I first learned about the old stone town pounds in August 2010. It was in Becket, Massachusetts. (I wrote about our trip to Becket and briefly mentioned the pound here.) The Town Clerk told me and my sister about the old town pound, calling it “a cattle pen”. We went to look more closely at it, having passed it on our travels up and down the road. It is directly on Rte. 8 just north of the Town Hall. It wasn’t marked in any way, being only a stone structure along the side of the local road, a stone structure that you might take to be part of the common stone fences in New England until you looked more closely at it.

Becket Cattle Pen

Becket Cattle Pen

My sister got interested and later that fall sent me pictures from 3 different pounds in New Hampshire that she had either been aware of before, or had discovered in her area.

After she sent me the pictures I got more interested and started searching online for information about these old structures. I found a website titled Stone Structures of Northeastern United States which has a section on Town Pounds as well as lots of other information about a variety of stone structures, and about stone itself. I developed a vague plan to get her to show me the pound in Concord (Penacook) New Hampshire one day when we got together. She and I get together most months for dinner, or more recently lunch, since Concord is about half-way between our two homes.

Finally, this past November there was a nice day, not raining or snowing, and we went for a short drive to find the Penacook Pound (a repeat visit for her, first time for me). It turns out that this one is directly on Rte 3 north out of Concord. I wrote briefly about this in November when I was complaining about the busyness of getting ready for Thanksgiving (you can see what I wrote here if you can take my whining).

Penacook Town Pound #1

Penacook Town Pound interior

These pounds are dry stone built, meaning they are just stone piled on stone with no mortar or anything other than good construction holding them together. They tended (or are now anyway) to be about 5 feet high on the inside, and roughly rectangular. There is a small opening, just big enough for the largest animal to be contained to pass through, and this would have been barred by a gate of some sort. The ones in Becket and Penacook don’t have gates anymore. Some pictures of restored pounds show what a gate might have looked like.

Having decided it was time to write about these historic stone structures, I have done some more online researching. So far I haven’t found that elusive, definitive book that has all you could ever want to know about Town Pounds, but I have found bits and pieces of information. It seems that they existed in all the New England states, and in at least some they were required by the state when a town was officially established or incorporated. It looks to me like at least Connecticut still requires that there be a pound in a town. I haven’t done an exhaustive search of the state laws, I don’t have the patience for that, but a recent search found a site of Connecticut laws (thanks to Judy’s husband) that included the current requirement for a pound. Animal control is a community issue that carries forward into our own time. The animals in question may be different today, mostly stray dogs or cats although there is the occasional abandoned exotic pet, but the need for the community to control them hasn’t changed much.

I don’t know how far west the structures are found but haven’t run into sources showing them in New York or Ohio. There may have been equivalent structures that were called something else. In all likelihood the town pound goes back to the English villages that many of the early New England settlers came from. According to a Wikipedia article (here), the village pound was a feature of most British medieval villages. While various descriptions of their purpose can be found, it seems that in the earliest days of this country, roaming livestock of many varieties were problems for town or village residents. Thus, most commonly, the pound is described as being a place to contain roaming animals until the owner can claim them (and pay the fine). Cows and pigs were often the offenders, but any domesticated animal including fowl could be impounded. In some places a town might maintain a flock of sheep for the use of the townsfolk who would pay a fee to use them to crop down an area that was overgrown (like a meadow or field). This flock would also be kept in the pound. There are also reports that at least on occasion the town pound might be used to contain human offenders. The common thread was that a fee had to be paid.

In New England, while some of the earliest pounds may have been build with wood, stone seems to have been the preferred building material. Certainly the pounds that have survived, the ones I’ve seen or seen pictures of, were made of stone. And in New England there was, famously, an excess of stone to be found. Many a stone wall was reputedly built by a farmer pulling stones out of the field he wanted to plant and piling them along-side. In the two places where I have seen the still-standing stone walls, the pound was built on what is still a main road of the town on the outskirts of the boundary. Others I have read about but not yet seen have been swallowed by private property – perhaps having been built originally on a farmer’s land, or perhaps merely having been surrounded by the increasing population. In some places there was more than one town pound, to locate them conveniently to centers of population at the time. And happily, from the viewpoint of preserving some tangible examples of our history, town pounds have sometimes been rebuilt and taken care of by interested groups.

I just returned from a 2 1/2 day roadtrip, with my sister, to Becket Massachusetts and environs.  This was another of our short trips intended to get my sister out of town and away for a short time, and to get me another short shot at some genealogical research.  This trip turned out to have a number of results as I learned more about the resources that are available in this small town.

Becket was incorporated in 1765 out of Township #4.  My Snow relatives migrated north and west to Becket from Ashford Conneticut in about 1770.  So far I haven’t pinned the date down any closer than that.  I do know that Oliver Snow, my ancestor, married Rebecca Wadsworth in Becket in the summer of 1771.  Since it seems likely that they had known each other for at least a few months, 1770 seems like a reasonable guesstimate of when Oliver got to Becket.  There is no family tale of when or why Oliver moved north.

Oliver is one of my Revolutionary War ancestors.  He served 2  times as a private in Captain Peter Porter’s Company, in 1777.  Oliver and Rebecca lived in Becket until Rebecca died, in 1784.  Oliver remarried pretty quickly, to Roxylena Taylor, and the family moved to Tyringham at some point after the federal census in 1800.  Oliver’s half brother, Amaziah Snow and his family also lived in Tyringham.  Both Oliver and Amaziah were in Tyringham by the time of the 1810 federal census, and Amaziah and his wife Sarah died there and are buried in the Tyringham Cemetery.

In about 1805 or so, Oliver and Rebecca’s oldest son, also named Oliver, moved his wife and children to northern Ohio to a site in the Connecticut Western Reserve.  This is the Snow line that eventually continued west and joined the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Oliver, Junior’s children Lorenzo and Eliza notably).  That’s a post for another time.  Several other of Oliver Senior’s children migrated west to Ohio to the same area in northern Ohio in the early 1800’s.  My direct ancestor, Franklin, was one of these.  By 1822 Oliver (about 73 years old) and his second wife Roxylena,  followed and settled in Auburn Corners in Geauga County.

Having learned a little bit about doing genealogy trips like this one, I went somewhat more prepared than I had been the first time (see this post for my description of that trip).  I had a list of several cemeteries in surrounding towns that listed Snows as buried in them.  I hadn’t listed the Becket cemeteries, thinking we’d naturally see and walk them.  I had two specific goals:  I wanted to see the Snow “Genealogical Records of Inhabitants of the Town of Becket” and I wanted to find the burial site (and hopefully the gravestone) for Oliver’s first wife, Rebecca.  I had been told that the original of the Genealogical Records was in the Becket Athenaeum and to check their hours before I went.  So I did, and also called there to ask about seeing this old document and whether I could take digital pictures.  A very helpful librarian named Zina answered all my questions and offered to get out the other resources she could find in the library on the Snows.

Our first stop (after walking two cemeteries on Sunday afternoon) was at the Becket Town Hall to talk with the Town Clerk.  I hoped for help with the cemetery records and locations, and maybe with land records.  The Town Clerk was very helpful, although he wasn’t able to find a listing for Rebecca Snow in his database of deaths and burials.  He eventually pointed us to the Becket Room in the Town Hall, which is full of the Historical Commission’s pictures, etc.  It also possesses a copy of the Snow Genealogical Records, spiral bound so the 2 volumes open flat.  He made me copies of all of the pages with Snows on them, and greedily I wish I had asked for Wadsworths too.  I had not known that there was a copy of this resource in Town Hall (which was good to know since the hours the Hall is open are longer than the library).  The Clerk also asked others in Town Hall about cemeteries and came back with a report of a family cemetery on private land, somewhere in the vicinity of the intersection of two roads.  We could go looking to see if we could find anything.

The Clerk also told us about the “cattle pen” just up the road, that dated back to the earliest days.  Apparently if your animals

The Town Pound

The Town Pound

were found wandering in town, they would be penned in this central location so you could come find them and nothing would happen to them.  You can see how close to the present-day road this pen is.  According to “An Historic Tour of Becket, Massachusetts”, a small booklet done for the Becket Historical Commission, this Pound dates to 1768.  We spent the rest of that day looking at cemeteries and looking for the family one.

We went the next day to the Athenaeum and were welcomed by Zina and not only a copy of the Genealogical Records but also a number of boxes containing other resources about Snows.  Unfortunately, the original of the Genealogical Records is too fragile for public use any more, so I didn’t get to see it.

Genealogical Records of the Inhabitants of the Town of Becket

Genealogical Records of the Inhabitants of the Town of Becket

But this is a picture I took of part of one page.  You can see how clear and legible Miss Snow’s handwriting was.  (She taught school for 50 years, so it makes sense that she would have had a nice hand.)  Much of the other resources were more recent scrapbooks containing newsclippings which were interesting but hard to take pictures of.  I tried a number of them but getting a sharp focus was not possible with my camera and no tripod (and the plastic encasing the pages).

So the end of this story, so far, is that I haven’t yet found Rebecca Snow’s burial site or stone but I’m not giving up. I hope to get permission to go see the family cemetery, and hope that she might be there. I am also more and more curious about the land that Oliver might have owned. This will require a trip to Pittsfield Massachusetts where the county registry is. In Massachusetts the land records are kept at the county level (sometimes divided into 2 or more different registries depending on size). And while recent records have been digitized and are available online, the old ones haven’t been. I should have known this but didn’t really think about it. I had such wonderful luck in Connecticut with the Town Clerk having the old records that I wishfully thought the same might be true in Massachusetts.

Becket MA churchThis quintessential New England church is the First Congregational Church in Becket Massachusetts.  I think that it was built around 1850 as a replacement for the older church that had originally served this village.  There is a small plaque on the side, from the Becket Historical Commission that is dated 1850.  The cemetery behind the church, the Becket Center Cemetery,  is one of the oldest cemeteries in the village and has a number of Snows (my family), which is why I wanted to visit it.  So on a recent Sunday afternoon I set out toward western Massachusetts, with the goal of my friend’s house as an over-night stopping point.  Judy came up from southern Connecticut, so the three of us could go exploring the next day.  Luckily for me, both of them are interested in rambling through old cemeteries, whether they have family buried there or not – Judy because of her genealogical interest and Ann just because.  We all like reading the old stones.  Ann is also a photographer, and it was a good thing she was there.  Once again I had trouble with my camera’s battery running out in the middle of my picture-taking, even though it started out indicating a full charge.

I did find a number of Snow (and Wadsworth) headstones, some of which I know are relations and others which will require me to do more research.  Very satisfactory outcome!

This cemetery also has the distinction of having the best marker, from a genealogical perspective, that I have yet seen.  When we found it, we all stood in awe as we read the lines that detailed the family line of Origen Augustus Perkins back 5 generations, to the Perkins ancestorOrigen Augustus Perkins headstone who came to this country in 1631.  Read it and weep.

So what is my family connection?  Nearby were two stones, one for Augustus M. Perkins and one for Ruth Susan Snow wife of Augustus M. Perkins.  But I did not know offhand what relation Ruth Susan Snow would be.  I knew she would be a collateral line but didn’t know which one or how far back the connection would be.  And there was no indication of Augustus M’s relationship to Origen.

A little research once I returned home and had time to focus on the question shows that in all likelihood Augustus M. was a son of Origen’s.  Ruth Susan (or Susannah) was likely the daughter of Sylvanus Snow who was a brother of my Samuel Snow.

And I finally learned my lesson:  I immediately went and bought 2 new batteries for my camera.