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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Groton History Center share in the award  

The Groton Conservation Trust has successfully secured a grant from The Freedom’s Way 2019 Partnership Grant Program to connect people to the land and biodiversity within the Town of Groton.  This project, as described in the March e-newsletter, will research, design and install an educational garden on the Moors Schoolhouse property, located near the Trust’s most visited conservation area, the General Field. You can read about the rich history of this property in a piece by member David Gordon: The Legacy of Moors Schoolhouse.

The garden will showcase non-native plants that have been naturalized, as well as plants used by indigenous peoples of the area for food, medicine and religious purposes.  Interpretive signage will be developed with assistance from the Art Department at Groton School. Students from the school will install and maintain the plantings, which will be permanently labeled.   Led by trustee David Black, the reclamation effort will begin mid-May. All are welcome to join in the effort. Partnering with the GCT will be the Groton History Center.

The Moors Schoolhouse has a rich history as a district school in Groton.

The Freedom’s Way Grant Program is designed to provide strategic investments in the cultural, natural and historical resources that enhance the sense of place within the forty-five communities of the Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area, the Freedom’s Way Partnership Grant Program serves as a catalyst for creative programs and projects that increase awareness and understanding of the region’s heritage by engaging residents and visitors through experiences and promoting stewardship.  Nine area awards were given, totaling almost $30,000.