with the exception of "Chalk Pone" where there is an accumulation of infusorial earth which at one time was worked with the hope of profit, but without success.
The early family sustenance farms could not compete and began to be abandoned when the middle west [sic] developed. Sheep raising was the earliest specialized farming. This, too, was abandoned and dairy herds and "poultry" raising are now the principal types of farms.
Wild life evidently was a great trial to the early farmer. An ordinance passed in Preston during 1740 provided that a bounty of one shilling a head be set on every gray squirrel and old crow blackbird brought in during April, May and June of the succeeding year. So numerous were these creatures that it was voted the same day to lay a tax of sixpence on the pound of all taxable property, but it was ingeniously provided that payment could be made in heads on condition that the killing "shall be by inhabitants of the town, on his own land, or within the limits of the town".
An abundance of water encouraged the establishment of industry,among [sic] the earliest was in 1711, when Stephen Gates was granted land, near Hopeville, "for the consideration of his building and maintaining a sawmill and a cornmill"; and Samuel Coy was granted fifty acres "at the falls", now Glasgo, for a cornmill. In 1717 Joseph Foster established a fulling mill on Billings Brook.
One of the earliest factories making cotton yarn in New England was built in Griswold by James Treat during 1814. This mill later became part of Ira G. Briggs and Company which built and operated other mills on the Pachaug River, and whose successors, The Briggs Manufacturing Co., sold to the State the first parcel of forest land, and the beginning of the Pachaug Forest, in 1928.
In the early nineteenth century overland transportation was difficult both for persons and goods. In 1829 a franchise was obtained by a group of gentlemen of Norwich to build a toll road from Norwich to Providence. The Shetucket Turnpike, Incorporated, [actual name appears to have been Shetucket Turnpike Company] was organized and the construction of the road began. It was built, largely independently of any road layouts, and it was comparatively straight. It began at Norwich and was constructed to Tom T. Hazard's Tavern, a noted hostelry, just over the Rhode Island state line. One gate was allowed in the town of Griswold, called a half-toll gate, for only one-half of the usual toll could be taken there. This gate was located in Bethel near the schoolhouse. The franchise was surrendered
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to the town traversed in 1861 for $1,375. For six miles west from the state line this old road passes through portions of the Pachaug Forest.
This forest region was perhaps one of the most devastated parts of New England. The tree growth has been cut again and again without regard to the reproduction of the better species and the area has been subjected to the depleting effects of repeated fires. Only recently, in 1942, the largest forest fire on record for southern New England, 26,000 acres, burned in this area. About 1500 acres of this fire burned in Connecticut, the remainder was in Rhode Island.
The presence of the white pine, hemlock, and Southern white cedar adds to the possibility of bringing the forest area to a condition of good productivity. Management and protection from fire should bring this area to an excellent timber producing forest, barring the intervention of some natural disaster like the hurricane of 1938 which blew down an estimated four million board feet of timber. The two thousand acres of plantation already established on the forest were too small to have suffered much damage.
More than two million board feet of the hurricane damaged timber was salvaged, some by stumpage sales; but, the larger amount by the state crews. Near the end of the salvage program a fire originating in the dry kiln destroyed 700,000 board feet of this salvaged lumber while stacked in the yard. Also destroyed were the sawmill shed and lumber storage sheds as well as the dry kiln.
Pachaug Forest is considered on the finest potential hunting and fishing areas in the State. The Forest contains four excellent trout brooks, including the entire length of Mt. Misery Brook from its source to its outlet.
Ponds in the areas include Hell Hollow, Phillips, Beachdale, Green Falls [sic], Glasgo, Pachaug and Beach Ponds, to all of which the State Forest affords public access or control.
The State Board of Fisheries and Game has recognized the wildlife and forest value of this area and has contributed frequently toward the purchase of key pieces of property which could not be obtained within the statutory limits of $10.00 per acre placed upon the State Forester and the Commission on Forests and Wild Life.
Acquisition of the Pachaug Forest was initiated in 1927 by Mr. Elliott B. Bronson, who negotiated the purchase of 1100 acres of land from the Briggs Manufacturing Company. The acquisition program continued as money was available until the Forest totaled more than 12,000 acres.
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In addition, 9,000 acres of land was [sic] acquired by the Resettlement Administration of the U. S. Department of Agriculture and leased to the State in 1937.
As mentioned earlier in this report, the landowners found it hard to compete with the more favored areas. During the depression of the 1930s the area in and around the Pachaug Forest was selected as a Resettlement Area. The land was purchased by the U. S. Government, the people were moved off the land, and it was turned over to forest production. [Ownership of the land has since been transferred to the State.]
By this action the miles of road necessary to maintain, the scattered schools, and the running of buses to collect school children were greatly reduced and the towns were materially helped financially.
An interesting commentary on this has been occurring ever since. With money made available for "hard" roads the towns have improved their road systems with the result that people have been buying up areas along these roads for homes. Also, the Town of Voluntown has recently (1953-54) checked with the State Forester to see if there would be any objection to its taking over and reopening some of the roads it abandoned in the 1930s.
The development and improvement of the Forest has been accomplished almost entirely by relief labor. It began with the appropriation of unemployment relief funds by Governor Trumbull during the winter of 1930-31. One of the first C. C. C. [Civilian Conservation Corps] camps in Connecticut was established on the Forest in 1933. It was also the last to close (1941). The labor used on the Resettlement Administration land was employed under W. P. A. [Works Progress Administration] projects.
During this period of development, nearly two thousand acres were planted, forty miles of truck trails constructed, several thousand acres of the Forest improved by weeding planted conifers and favored tree species in natural stands. Thinnings and improvement cuttings were made in both softwood and hardwood stands.
One of the more interesting operations was the "block" cuttings made in the Southern white cedar swamps as an experiment in the securing of natural reproduction. Areas of one-quarter acre to one acre were clear cut in a checkerboard type of arrangement. Abundant reproduction of cedar was obtained on almost all the areas.
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The land layout in the cedar swamp is interesting, although it seems to be typical of Connecticut, since it occurs elsewhere. The lots go from one side of the swamp to the other and are very narrow as compared to their length. Here again the size, in this case the width, of the lot varies with the military rank of the soldier to whom it was granted.
The Forest has a resident Game Warden whose headquarters and residence is [sic] in a house acquired with one of the properties. One of his principal duties has been to care for the brook trout fingerlings which are being raised to "planting" size. The rearing pools in which these fish are kept were constructed as a C. C. C. project on one of the tributaries of Mt. Misery Brook.
The area abounds in stories and anecdotes concerning former inhabitants and localities. One that is interesting concerns "Swearing Rock", particularly as the location of a number of properties in the Green Cedar Swamp is dependent upon it. Many years ago an owner of property in the Swamp erected a hewn stone bound some three or four feet high upon a corner of his property. "There", he is reported to have said, "is a bound you can swear by". When the state survey crew began location work in that area the stone could not be found. Later a surveyor, George Douglass, by probing the area where the corner should have been found located a stone several feet below the surface of the swamp and marked the location with a brass rod.
In addition to its forest and wildlife values the Pachaug Forest is of interest to the botanist. It contains rhododendrons which are rare in the state and also the low growing evergreen bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) and the false heather (hudsonia tomentosa).
Eugene C. Winch
W. F. Schreeder
The Connecticut Forestry Department was headquartered in Hartford. Forestry functions were assumed by the Department of Environmental Protection when it was created in 1971; the name of the agency was changed to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in 2011. Transcribed by David R. Brierley in 2014 from a scanned copy provided by CTDEEP.