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King Philip’s Stockade is neither a stockade, nor was it King Philip’s.  So what’s the story?

Entering or exiting I-91 from the Springfield/ Longmeadow border, you can’t help but notice the ball field and months-long Bright Night’s display at Forest Park on one side of Route 5 and a steep slope up and (usually) closed, black iron gate marking the entrance to an area called King Philip’s Stockade. A question from a Facebook follower (whose mother forbade him from playing there when he was growing up) prompted us to take a deeper look into the mysterious location.  



Access Pathway facing Western Drive in Longmeadow


King Philip’s Stockade is actually a section of Forest Park, Springfield, though it abuts Western Drive in Longmeadow. Parking about half-way down Western Drive, you will find a paved path that enters the park. Continuing a street or two down Western Drive, you will find less formal footpaths that have emerged over the years as entrances through the bushes into a lovely, and very quiet, landscaped section of Forest Park. Winding roads split off into “choose your own adventure” style paths. Following any of these paths, it won’t take you long to hear the sound of the highway that robbed the park of what had no doubt previously been a serene view of the Connecticut River. The river is still there, you just have to block out I-91 to imagine what the view would have been when Forest Park was first designed in the 1880’s. 



Winding pathway at King Philip's Stockade


There is ample parking for a covered pavilion with enough picnic tables to host a large gathering. And there is a tall, bronze-colored statue of a Native American gazing into the distance to keep you company - though he is secured behind a black iron gate. There is no marker or plaque to identify the subject of the statue or his significance to the area - though common legend has it that depicts Toto, a native man who became famous in Springfield area history for being the savior of Springfield by running here from Windsor in October, 1675 to warn settlers of an impending attack during King Philip’s War.  

King Philip, otherwise known as the Wampanoag sachem, Metacomet, actually hailed from eastern part of Massachusetts and was the native leader of a devastating series of battles between English colonists and the indigenous people. There was a stockade in Springfield, but it was a short distance away in area of Longhill Road in Springfield.


A 1901 map of Forest Park shows that a road always divided the area noted as “King Philip’s Stockade and Outlook” from the rest of the park.  What is not noted on the 1901 map, of course is I-91, which would not come through the area until the mid 1950’s, threatening low lying areas of Longmeadow and King Philip’s Stockade as well.



L. J. Richards & Co.. New Topographical map of Forest Park, Springfield, Mass., 1901



Close up of King Philip section of Forest Park on 1901 map of Forest ParkL. J. Richards & Co.. New Topographical map of Forest Park, Springfield, Mass., 1901

 

One of the hallmarks of King Philip’s Stockade remains in the form of the statue of Toto. It has survived multiple incidents of vandalism and theft in the century since it was first placed in the park. The depiction of Toto was controversial as far back as 1926 when it was designed as its “costume differed radically from anything Toto … ever wore” as one writer for The Springfield Republican wrote. After repeated thefts of the hollow bronze-colored statue, it was allegedly filled with concrete in the 1960’s to prevent more mischief. The Springfield Parks Superintendent at the time reported fielding calls from concerned citizens eager to give Toto a safe home and antique dealers offering to buy him. It was even suggested that Toto might be safer in the “Kiddieland Zoo” area. Today Toto has been returned to his perch in the King Philip’s Stockade section of the park and is surrounded by a tall iron fence to deter would-be villains.


Springfield Republican

July 25, 1926



Statue of Toto overlooking I-91 and the Connecticut River


In the summer of 1987, a plan was on the table briefly to use King Philip’s Stockade as a commuter parking lot for workers in downtown Springfield. Bus service would have been provided for just $.25 a ride to shuttle people into the city, but Longmeadow residents protested on grounds that Forest Glen, Route 5 and Western Drive was the worst intersection in town already and couldn’t handle any extra traffic. Surely, that will not surprise anyone who spends far too much time sitting at the light at that intersection today.


As it stands now, King Philip’s Stockade is still a part of Forest Park. It’s a lovely place for runners, walkers, and dog walkers. Be sure to stop by and acknowledge Toto, and perhaps apologize for the historical injustice that was done to him in the 1920’s and for the ruffians that caused him to be filled with concrete and secured behind a fence.


 

Sources:

Holcomb, Robert N. “New England Indians are Wrongly Pictured” in Springfield Republican, July 31, 1932.


L. J. Richards & Co.. New topographical map of Forest Park, Springfield, Mass., 1901. Map Collections (MP 000). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries from http://credo.library.umass.edu/view/full/mump000-g3764-s7-2-f6-c2-1901-i001accessed on May 1, 2023.


Springfield Republican July 25, 1926

Springfield Republican, March 20, 1927

Springfield Union, June 25, 1964: “Nimble-footed Toto Faces Heavy Going.”

Springfield Union, September 4, 1964: “A Happy Hunting Ground for Toto is Suggested.”Springfield Union, May 23, 1987: “Stockade Parking Use Ok’d.”

Springfield Union, June 16, 1987: “Council Addresses Parking Problems.”





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Who doesn’t love relaxing next to (or swimming in) a body of water on a beautiful summer day? Longmeadow is blessed with an abundance of opportunities to enjoy natural water vistas. In addition to the Connecticut River, Longmeadow has four major brooks which, along with their associated tributaries and dingles, drain surface water to the Connecticut River. From north to south, they are Cooley Brook, Wheelmeadow Brook, Longmeadow Brook, and Raspberry Brook. 



Water in three of these brooks has, currently or historically, been impeded in its journey west by dams, creating ponds that served town residents for both industry and recreation. Three of these dams still exist: Longmeadow Swimming Pool – Pond Dam (on Cooley Brook in Laurel Park); Longmeadow Country Club Dam (on Longmeadow Brook at the Longmeadow Country Club); and Turner Park Dam (on Longmeadow Brook in Turner Park). Each of these ponds has its own story, but in this article I would like to talk about two dammed ponds that no longer exist.

 

Longmeadow Country Day School Pond


In 1923, a new private boarding school, the Longmeadow Country Day School for Younger Boys, began accepting students at its location at 30 Williams Street. Developed due to concerns of unwanted feminizing influences in boys’ education (brought on by too many female teachers), the school employed only male instructors, had small class sizes, and emphasized athletics such as football, baseball, and the “manly art of self-defense” (a/k/a, boxing). 


In 1929, he school moved south to 1087 Longmeadow Street, expanding to the neighboring 1077 Longmeadow Street in 1930. Prior to moving to this new location, the school built a dam on a small tributary of Longmeadow Brook and created a pond “for the children of the school to skate on…” According to the letter from the school to the County Commissioners, the school appears to have built the dam, then asked for permission after the fact. This small earthen dam created a half-acre pond. 



Enrollment at the private school plummeted at the start of the Depression. In 1931, Longmeadow Country Day School merged with Winchester Junior Academy and moved to Wilbraham, abandoning its facility in Longmeadow. The pond does not show up on any town maps and it does not exist today. It is likely that the dam was dismantled when the school left Longmeadow.


Noble Pond


Another pond, located east of Longmeadow Street and north of the Green, shows up on most early maps of Longmeadow. This pond dammed up water on Wheelmeadow Brook on its westerly path to the Connecticut River. On several maps, the pond is known as “Noble Pond”, probably because it was located behind 655 Longmeadow Street where Dr. Lester Noble lived. The Noble family later sold the house and property to Cora M. Page, who then sold it to H.L. Handy. In county records, the dam was also known as "Handy Company Dam".



Why was a dam constructed on Wheelmeadow Brook? We really don't know, but it might have been built to provide a reliable source of water for an early Longmeadow business. The 1831 map of Longmeadow shows a tannery at Wheelmeadow Brook on the east side of what is now Longmeadow Street. Water is integral to the leather tanning process; having a pond nearby would have ensured that there was always water available to the tanner when it was needed. 



The tannery does not appear on maps after 1831, but the pond does. Noble Pond last appears on the 1920 map of Longmeadow. Newspaper records from 1920 show that the pond was used for ice harvesting; John D. Allen, a farmer, leased this pond so that he could cut ice for local ice houses.


In 1932, Noble Pond served as a fingerling trout hatchery. A newspaper article explained that the Longmeadow Fish and Game Club was carefully feeding the baby trout chopped liver and beef hearts to help them grow. Heavy rains in November, however, overwhelmed the dam which broke and released all of the young trout to the Connecticut River.



The dam was not rebuilt and there is no longer a pond on Wheelmeadow Brook. But, perhaps some of those fingerling trout survived their release into the wild and their descendants are swimming in the Connecticut River today. 


-Contributed by Beth Hoff, Longmeadow Historical Society Board Member


Sources:


Archives of the Longmeadow Historical Society


Hampden County Registry of Deeds Dams File Collection Book D11 Town of Longmeadow Massachusetts


Springfield Republican, January 6, 1920; November 13, 1932 


Environmental Protection Agency, Waterbody Assessment and TMDL Status Longmeadow, MA

Perhaps you have noticed one or two information kiosks which recently sprouted in Bliss and Laurel Parks? These kiosks mark two of Longmeadow’s long-term survivors of the chestnut blight. The trees are not impressive to look at, but are amazing for the story of resilience they tell.







First, we need to be clear that this article is about the native American chestnut tree, Castanea dentata, which bears edible nuts, not the more frequently recognized Common Horsechestnut tree, Aesculus hippocastanum which was introduced from Europe and bears poisonous nuts.  Although the two trees bear similar burred nuts, they are not closely related and their leaves are quite different.  Horsechestnut leaves are compound with seven leaflets radiating out from each petiole or stem, while American chestnut leaves are single and sharply toothed.  Horsechestnut burrs contain a single large nut, while American chestnut burrs contain three smaller nuts.


American Chestnut Nuts with Burrs and Leaves

Photo by Timothy Van Vliet, 2004 via Wikipedia


American chestnuts were a keystone species along the Appalachian range, providing an important source of nutrition for wildlife and humans.  Unfortunately, a blight caused by the fungus Cryphonectria parasitica was brought to North America on Japanese chestnut trees, Castanea crenata, sometime in the late 1800’s. Although we do not know exactly when and where the first American chestnut trees became infected, we do know that Hermann Merkel, the chief forester of the Bronx Zoo, identified the disease on mature chestnut trees in the zoo in 1904. Over the next few decades, billions of chestnut trees were lost from eastern woodlands.  Early in the blight epidemic, many dead and dying trees were harvested for their still marketable lumber. Because the blight only affects the above ground portions of the tree, the remaining stumps and root collars resprout new growth. These new shoots grow for years and sometimes decades, before they too succumb to the blight. It is rare for the new shoots to live long enough to bear nuts, and so the species is considered “functionally extinct.” This leads us to the rather exciting conclusion that the few remaining specimens growing in Longmeadow are quite old organisms, in spite of their small stature. They have likely been growing and dying back to their roots in the same location for over 100 years!


We know that chestnut trees have long been present in Longmeadow, as documented by these photographs in the Paesiello Emerson collection at the Longmeadow Historical Society.



Chestnut trees, Depot Road (Emerson Street), 1910

Longmeadow Historical Society Emerson Collection



Chestnut tree in blossom, Page's Lot, 1918

Longmeadow Historical Society Emerson Collection


Unlike Japanese and Chinese chestnut trees which were selected over centuries and domesticated into small, easy to harvest orchard trees, American chestnuts grow straight and tall and were an important source of lumber.


Local trees including chestnuts were harvested and cut into beams and planks and incorporated into local structures. Chestnut wood is strong and decay resistant and easy to work. The grain is reminiscent of oak, but the wood is lighter in weight.  During demolition of the last known milking shed in Longmeadow on Williams Street in 2023, some chestnut beams were identified and preserved for reuse. If you visit one of the information kiosks in Bliss and Laurel Parks, you can see a chestnut wood sample and some nuts embedded in resin.



Prior to the industrial revolution, trees were cut and shaped into beams and planks by hand with saws, adzes, planes and other hand tools. In the early 1800’s water power was harnessed to process trees into lumber. One early Longmeadow water-powered sawmill is documented on this map from 1831. The mills were located on the Longmeadow Brook near the intersection of Shaker Road and Mill Road. The eastern end of Mill Road was abandoned by the town in 2001.



This detail from the 1855 map shows the same mills, now accompanied by a dam and pond slightly upstream. Perhaps you recognize the pond which is now on the property of the Longmeadow Country Club?



This image from the 1894 map shows the millrace which carried water from the pond to the mills and then back to the Longmeadow Brook. Note that the sawmill had been converted to a knitting mill by 1894.



Perhaps the townspeople found it more efficient to mill their lumber where the trees were harvested with a steam powered sawmill? This photograph shows workmen processing trees into lumber with a steam powered sawmill.



Spring is upon us, so soon you will be able to identify one or more of Longmeadow’s few remaining American chestnut trees by their characteristic leaves. While doing so, take a moment to reflect on the incredible fact that these ancient survivors continue to struggle against the fungus unwittingly introduced along with exotic trees more than 100 years ago.





-Contributed by Dave Marinelli, Longmeadow Historical Society

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