Article by Craig McArt • Photos courtesy Grantham Historical Society
The Laurentide Glacier shaped the land that is now Eastman.
Between scoured hills, it left a landscape of glacial outwash deposits, lakes and bogs, which eventually became forested. It’s hard to imagine early settlers actually farming this terrain. To do so, they felled the huge pines, oaks and chestnut trees of the primeval forest and either burned them or made them into fencing and building planks. They were supposed to spare the largest of the white pines to provide masts for the Royal Navy but few, if any, did.
Settlers who first entered the region came up the Connecticut and Sugar rivers, then followed paths through the woods that over time became roads. The first road stretched across the mountain from Meriden and continued past Miller Pond, over Eastman Brook and on to Washburn Corner and Springfield. Another road skirted Anderson Pond and continued to Enfield Center. Farmsteads sprang up along these roads, crops were planted, livestock raised and stone walls thrown up beside the roads and pastures. With the clearing of so many trees, one could see far and wide.
Dams were built on Butternut and Eastman brooks to supply water for several saw mills. The millpond near West Cove received extra water when the outlet stream from Anderson Pond was diverted to it. Early farmers and millwrights gave their names to our roads, hills and ponds — Anderson Pond the hardway: by two Andersons who drowned there in 1791.
When the Erie Canal opened up markets for farmers in areas of richer soil to the west, many here left. Trees sprang up on the abandoned fields as the forest returned. The Draper Company, a leading manufacturer of textile looms, began to buy up the devalued land around Eastman Pond and in 1916 established a bobbin mill near West Cove. Lumbermen were brought in to cut and haul maple and birch logs to the mill, where they were made into bobbin blanks. They built a company town called Draperville and ran the operation for nine years, until the supply of trees was exhausted and they moved away.
Opening the forest created ideal habitat and browse for deer, and the deeryard near Bog Brook was prized by hunters. Pioneer Point near South Cove attracted Grantham residents who enjoyed fishing, picnicking and camping. South Cove and West Cove were connected by a corduroy road that followed the shoreline. North of West Cove was a marsh as large as the pond itself. There had been mention of a giant rhododendron colony growing wild in Grantham as early as the 1800s. In 1954, Professor Albion R. Hodgdon, PhD, a noted plant taxonomist at the University of New Hampshire, officially recorded it as being east of Anderson Pond. It was one of only a few such colonies growing wild in New Hampshire.
That was the scene when American Rockwell put the Draperland up for sale in 1968. The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests wanted to preserve the acreage from irresponsible development but could not afford to buy the property. Dudley Orr, a trustee at Dartmouth, learned of the dilemma and was able to interest a group of investors in creating a corporation to buy the Draper land. Preserving its natural state would be impossible, but the aim was to control development by building a model second-home community without spoiling the woodland surroundings. The Controlled Environment Corporation (CEC) was created and in 1969 it purchased the Draper tract. Emil Hanslin was engaged to plan a community that had minimum impact on the natural environment and the beauty of the surrounding landscape. The CEC Board was so impressed by his presentation that Hanslin Associates was hired to implement the plan.
In 1972 the Dudley Orr Dam was built to raise the level of the pond 14 feet. This doubled its size and made it a legitimate lake with three islands. Bulldozers extended a road over the dam to become Road ’Round the Lake, narrowly skirting the rhododendrons to the north. Further bulldozing opened up the forest with a network of roads for home sites. Swaths of land for the golf course, Snow Hill and cross-country ski trails were also cleared as the woodlands became permanently altered.
Years later, volunteer members of the Lake, Forestry And Wildlife Committee painstakingly forged a trail that followed the shoreline around the lake. This was made possible by Hanslin’s underlying concept of open space to be used primarily for trails. In this case, the open space was deed-back land from lake front property owners. Later still,when that committee split to become Lakes & Streams and Woodlands & Wildlife, the “woodies” blazed the Stroing Brook and Cole Pond trails through CEC woodland, part of the Enfield Wildlife Management Area to the north.
Woodlands & Wildlife embarked on several projects consistent with its mission “to ensure and protect a healthy woodlands and wildlife habitat for this and future generations.” It commissioned a Woodlands And Wildlife Assessment of Eastman’s forest, and a Fire and Wildlife Assessment, while waging a campaign to control the spread of the invasive plant phragmites. Recently it developed Eastman’s first park to protect the rare colony of giant rhododendron listed as “threatened” by the state.
Currently, the committee is having a forest management plan created for Heath Forest, Eastman’s newly acquired, 156-acre property. It will inform and guide our stewardship of this beautiful addition to our woodlands. Additional forest management planning is projected for other areas of Eastman as the Woodlands &Wildlife Committee looks to the future.