Woodland Riches

A glacial erratic — known as the Big Rock — was dedicated to the Richmond Revolutionary War patriots.

On a cloudy, late-June day, with the temperature in the 70s and the threat of afternoon thunderstorms, I set out for the hilly town of Richmond with my good friend, Curtis Carroll, to seek out secrets hidden in the woods. Specifically, we wanted to locate an old mill site, abandoned soapstone quarry, behemoth boulder and an old cemetery.

For some time now, I had planned to visit the abandoned Lorenzo Harris soapstone quarry after learning of its location in a book, “Rockhounding New England.” After coming across an old map, I discovered the additional points of interest and what started as a hike turned into an adventure.

Before heading out to the mill site and quarry, we checked out a Quaker Cemetery behind the Four Corners at the intersection of Routes 32 and 119, near the fire department and library. Richmond was first settled in 1757 by Baptists and Quakers from Rhode Island and eastern Massachusetts.

A second detour was located across Route 119: The Tramp House. The Tramp House (small museum) is a one-room dwelling containing a wood stove and two narrow, cot-like beds built for transients seeking employment during hard economic times. A sign located there noted, “these vagrants were given a free meal and a bed before being urged to move on.”

Finally, at 10 a.m. we got underway, traveling a short distance west on Route 119 to Sprague Road. Continuing down the rocky road we passed a beaver pond and stopped at an intersection. The directions to the quarry noted it was located at the top of a hill off primitive Parker Hill Road. The mill site was at the foot of the hill.

After 30 minutes of walking and swatting at countless deer flies, we realized we were off track.

Back at the car, we reexamined the map and continued walking down Sprague Road to the next intersection. After 20 minutes we came upon the old mill site on Sprague Brook in the woods. Making our way through the hemlock forest we discovered a series of large square stones.

They were covered with rich green moss and formed channels, sluiceways and receptacles for holding water. “Where did the water wheel go?” Curtis asked.

After exploring the stream and nearby beaver pond, we headed up hill on rocky Parker Hill Road to find the quarry. After several false starts, we found a road amid overgrown woods between two stone walls on the left. According to our directions, the quarry site was located 650 feet ENE off this point. However, the road did not lead to it; bushwhacking with a compass was required.

Walking through brush and pushing away snapping tree branches, I felt like a conquistador searching for the lost city of gold. About 15 minutes later we found a water-filled depression and jumble of rocks.

Today, the quarry is known for the cordierite crystals still occasionally found there. Cordierite is a mineral in olive-green to blue-gray barrel-shaped crystals up to several inches in length. Although we did not discover any, Curtis did find some talc samples and a rock that he put in his backpack and hoped to identify later.

We headed back down the hill to the car, and next set off to find the “Big Rock.” Minutes later, we arrived at the junction of Route 32 and Fish Hatchery Road, continuing a little further on Route 32. We turned right into a narrow pull-out area. A short walk down a wooded path brought us to the huge glacial erratic. Erratics were created by the glacial melt. When the ice sheet advanced, it fractured and plucked large boulders right off mountain tops. Once the glacier melted and receded, it left behind billons of these glacial boulders. If the makeup of the transported boulder differs from the local bedrock where it ended up, it is called a glacial erratic. A plaque at the site notes the Big Rock was dedicated to the Richmond Revolutionary War patriots. Once a popular picnic destination, old photographs show families sitting atop the big boulder and enjoying themselves.

Our last stop was the Benson Cemetery. Returning to the junction of Route 32 and Fish Hatchery Road, we continued down Fish Hatchery Road and turned left onto Benson Road (dirt). We continued 0.2 mile to a fork. Left was a sign reading “Supreme Industries.” The cemetery was a half-mile further up the road on the right. It can be reached in a four-wheel drive truck or on foot. Curtis’ 2016 Subaru Forester did the job.

The hilly ground is covered with dry, brittle gray-green moss, partridgeberry, wintergreen and blueberries. It is surrounded by a stone wall and tall pine trees. There are between 100 and 200 interments, the oldest grave dating back to 1773. Buried here is Rev. Maturin Ballou, the father of Hosea Ballou, the most famous son of Richmond and “Father of Universalism.”

We took our time to examine the old headstones. After a while, I turned to notice Curtis had disappeared. Moments later he emerged from an open underground crypt.

“Look at this,” he said, showing me a video he took of the darkened chamber. With my curiosity peaked, I bounded down the granite slab steps for an up-close and personal look, straining my eyes against the darkness. Peering more closely, I thought I saw several granite slabs and a light mist. It felt cold and clammy. Suddenly my imagination overcame me. I felt claustrophobic and it seemed reminiscent of “Six Feet Under.” Turning abruptly, I bolted back up the stairs and into the welcoming bright sunlight.