Chapman Sawmill Site, Pachaug SF

Posted By on August 22, 2016

Chapman Sawmill Site, Pachaug SF

3.7 miles; North Stonington, CT

Wow. This was sooo much fun, but in a very different way from the suspension bridge hike. First off, I got to see a part of the Pachaug State Forest I’ve never been in before, and it’s less than 4 miles from my house, to boot. Second, it’s a very interesting historical site.

Back story: 6 years ago, I created a map for the North Stonington Historical Society newsletter for an article that explored the site of an old sawmill in what is now the Pachaug State Forest. The article was titled “Locating Chapman’s Saw Mill And Puzzling Over the Outside Hearth.” Here’s a brief exerpt:

Last year during a Thanksgiving visit to the town, I took some time to investigate the remains of cellar holes of  long-abandoned homes and other structures in the Chapman Hill and Wyassup areas. The most challenging and intriguing find was locating the remains of the saw mill and a nearby dwelling owned by the Chapman family for a century or more along Wyassup Brook, about 3,000 feet south of where it crosses Wyassup Road.

I learned of  the saw mill’s existence thanks to the 1868 map of the town, which indicated, simply “S. Mill.” I am pretty certain that this mill was owned by the large Chapman family, which first began settling the area in the 1740s and by 1800 evidently owned much of the land around Chapman Hill and surrounding areas. […] Unlike most mills in town, which were located near a highway to facilitate the movement of  materials to and from the mill, this mill was located in a comparatively remote area, and I imagine the Chapman sawmill existed to satisfy lumber needs for kin and other nearby folk.

Here’s the map I made to accompany the article (click for a pdf version).

Chapman Mill Map

Chapman Mill Map

Notice the included photos of an old foundation with an external fireplace, and the rock-lined banks of Wyassup Brook. Those were the spots I was most interested in finding. Again, from the Historical Society article:

Deciding it was time to return, I began walking north, up the hill on the west side of the brook. Cresting the hill, I was surprised to find the cellar hole of  an old dwelling; looking closely at the ruins of the house, I noticed that the tumbledown chimney mound had a well-cut fireplace on the outside, facing to the west, away from the brook. This was quite a mystery, as I can’t understand why the builder would have wanted his heat source on the outside of the house. As the photograph reveals, the hearth appeared to be put together well, and looking up the chimney, I saw that someone had cut away at the granite top piece to improve the movement of  smoke up the chimney. I have to admit, though, that I’m stumped—I can’t even speculate why someone would put their fireplace on the outside with no evident secondary source of heat for the interior of the dwelling. The Chapmans would have been unlikely to have spent the time constructing a chimney for just a storage building. Does anyone have a solution to this riddle?

I assumed I’d chosen a bad place to start my explorations from, as there was no clear path from the old woods road, labelled Chapman Road, to the brook, much less to the old house site. Apparently, though, I wasn’t alone in having to bushwhack, as the piece’s author found it equally tough going from his starting point on Wyassup Road.  I made my way to the brook, and then bushwhacked my way upstream to the mill site, and then up a steep embankment to the house site. Bottom line—I found it! And then, like an idiot, rather than retrace my steps, which were tough but not ridiculously so, I decided to attempt a straight line back to the woods road. Suffice it to say I came out of the ordeal rather the worse for wear… all scratched up and with twigs and bits of crap in my hair and clothes. There are places in the woods that are pretty much impenetrable. I know. I’ve been through them. (I’ve included a map at the bottom of this post that illustrates my travels.)

Cinnabar Chanterelles

Cinnabar Chanterelles

Before I went all Daniel Boone and blazed a path through the underbrush, I walked along the aforementioned Chapman Road and along the way I found a nice little stand of these Cinnebar Chantarelle mushrooms (Cantharellus cinnabarinus), but they were tiny—way too small to collect.

Old Sawmill Site

Old Sawmill Site

I think this is the old sawmill site. It’s a little hard to see in the photo, but there are some very solid-looking built-up walls along the stream here.

View Upstream

View Upstream

Again, a little hard to make out, but this is a view up Wyassup Brook. You can kind of make out the rock work lining the banks. Oh, and you can see how tangled and messy the stream banks were to try to follow. I ended up crossing the brook in a couple of places where the going was easier on the far bank. And for once I was grateful for the drought! It would have been much more difficult crossing the brook if the water was at its normal level. Also, you can see the steep-sided embankment on the left. The top of that is where the old mill house site could be found.

House Site with External Fireplace

House Site with External Fireplace

And here it is! I was so happy to find this, I can’t tell you. It was really hard going to get here, and turned out to be even harder going to get back.

Old Hemlock with Reishi Mushrooms attached

Old Hemlock with Reishi Mushrooms attached

On the way back I did manage to find this amazing old hemlock snag with a massive amount of Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma tsugae). They were, unfortunately, very old, and very high up. Way over my head, to be sure! They would have been worth collecting, otherwise. The Reishi mushroom family has been used as medicine for millennia, and has been found to promote wound healing and also to have anti-tumor properties. It’s basically inedible, because it’s so hard and woody, but teas and tinctures are made from it.

Here is the map of my travels through the woods. Good luck to anyone who tries to follow the “bushwhacked” part! As I mentioned above, Chapman Road is an old woods road, and can be found along the southwestern edge of an area of “rabbit-tat,” or forest which has been cleared to promote early successional growth to provide habitat for the New England Cottontail rabbit. It crosses a gas pipeline easement about 1/4 mile in.

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