Posts Tagged ‘Washington Street Extension’

This is the second part of a two part post about an old abandoned road here in Keene, New Hampshire. To read part one just scroll down or click here.

 1. Bluestem Goldenrod

As I said in part one, there are many wildflowers that grow along this old road and this one, blue stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia), is rare in this area. This road is one of only two places that I know of to find this plant. With its little tufts of flowers spread out along its stem it is one of the easiest goldenrods to identify. The “blue stem” comes from the waxy coating on the stem that protects it from sunlight and helps hold in moisture. It is very similar to the whitish “bloom” seen on blueberries.

 2. Bluestem Goldenrod

A closer look at the flowers of blue stemmed goldenrod.

 3. Poison Ivy

Wildflowers aren’t the only plants found here. Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) runs rampant on both sides of the road. This isn’t the place to be hiking with shorts on.

 4. Ledges

On the side of the road opposite Beaver Brook ledges soar quite high in places. These ledges were cut out of the bedrock by hand, long before there were power tools to do the job.They are great places to find mosses and lichens.

 5. Common Powderhorn Lichen

I found these common powderhorn lichens growing on one of the ledges. There are very similar to British soldier lichens, but without the red tips.

 6. Star Drilled Stone

You can still see evidence of the star drills that were used to drill into the stone, which happens to be feldspar in this example. Star drills were long pieces of steel with a star shaped tip that were held by one man while two others hit the end with sledge hammers. After each hammer blow the drill would be rotated 1/8 turn and eventually a hole would be cut into the stone. A good team could do about 12 holes per day. Once enough holes were drilled small tools called feathers and wedges were tapped into each one to split the stone away from the ledge face. Then all of the fallen stone would have had to have been put into ox carts and hauled away. This was very labor intensive and it took a long time to cut a road through solid rock. This is why old roads were so full of curves-they followed the path of least resistance.

 7. Beaver Brook Falls

Beaver Brook cascades over ledges into a small, shaded pool that was once a popular swimming hole. There seems to be a lot of conflicting information about how high the falls are. I’ve heard everything from 10 feet to 100 feet, but I’d guess that they are closer to 30 to 40 feet and maybe 50 if you include the part that isn’t visible in this photo. They are certainly high enough to allow me to say with certainty that you wouldn’t catch me jumping off those ledges.

If you’d like to see a very short video from above the falls taken by someone with absolutely no fear of heights, just click here. You’ll also be able to hear the great roar of the falls.

NOTE: What the person who shot this video did was extremely dangerous because of the crumbling cliff faces and I would strongly urge others to not try it. I hope he at least had a rope around his waist!

 8. Beaver Brook Falls

A lot of people come here to see the falls, but to get a clear view of them like that in the photo you have to climb/ slide / fall down a very steep embankment and then climb over large boulders. I did all of that 6 or 7 times trying to get photos for this post and I’m glad I don’t have to do it again right away. This photo shows a hint of the large stone in the center of the lower part of the falls that splits them in two in dry weather. Beaver Brook’s headwaters are in Gilsum, New Hampshire, north of Keene, and when the falls are split in half, you know that it has been very dry there.

 9. Historic Beaver Brook Photo

This old hand colored postcard shows the falls split in two due to dry weather. This photo was taken sometime around 1910 and if you look very closely above and to the right of the falls you can see a woman sitting on a ledge with her feet hanging over. There is a bare tree branch hanging down just behind her on her right. (Our left) She is wearing a long, rose colored dress and a big, wide brimmed hat. Most of these old photos and postcards have people in them somewhere, but I’m not sure why. It’s possible that it was done to give an idea of scale, which this lady does very well. Maybe she had been diving into the pool from the ledges and was resting.

 10. Path to Road from Falls

I know why the lady in the rose colored dress needed a rest! If you think getting down to the brook to get photos of the falls was difficult, just wait until you have to climb back up carrying cameras and a tripod! It’s close to vertical but with just enough slant to make it possible.

11. Old Postcard

Here is a view of the falls circa 1900 that you can’t see today because trees and brush block the view. It seems amazing to me that this land was once so clear, with hardly a bush or tree on the hillsides. If it wasn’t for their roar you could walk right past the falls today while hardly getting a glimpse of them.

If you’re wondering if there is a person in this postcard the answer is yes. He or she is standing on the road beside the white fence just about even with the falls. It’s either a woman wearing a long black dress with a white collar or a man with a long white beard wearing a long black coat. This postcard was made from a hand colored black and white photograph.

12. New Highway

If you were to follow the road in the postcard view today you would run smack into one of the biggest piles of dirt you had ever seen. All of the fill that the “new” Route 9 North sits on had to be trucked in from elsewhere when the highway was built in the late 70s. It’s amazing to think that what was once a footpath beside a brook, used by Native Americans to hunt and fish from, is now a multi-lane highway. This was and is an important route north out of Keene and now leads to Concord, the state capital.

13. Old Road Extension

If you stand on the highway and look down you can still see part of the original old road. This view is on the opposite side of the highway from the falls that we were just visiting and the old road isn’t as overgrown. The highway was built directly across the road, cutting it off from motorized travel forever.

The old road was originally built to access a sawmill which was built on Beaver Brook in 1736. In 1735 100 acres of “middling good land” and 25 pounds cash was offered to anyone who could build a sawmill capable of furnishing lumber to the settlement of Upper Ashuelot, which is now called Keene. Without a sawmill you lived in a log cabin, so they were often built before anything else in early New England settlements.

14. Beaver Brook Dam

If you follow Beaver Brook upstream from the falls and across the new highway you will eventually come to this dam, built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1986. The dam has saved Keene from devastating floods several times, but it does not completely eliminate all flooding in the city. At capacity Beaver Brook Dam can hold back 106 acres of floodwaters.

15. Beaver Dam

Beavers are still here doing their part in finding flood control solutions too.

 16. Above the Dam

When flooding doesn’t occur the area behind the dam is essentially the same wetland, called “three mile swamp,” that it has always been. This is a great place to spot wildlife. As I was gathering photos for this post I saw ducks, geese, and a great blue heron who sat on a dead tree branch just out of camera range.

Well, now you folks know as much about this old rad and the surrounding area as I do. I hope it was an enjoyable excursion and I thank you for coming along.

We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open. ~ Jawaharial Nehru


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A while ago I did a post about how I had been chasing a particular angle of perspective (angle of view of the capture) and in it I showed a photo of yellow lines on an abandoned road. For me the shot was a total failure but I thought I’d show it as a good example of what I didn’t want to do. Of course, almost everyone who read the blog loved the photo, so I thought I’d do a post about the road itself and give you some background information. I’ve been working on it for a couple of weeks and ended up with so many photos that I’ve had to do the post in two installments. What follows is part one.

1. Abandoned Road Start

This is where we start-just inside the gate that keeps people from driving on the road. The trees are just starting to take on some color, so this is a great time to be hiking here. It’s hard to believe that such a secluded area could be less than a half hour’s walk from the city center. Deer, bobcats, mink, otters, black bear, and many other animals and birds roam this place.

 2. Abandoned Road

This road was one of the first to be laid out in Keene, New Hampshire in the 1700s and was abandoned in the mid to late 60s when a new highway was built-literally right across the existing road. Nature has been taking back what is hers ever since and the road slowly gets narrower as the plants and trees grow in toward its middle where the sunlight is. It is kept open to the public as a nature trail and follows Beaver Brook, so named because of the beavers that once thrived here. The canopy closes in quickly as the road climbs and follows the brook and on cloudy days it gets so dark in places that it’s almost impossible to get a decent photo without using a tripod.

 3. Brookside

In places the brook is placid and free of most stones and other obstacles. A dam upstream, which we will visit later on, regulates the water flow but in times of heavy rain this brook can become a raging beast. There have been times when heavy flooding pushed it up and over the road and the parts of Keene that it runs through still often flood in spring.

 4. Beaver Brook

In some places it is full of stones and gravel bars on which fallen trees and other debris gets hung up. An occasional flood will release the debris and wash it downstream, so flooding can serve a useful purpose.

 5. Abandoned Road Lines

The yellow no passing lines still show here and there where vegetation hasn’t covered them.

 6. Guard Rails

In other places the old guard posts and cables survive. These posts used to have to be hand painted black and white, one by one, all the way along this and every other road in the county. Of course, it was a lot more open then when the forest wasn’t allowed to grow so close to the rod.

 7. Guard Post

 Many of these posts are the “newer” triangular concrete kind…

 8. Wooden Guard Post

But there are still many of the even older wooden posts. There was no such thing as pressure treated wood when these posts were put here so most of them have rotted completely through where they meet the soil.

 9. Beaver Brook Postcard

There was a time that there were no guard posts at all along this road. Instead trees were laid alongside the road and smaller diameter trees were used for rails. This old postcard from the early 1900s shows the area with many fewer trees than are seen today. These postcards were printed from black and white photos that had been hand colored.

 10. Guard Rail

There are many guard posts that have washed into the brook over the years and some are dangling from their wires. These posts are about six feet long and half their length was buried in the stony ground. Slowly, Beaver Brook is eating away at the sides of the road and since there is no maintenance here it’s conceivable that one day there will no longer be a road.

 11. Abandoned Road Storm Drain

This concrete storm drain has been undercut by the brook and is slowly sliding into it. This must have been put in at a later date than the guard posts and wires.

 12. NE Aster

Many wildflowers grow along the roadside and many actually grow in the thin soil that has built up on the pavement over the years. New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) are the stars of the show right now.

 13. White Baneberry Berries

White baneberry (Actaea pachypoda ) fruits, called “doll’s eyes” can be seen as well. This plant is very toxic, which is why the berries don’t get eaten.

 14. Hillside Waterfall

History and wildflowers aren’t the only reason I and many others keep coming here-scenes like this can appear and disappear in a very short amount of time. When we get heavy rain water will gather and cascade down the steep 200 foot hillside on the far side of the brook, creating a temporary waterfall. Two days after this photo was taken there was no sign of this one.

One always begins to forgive a place as soon as it’s left behind. ~Charles Dickens

Thanks for coming by.

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