By Brendan Kieran, Reader Services
The Lynn Woods Reservation is a fun place to spend some time among trees and even take in views of the Boston skyline. It is also notable for various features and structures, such as Stone Tower, Dungeon Rock, and the Wolf Pits, as well as the stories behind them. My dad grew up in Lynn, and I’ve been to the woods myself, so I have some familiarity with these stories. However, I recently had an opportunity to “explore” the woods with two new guides.
“Breed’s Pond,” photograph by Edward P. Nostrand; “At the Bend of the Road,” poem by Nellie F. Rogers.
The MHS is home to a Lynn Woods photograph album, ca. 1910, consisting of various photographs of Lynn Woods along with explanatory text. The text by Edward P. Nostrand, which includes descriptions of various locations as well as short stories associated with the woods, reads like the transcript of a guided tour. The text interacts nicely with his photographs and Nellie F. Rogers’s poetry to provide an engaging sweep through the Lynn Woods of the early 20th century based on the perspectives of two people who experienced it.
Nostrand prefaces his narrative with a warning that “the legends have been handed down from generation to generation, and as to their truth, the reader must accept them as such.” He starts by briefly describing the early settlement of the Lynn area by Europeans in the seventeenth century. He writes about a supposed pirate encounter in 1656, in which a ship owned by Captain Kid [sic] came up the Saugus River and men from the ship got out and went into the woods. In response to a letter, the townspeople provided shackles and handcuffs to the pirates. According to the story, the men placed treasure in the woods, under Dungeon Rock.
Nostrand also tells the story of Hiram Marble, a man who spent years blasting through the rock in the hopes of finding the treasure; while he never did find what Nostrand calls “treasure which never existed,” the effort has left behind a path in the rock, which is still open for exploration today.
“Dungeon Rock & Guide,” photograph by Edward P. Nostrand
In addition to telling these fascinating stories, Nostrand describes various locations within the woods, as well as some of the flora and fauna there. Among the spots he mentions, and includes photographs of, are “Breed’s Pond,” “Fern Dell,” “Lovers Lane,” and “Forest Castle.” One particular feature that seems to be of particular significance to Nostrand is a group of white birch trees, about which he writes “Oh ye Gods what a sight! There they stand – are they not beautiful?” The previous page includes both a photograph of white birch trees and a poem by Rogers, titled “The White Birch,” which reads as follows:
The beautiful white birch grew tall and straight,
‘Till it seemed to reach the “Golden Gate.”
And the story it told to its sister pines
Was filled with melody and wondrous chimes.
It told of the sky’s each varying hue;
It told of the beauties of nature too;
And the tale was wafted to you and me,
While borne by the wind from tree to tree.
“The White Birch,” photograph by Edward P. Nostrand; “The White Birch,” poem by Nellie F. Rogers
This Lynn Woods photograph album offers an exciting glimpse into the Lynn Woods of the 1910 period, as seen and documented by Nostrand and Rogers. Nostrand’s narrative should not serve as a transcript for a 2017 walking tour – he uses some language that is offensive today, and, based on my knowledge of the woods and my viewing of his photographs, the area does not look exactly the same now as did over a century ago. However, if you would like to engage with the woods as Nostrand and Rogers would have in the early 20th century, feel free to view the album here in the MHS library.
Additionally, if you are interested in the stories around Dungeon Rock, N. S. Emerson’s The History of Dungeon Rock: Completed Sept. 17th, 1856 (Boston: Adams, 1856) and Dungeon Rock; or The Pirate’s Cave at Lynn (Boston: C.M.A. Twitchell, 1885) are print items held by the MHS that may be of interest. Copies of an 1859 edition of The History of Dungeon Rock (Bela Marsh), which the MHS also holds, as well as the 1885 Dungeon Rock book are available electronically through Internet Archive.
“The Tower,” photograph by Edward P. Nostrand