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More to the Story at Gate 30 – The Quabbin

Happy New Year!  I hope the year brings you and your loved ones peace, happiness and meaning.  (Well, meaning and happiness sometimes conflict it seems.  You will have to sort that one out yourself.)

If you’re familiar with my work or with the Quabbin area, you are almost certainly familiar with this iconic image from the Quabbin, the bridge at Gate 30. (Located in Petersham, MA, near the intersection of Routes 122 and 202.   Click on the images for a better view.)

This wonderful bridge was built in 1866 by Adolphus Porter for less than $50.  Mr. Porter accomplished his task with NO mortar or cement.  These are keystones.  This wounded Civil War Veteran obviously was a man of serious talent.  The bridge still stands after all these years.  This is the middle branch of the Swift River, a major source of water for the Quabbin. I have to imagine that it is vulnerable to flooding.  But, it still stands.

Strangely, Chris and I hadn’t ever gone beyond the bridge at Gate 30.  It’s so easy to get distracted by icons, even worthwhile ones such as Mr. Porter’s bridge.  But where does his bridge lead?  We had actually walked a bit down the road in the past.  To the right, heading south, are wet lands. Good places for Moose (when we’re not there of course), but not terribly dramatic, or at least that’s what I thought.  In fact, when you walk through Gate 30, you’re walking along the Orange Millington Road. Millington was one of the largest villages taken to create the Reservoir. “Where Millington was,” is now at the bottom of the northern end of the Reservoir, perhaps three miles due south of the entrance to Gate 30.  I had assumed, erroneously, that the walk south would be through fairly dense forest as it often is on the western side of the Reservoir.  There, you really can feel the absence of people or the press of history.  That isn’t the case at Gate 30.  We decided to follow the well worn road south.  Evidently we weren’t the only ones.

It appears that quite a few representatives of various species survived hunting season in reasonable shape.  But for us, the trees were telling the story.

As we walked, we quickly began to note the presence of character trees, with a growing sense of regularity, until our breath was literally taken away by this scene.

I’m not sure I was able to do justice with this image but the light struck these carefully arranged trees wonderfully, as was intended to be the case. Prosperous individuals planted, or had planted, these trees to provide shade to the traveler.  Along this stretch, quite a voluptuous amount of shade it would appear.  That was of course long ago.  Nature, and the Division of Conservation and Recreation, are now in charge. At the Quabbin the hand of man, or woman, and nature is so closely intertwined through history.  It is easy to be struck by the industrial level impact of the region’s transformation, even though it’s largely out of sight.

But in other ways, the interaction of man and nature is still evolving.  As we continued south we came to Bullard’s Corner.  If you haven’t looked through a guidebook, you’d be surprised to see the following.  (We expected it and were still surprised.)

In case you have trouble reading the sign, here’s a crop from the image above.

Quite a sentiment isn’t it?  There is in fact an orchard beyond the sign.  I didn’t get a great image of it unfortunately, and it’s hard to tell how fruit trees are doing this time of year.  But here’s a glimpse…

What was once a stop over for people, is now a stop over for wildlife.  This is Herrick’s Tavern, or what was Herrick’s Tavern.

I continue to find a sense of grace here that always impresses.  If you continue south along the Orange Millington Road you quickly come to Rattlesnake Hill.  (Love the name.)  Putatively, Rattlesnake Hill is the wildest part of the Quabbin.  More about that in a future post, maybe…

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sandra #

    Great image, voluptuous shade. Great trees. Thanks.

    January 4, 2011
  2. Jon Melick #

    Some of these trees may have been planted to provide sugar. It was said that the sap from six mature maple trees would supply a family’s sugar needs, in the days when granulated cane sugar was rare and very expensive.

    May 22, 2012
  3. Mike #

    Adolph’s porter was my great great great great grandfather. I would like to know where you found the information about how much he was paid to build the bridge. Adolphus was an interesting person, he joined the Army early in the Civil War, and was wounded and sent home. Sometime later, he rejoined the army again, and this time he lost a leg during the Battle of Petersburg. Adolphus built his “keystone” bridge with one leg and without using any mortar or power tools, an amazing accomplishment.

    July 26, 2013
    • Hello,
      Thank you so much for writing. I have been such a fan of his work and now that I know more, his courage in the fight for freedom. I know the source but am on the road and away from my library so don’t want to take any chances with my sometimes inaccurate memory. I should be able to get back to you next week. Do you live in the area? You can guess this but I would love to hear and write more about the history. Regardless, I will check my sources when I get home. Thanks again.

      July 26, 2013
  4. Gary #

    Gate 30 is actually located in New Salem, not Petersham.

    July 24, 2015
  5. Lana Pieczynski #

    Mr. Hunt, I really enjoyed your article and pictures! With the corona virus and shut down of work and school, I have been enjoying discovering some great trails around the Quabbin Reservoir. I took my 11 yr. old son with me today and we thoroughly enjoyed our hike down Gate 30. As we walked, my son and I both had a lot of questions about the original towns where the reservoir is now. Thanks so much for the information and photographs you shared. What an interesting piece of New England history. We still can’t get over how that bridge was built by 1 man with 1 leg and no mortar or sophisticated tools. SOO impressive. My son didn’t believe me when I told him the story – so showed him your article. 🙂

    Thanks again! – Lana

    April 2, 2020

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