By the mid-1800’s more than 70 percent of the land in New England had been cleared for agricultural purposes such as livestock and crops. According to the United States Department of Agriculture Statistics of Fences in 1871, out of a total of approximately five million acres of land in Massachusetts [link], almost half was fenced. In Essex County (where Beverly is), seventy-five percent of fences were made of stone. According to the 2002 Census of Agriculture, less than ten percent of Massachusetts’ acres were farmland.
David R. Foster and John F. O’Keefe’s New England Forests Through Time: Insights from the Harvard Forest Dioramas (see Harvard Forest Project website) demonstrates how the New England forest landscape has changed over time. These stages include:
1. Pre-European settlement; 2. Early clearing (around 1740); 3. The Height of Forest Clearance and Agriculture (1830); 4. Farm Abandonment (1850); 5. “Old-Field” White Pine Forest on Abandoned Farmland (1910); 6. “Old-Field” White Pine Succeeded by Hardwoods (1915); 7. A Vigorously Growing Forest of Hardwoods (1930); and 8. The Modern Forest Landscape (Second Growth Tree Chart )
These post-abandonment successions help the investigator to determine the previous agricultural function of the stonewalls. The stonewalls remain while the landscape is continuously changing. Allport’s Sermons in Stone mentions that particular types of agricultural uses have left a hint of themselves by the succeeding post-abandonment plant life. For example, white pine grows well on land used previously as pasture. Using Allport’s examples as a model, we then created a tree and flora identification chart to help decipher the historical secrets of successive forest growth.