Praying Indian Village Site Protected (MA)

Grafton, Massachusetts, 7/28/04: The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit conservation organization, the town of Grafton, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the Grafton Land Trust announced Wednesday that TPL has conveyed approximately 200 wooded acres on Keith Hill to the town of Grafton along with a Conservation Restriction to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Known as Hassanamesitt Woods, the land is the site of one of Reverend John Eliot’s 17th century Praying Indian Villages, Hassanamesitt. The property was purchased from the Robinson family and held off the market by TPL in February 2004 until all of the funding was identified to permanently protect the historic site.

“The Hassanamesitt Woods project has truly been a team effort, and we thank the Grafton Land Trust, the town of Grafton, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and our many other partners for their help to protect this historic site,” said Carol Hall, project manager for the Trust for Public Land. “We are thrilled that the Department of Conservation and Recreation was able to contribute the additional funding needed to enable us to convey the entire site for permanent protection.”

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 for $2.1 million.

Federal, state, local, and private funds were raised toward the protection of the property. These include $500,000 from the town’s Community Preservation Fund, a $400,000 grant from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund distributed by the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA), $776,000 from the Department of Conservation and Recreation, and $40,000 from the Massachusetts Historical Commission. The Grafton Land Trust led a private fundraising campaign to cover the balance of the purchase price and project costs, including grants from the Amelia Peabody Charitable Fund, the Fields Pond Foundation, Fred Harris Daniels Foundation, the Greater Worcester Community Foundation, the Stoddard Charitable Trust, the William P. Wharton Trust, the Wyman-Gordon Foundation, and many individuals and families. A grant from the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor funded the initial archaeological assessment.

“As the new Massachusetts parks agency for the 21st century, the Department of Conservation and Recreation is committed to pursuing a model of shared stewardship through creative public-private partnerships to better preserve and manage the Commonwealth’s natural and cultural resources,” said DCR Commissioner Katherine F. Abbott. “The protection of the HassanamesittWoods is an excellent example of this partnership approach and the significant benefit it provides by preserving a beautiful section of land and a significant piece of Native American history, which no single agency or organization could have accomplished alone.”

Susan Mills, Chair of the Grafton Selectboard said, “A great deal of thanks goes to the partnership that opened our eyes to this gem in our own backyard. Thank you so much to everyone who wrote letters, made calls, twisted arms and believed in what could be done. Together we have kept a piece of our past intact and at the same time created a piece of our future.”

Richard Dion, President of the Grafton Land Trust said, “My thanks go out to Roger Hohman who initially made known to us the historical importance of this property. Since then this has truly been a team effort, and we thank all of our partners who have contributed to this tremendous outcome. We especially want to thank the many individuals and families of Grafton who so generously contributed to this project. Future generations will be grateful.”

Rae Gould, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer with the Nipmuc Nation said, “The Nipmuc Nation was elated to receive the news that Hassanamesit Woods is now guaranteed to be preserved. We especially want to extend our gratitude to The Trust for Public Land, the Grafton Land Trust and others from both the Town of Grafton and the State who worked so hard to make this happen. We are looking forward to working with our partners to develop a long-term plan for this historic property and to continue our involvement in uncovering its history. This property holds a shared history that is important to both the Nipmuc Tribe and the town of Grafton, and we will continue to respect that shared history as we move forward with this project.”

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. Importantly, this site has been undeveloped since the 17th century, suggesting that important archaeological resources may still exist on the land. This is in sharp contrast to the other known village sites that have largely been destroyed by the development of roads and houses.

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. Now that the property has been permanently protected, there will be the opportunity to continue to study and interpret the historical and cultural resources that exist on the property in a manner that is sensitive to the resource. A recent grant from the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Commission will be used to fund a cultural resources analysis of the land, a critical next step in understanding the extent of the resources that exist on the land.

This research, along with potential future archaeological work will expand the knowledge base about Praying Villages and will offer a tremendous opportunity for education and interpretation of the site. Project supporters in Grafton are eager to involve local schools and residents in educational activities around the property. As part of that effort to educate the public about this incredible historic resource, the Hassanamesitt 350 Committee has planned several events to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the founding of the village of Hassanamesitt, which later became the town of Grafton.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit conservation organization conserving land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since its founding in 1972, TPL has helped protect more than 1.6 million acres of land in 46 states, including more than 10,000 acres in Massachusetts. TPL depends on the support and generosity of individuals, foundations, and businesses to achieve our land for people mission. For more information, please contact us at (617) 367-6200 or visit

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, call Ken Crater at (508) 839-7402 x7, or visit

Note to editors: For an electronic map or photograph of the property, contact Chris LaPointe at (617) 367-6200 x358.