This is a serialization of the new book written by Carl Flowers, owner of Silveus Plantation, the subject of “Groton’s Anonymous Mistress.” This 300-year-old house is accessed by Kemp Street near the boundary of Groton and Dunstable.
By Carl Flowers
When news about the railroad became known, Ruben Lewis and twenty others from Dunstable and Groton petitioned the two towns. Relocating the old 1772 road was one objective. The second objective was a new town way called Raddin Road. It would eliminate approximately a mile in travel distance to John Cummings’ sawmill.
Cummings was one of the petitioners looking for changes to the 1772 road and the creation of Raddin Road. Ruben Lewis was a substantial land owner with lots of timber that could be sawed into rail ties at the Cummings sawmill. Those rail ties would be taken to the Horse Hill Quarry just a short distance away where there was a rail spur.
At the rail spur, the ties could be loaded onto a flat car and taken to their needed locations. The Horse Hill Quarry is where granite was being cut into appropriate sizes for building bridges at other locations over which the new railroad would travel.
Another petitioner for road changes was James Fitzpatrick. His reason for wanting to change the road had to be similar to those of Isaac Woods. The Nashua, Acton and Boston Railroad brought other supplementary benefits to James. One of them was the opportunity to sell the land on which the old iron mine was located. Stone from the mine could easily be crushed and used as ballast for holding rail ties in place.
Neither Daniel nor Alpheus Swallow, who purchased the old iron mine, were petitioners for the road changes, but they had to profit from the changes. The old iron mine was in close proximity to the rail spur at the granite quarry. The $3,000 James Fitzpatrick received for the parcel having the old iron mine enabled him to build one of the largest barns in the immediate region. He also became one of the larger dairy and produce farmers in the area.
An additional enterprise that began after the railroad was in operation was the business of making charcoal. Near the intersection of the 1772 road and Raddin Road are the remnants of several charcoal pits. Eighteen have been located. Making charcoal was not an exercise of longevity in any one vicinity.
Once all the trees in an area were cut, a new location had to be found. You made the charcoal pits where the trees were. For the period, anywhere from two-thirds to three-quarters of Groton was clear cut.
Plain old logging certainly played a roll in the reduction of the town’s forests. Charcoal wasn’t the exclusive villain. Names of the people who made the charcoal don’t appear to be any of the petitioners for changes to the road. To make charcoal, wood was piled ten to fourteen feet high in a circle twenty to forty feet in diameter. Each pit might hold between twenty to forty cords of wood. A large hole was intentionally made in the center of the wood pile. About a foot above ground, several small holes were made around the circumference for ventilation. Twelve to eighteen hours after the fire had been set, the top hole was covered. The intention was to make the wood smolder. If the pit burst into flames, the attendant or the collier as he was called, had a problem. To avoid such a disaster, the collier walked atop the smoldering heap to seal unwanted emerging holes. When the pit stopped smoking, it was covered with sand for several days to cool. During the entire two-week process the operation needed constant attention. A crew of three or four men would be needed, depending on how many pits were burning.