Hassanamesitt Woods Protection Moves Forward (MA)

Grafton, Massachusetts, 2/17/04: The Trust for Public Land and the Grafton Land Trust announced Thursday that TPL has purchased approximately 200 wooded acres on Keith Hill in Grafton. Known as Hassanamesitt Woods, the land is the site of one of Reverend John Eliot’s 17th century Praying Indian Villages, Hassanamesitt. Although the property has been purchased by TPL, additional fundraising is required before the land is conveyed to the Town of Grafton for permanent protection.

“We are grateful to the Grafton Land Trust, the Town of Grafton, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and all of our partners for helping to bring this together,” said Carol Hall, project manager for the Trust for Public Land. “Although we still have lots of work to do to permanently protect the site, we are pleased to be moving forward today by acquiring Hassanamesitt Woods.”

In the fall of 2002, the Grafton Board of Selectmen and the Grafton Land Trust asked TPL for assistance in protecting Hassanamesitt Woods. TPL agreed to partner with the Town and accept the right of first refusal to purchase the land from the Robinson family, and in October 2003, Town Meeting attendees voted overwhelmingly to approve the use of $500,000 of Community Preservation Act funds.

Frank Bartucca, Chairman of the Community Preservation Committee said, “We are extremely proud of the hard work that has gone into this project. Everyone, from Town officials and citizens to the Trust for Public Land, the Grafton Land Trust, and their partners have worked diligently to bring this project toward its conclusion.”

Federal, state, and private donations have been raised toward the protection of the property. These include a $400,000 grant from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund distributed by the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA), $215,000 from the Department of Conservation and Recreation, and $40,000 from the Massachusetts Historical Commission. The Grafton Land Trust continues to raise funds from individuals and foundations for this project as part of a larger campaign, and has committed $500,000 of that goal for Hassanamesitt Woods, including grants from the Fred Harris Daniels Foundation, the Greater Worcester Community Foundation, the Fields Pond Foundation, and the Wyman-Gordon Foundation. In addition, a grant from the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor funded the initial archaeological assessment.

Richard Dion, President of the Grafton Land Trust said, “We are encouraged by the outpouring of support for this landmark project from Grafton residents. Town Meeting voters and donors to our fundraising campaign have recognized that this property is both an open space priority of the highest order, and a priceless link to Grafton’s very early days. We have made significant progress, but there is still work to be done.”

To date, more than $1,650,000 has been committed from public and private sources for the project. The Grafton Land Trust and the Trust for Public Land are now working to close the fundraising gap to permanently protect the property.

The property offers a window into the area’s rich Native American history. For years the land has been rumored to include the core remains of Hassanamesitt, one of 14 “Praying Towns” founded by Reverend John Eliot in the 17th century for native peoples who joined the Christian religion. One of only two Praying Towns to achieve full church status, Hassanamesitt was occupied by Hassanamisco, members of the larger Nipmuc Tribe.

Research conducted in 2003 by the University of Massachusetts (UMASS) Center for Cultural and Environmental History confirmed that the Hassanamesitt Woods property was within the boundaries of the Praying Town. Further, the historical records consistently point to this place as the location of the meetinghouse and the center of the village.

Dr. Steve Mrozowski, Director of the Center for Cultural and Environmental History said that the acquisition of the property by the Trust for Public Land represented an important milestone in the permanent protection of this nationally significant archaeological site. “I applaud the work of the Grafton Land Trust, the Town of Grafton and the Trust for Public Land, and their partnership that has garnered such support for the protection of this priceless resource. We continue to support their efforts as they raise the final funds for protection.”

Hassanamesitt Woods is strategically located next to 187 acres of town-owned land and 63 acres owned by the Grafton Land Trust and, when protected, will form part of a 450-acre corridor of open space. Existing trails on the property, and trail systems on the adjacent properties, provide local opportunities for hiking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, and bird watching. In addition, the property helps to protect the water quality of Miscoe Brook and the larger Miscoe, Whitehall, and Warren Watershed Areas of Critical Environmental Concern.

According to Leslie Luchonok, director of the Massachusetts Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) Program, “In relationship to the approximately 241,000 acres statewide that are included within ACECs, in my thirteen-plus years working with the ACEC Program I can recall few properties proposed for public open space acquisition that combine both the extraordinary archaeological resource significance and the ecological importance of this property.”

TPL and GLT have been working closely with the Town of Grafton, the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, the Nipmuc Tribal Nation, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Department of Conservation and Recreation and Division of Conservation Services, Massachusetts Audubon, and the UMASS Center for Cultural and Environmental History.

The Grafton Land Trust is a private nonprofit organization whose mission is to: save significant areas of open space, including agricultural land, forests, and watershed areas through various methods of creative land acquisition; open and maintain our properties for public recreation including hiking, cross country skiing, canoeing, and other outdoor activities; advise property owners and town boards on ways to preserve and protect land; and educate the public on conservation, ecology, forestry practices, and wildlife preservation so that we all may continue to enjoy our natural heritage. For more information, or to contribute to the ongoing Campaign for a Green Grafton, please contact Joeseph Tancrell at (508) 839-6454 or visit www.graftonland.org.