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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Carters’ Folly

Description

The Carters’ Folly land consists of approximately 21 acres of forest and wetlands located near Old Dunstable Road and includes a connection to Allens Trail. The parcel is adjacent to GCT’s Skitapet land, as well as the New England Forestry Foundation’s Baddacook Woods. The land contains mature oak, maple, hickory, and white pine forest at higher elevations, and wetland resources in the form of an intermittent stream and the southern end of a deep marsh. The parcel lies within the Petapawag Area of Critical Environmental Concern and is identified as NHESP Priority Habitat.

Carters’ Folly was donated to the GCT by Anne Carter and the Carter Family in 2021. The Carter family used the land for summer gatherings for many years.

GCT Trustee Rick Muehlke described the history of the land in our August 2021 newsletter:
In 1953 Anne Pitts was an assistant professor of economics at Harvard when she met Dr. Franklin Carter, a psychiatrist associated with Massachusetts General Hospital. After their marriage, in 1954 they purchased adjoining parcels of land in Groton with their friends and Cambridge neighbors Ed and Jean Mason who are known to many in the Groton community. The Groton Conservation Trust (GCT) has been interested in permanently protecting the Carters’ 21 acres, ever since Joseph and Jeanne Skinner donated the 51-acre “Skitapet Conservation Land” to the Trust in 1983 and 1989. This 21-acre Carter parcel is part of what is now 88 acres of uninterrupted east-west conservation land. A gap of only about 75 feet separates the north edge of the Carter parcel from over 2,190 acres of conserved land to the north, owned by seven different conservation organizations. Anne Carter and her daughter Sarah proposed “Carters’ Folly” as the name for the property. “Carters'” because it honors Anne and Franklin Carter. “Folly” because they never did anything with the land, other than enjoy it in its natural state. The Groton Conservation Trust sincerely thanks Professor Anne Pitts Carter for the gift of this beautiful and important property.

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A view from Carters’ Folly, courtesy of trustee Holly Estes.