Forest Bells Restoration

The Bells are Back!

George Brackett and bell “rider” during installation. Can you spot him?

Visitors to the Forest Bells on the GCT’s Blackman Field and Woods property know that three of the bells have been missing since last fall. They were removed for repairs, and we’re happy to report that all six bells are up and making wonderful music again.

The Forest Bells were created by local artist and craftsman Paul Matisse in 1995, commissioned by the inaugural Artist’s Valentine project, and installed on land owned by Arthur and Camilla Blackman.  The Blackmans donated the land to the GCT in 2000, and the Trust has been the steward of the land and bells since then.

Like any piece of outdoor engineering, the Bells require attention and maintenance.  Paul and his staff have been both attentive and generous in helping to keep the Bells in good working order.  Over the years, we’ve discovered that the main spring at the top of each bell is prone to failure.  When this spring breaks the hammer rests against the bell, making it impossible to ring.  We’ve also found that the arm and hammer assembly can dent and damage the bells as they swing around.

Local arborist and bell-hanging wizard George Brackett provides the expertise to both install and remove the Bells.  Last fall he took down the three non-working Bells and they were delivered to Paul’s shop in Groton.  Paul’s staff analyzed the failures and found solutions.  Modifications were made to the arm and hammer to prevent further damage, and a wholly new spring design was installed.  The bells were also re-coated with Nyalic a transparent protective coating.

But there were still three Bells in the forest without these improvements.

Ken and Joseph installing a new spring.

Ken and Joseph installing a new spring.

Paul, George and Ken and Joseph from Paul’s staff set out on June 19th to set up a field repair shop in the woods to complete the job.  The three repaired bells were re-installed, and then each of the three remaining bells was taken down.  All modifications were installed and each was re-coated with Nyalic.  The completely refurbished Bells were then rehung in their proper locations.

Paul has since re-visited the site and reports they are again ready to make beautiful music in their hemlock grove.  All they need are visitors to explore, discover, and ring them!

To find the Forest Bells, take Old Ayer Road south toward Ayer from Main Street near the Mobil Station.  Then, turn left onto Indian Hill Road and go all the way to the end.  Park cars, but not near the house at the end.  Walk back to the end and bear left up a dirt road into the trees.  Continue along this road, passing at one point under power lines and continuing down into forest.  At the next obvious fork, with the main path going up to the right, turn sharp left on to the side road.  About 50 yards later there are a group of fallen trees barring an old road leading uphill to the right.  Walking over or around the fallen trees, follow that road up the hill.  Continue until you find yourself in a grove of hemlocks, quite different from the pines and oaks all around.  You are at the Forest Bells.

Joseph and Ken repairing the Hammer Mount.

Joseph and Ken repairing the Hammer Mount.

Paul Matisse and George setting up.

Paul Matisse and George setting up.

George is ready for the last installation.

George is ready for the last installation.


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Celebrating The General Field

As we celebrate the beauty of The General Field with our annual Sunflower and Sunset party on June 27 (see the flyer on the right), this piece by Groton resident Deb Jefferson gives you a glimpse into the history of this spectacular piece of Groton. Thank you to Deb for sharing the story. Pictures courtesy of Deb Jefferson.

“Some asked about the history of the General Field… here are some photos, and a little remembrance...

This property, now referred to as ‘The General Field’, was my family’s ancestral home. My grandparents moved there in the very early 1900’s to manage the farm for the owner, Stephen Sabine. It was known then as ‘Pinecrest Orchards’, about 100 acres of apple orchard and egg farm. They lived there until early 1970’s, when the property was then sold to Marion Campbell. The house was located near where the parking area is now, the tall white pine tree still stands, with its lightening rod.

It was not a fancy home, a converted barn, my grandmother once told me. No insulation, drafty windows, a coal furnace in the basement, a kerosene stove in the kitchen, a wood stove in the living room. They raised six children and many grandchildren there. I can still picture my grandfather sitting in the basement, candling and packing eggs; it smelled of chicken eggs and damp coal.

We were rich in a way that has nothing to do with money. Our family all worked hard on the farm, we learned a solid work ethic; but there was a lot of fun too; chicken bbqs, corn roasts, and strawberry shortcake for Sunday supper; pick-up baseball games, sledding all the way down the hill, and watching fireworks from the roof of the house.

This single piece of property so shaped all our lives in so many ways, good ways, great ways. It was just a happy place. I am thankful that it was able to be protected from development. I am thrilled that it is still in well maintained agricultural use. It represents a part of the town of Groton, the way it was, that many will never know. Go, enjoy the scenery, the smell of hay, the birds, the sunsets, the stars, the solitude. Drink it in, then think about the hub-bub of a working farm, the family get togethers, the busy airfield at Ft. Devens during the 1960’s, the apple blossoms…”