A Brief History of Chewonki’s Eastside PastureWhen we decided to expand our farm & food system at Chewonki by reclaiming the eastside pasture, some of first questions that arose were: “What’s the right balance between field & forest? Conservation and sustainable food production?” These questions prompted us to dig deeper in the history of Chewonki Neck, and we discovered changes to this piece of land over the centuries have been profound and dramatic:
The Ice Age: 2.5 million-8,000 BCE
Throughout the Pleistocene Epoch, glaciers, sometimes up to a mile thick, advance and retreat across Maine multiple times.
First Peoples Arrive: 20,000-10,000 BCE
As the glaciers retreat, migratory humans flow into the eastern coastal areas that will one day be known as Maine and the Canadian Maritimes.
The Rise of the Abenaki: Between 10,000 BCE – 1600s AD
For thousands of years, human activity by first peoples takes place across Maine. The Eastern Abenaki occupy much of midcoast Maine. Primarily hunters and gatherers, they supplement their diet by farming and fishing. They make pottery and use birch bark to build shelters and canoes, in which they travel along coastal routes and inland waterways.
The French Arrive: 1605
During the summer of 1605, French geographer and cartographer Samuel de Champlain sails into Wiscasset harbor on one of his expeditions to explore economic opportunities involving fur and fish and to chart the coast. He meets with native people and they exchange gifts.
The English Arrive: 1605
The English, looking for a way to extend their country’s influence, send George Weymouth, in his ship the Archangel, to explore the northeast coast. He sails up the nearby Kennebec River, finding it rich in timber and fisheries. His partner, James Rosier, notes, “Plenty of salmon and other fishes of great bigness, good lobsters, rock-fish, plaice, and lumps, and, with two or three hooks, enough of cod and haddock to supply the ship’s company for three days.”
The Great Dying: 1616 – 1619
Diseases introduced by European explorers, including leptospirosis, smallpox, measles, typhus, and others, devastate the Abenaki and neighboring peoples, killing an estimated 70-90 percent in less than a decade.
The Wabanaki Confederacy: 1680s
Five Wabanaki tribes–the Abenaki (including those who dwell in Wiscasset), Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot–create an alliance with common interests. (The Wabanaki Confederacy was disbanded by the British in 1862 and revived in 1993.)
Sailor Davie Briefly Stakes a Claim: 1662
George Davie, an English sailor, buys Wiscasset land including Jewankee Neck and the next year begins to establish his home. Other settlements spring up around Wiscasset, too, but all wither as conflicts among first peoples, the English, and the French arise. Davie soon abandons his land. Eight decades of violence, spanning the French and Indian Wars, follow, quelling enthusiasm for new settlements.
The Dominion of New England: 1686
King James II combines the colonies of Connecticut, Massachusetts Bay Colony, Plymouth, Rhode Island, New York, New Hampshire, East Jersey, and West Jersey into a single political entity: the Dominion of New England.
Reverend Toppan and the Second English Settlement : 1734
Reverend Christopher Toppan of Massachusetts buys most of the land comprising southern Wiscasset, including Jewankee Neck.
Pownalborough, Inc.: 1760
The Town of Pownalborough, which includes what becomes Wiscasset in 1802, is incorporated.
Brickmaking and Mills: Late 1700s
On Jewankee Neck, clay is mined from what we know as “Pumphouse Ravine” for busy brickmaking operations. Timber is harvested to fuel the brick kilns and possibly for masts as well. The trees will grow back but the manmade ravine will remain. Water-powered sawmills and gristmills spring up along Montsweag Brook, Chewonki’s western boundary.
Parceled Out: 1868
This period sees the “high water mark” for farming on Chewonki Neck, with at least 13 separate parcels of land marked on town maps. Old stone walls, created by removing rocks from fields in the 1700s and 1800s, follow many of the boundary lines and still exist at Chewonki today.
Clearing and Farming: 1800s
Settlers clear most of the forest on Chewonki Neck to establish farms. The Bailey family on the north part of peninsula and the Nason family on the south part begin subsistence farms that by the 1880s are flourishing. The open land supports sheep, pigs, hens, cows, wheat, oats, and apple orchards. The farmers also trap smelts in tidal waters around the peninsula.
Shell Middens Uncovered: 1886
Massive shell middens, evidence of former (and extensive) coastal habitation by earlier people, are rediscovered in nearby Damariscotta as farmers push back fallow growth to expand fields. Middens on Chewonki Neck’s shoreline attest to the sustained presence of human habitation on the land.
Making Hay While the Sun Shines: 1902
On one day in August, farmer Clint Bailey records in his notebook that he took 34 ox-loads of hay from his fields.
Smelting in the Jewankee Weir: 1903
Bailey pencils that he’s sold $44.44 worth of smelts caught in the “Jewankee Weir.” He sells the fish locally and also ships them as far away as New York.
Clarence Allen Goes Snowshoeing: 1917
On a winter day in 1917, young educator Clarence Allen, on snowshoes, tours the former Nason sheep farm, which is for sale. He’s looking for a place to settle his camp for boys. “While standing under what would later be called the Old Pine Tree, he could see down the peninsula to the point and to Montsweag Stream; there were no trees to obscure the view,” writes historian Jesse Dukes in “Chewonki: Celebrating 90 Years.”
Establishing a Garden Legacy: 1940s onward
Since the early 1940s, gardens have been part of Chewonki. From the mid 1960s until 1991, Margaret Ellis champions cultivation, involving countless campers and students in growing vegetables.
Camp Chewonki Established: 1918
Allen buys the land for his camp, which he names Camp Chewonki.
Aerial View of Chewonki: about 1941
The earliest known aerial view of Chewonki Neck. Of particular note are newly planted rows of pine trees along the entry road (center, right) and, below them, the open hay field (light area) that will one day become the Center for Environmental Education and the tennis courts.
Salt Marsh Farm Revived: 1975-early 1980s
Students in Maine Reach, Chewonki’s first academic-year program, which lasts a decade, help restore the north pasture and expand the vegetable gardens. In 1981, Ted Bridge-Koenigsberg becomes the first full-time farmer on Chewonki Neck since the early part of the 20th century. He also identifies a woodlot and begins organized harvesting.
Mark Albee Outlines the Future: 1991
Farm manager Mark Albee (seen above with his wife, Ingrid, and their sons) outlines a detailed plan for the farm’s future, including fields, pastures, livestock, and sustainable farming techniques–and involving students every step of the way.
Harold Burnett and Woodlot Management: 1985
Harold Burnett (Maine Reach 3) joins Chewonki as the farm and woodlot manager. Burnett drafts Chewonki’s first forest management plan in 1988. (He is still Chewonki’s forest manager! In 2013, he updated the plan, which includes the current pasture restoration project.)
Food Philosophy Established: 2014
Chewonki farm staff, led by Farm Manager Megan Phillips, and cooks, led by Kitchen Manager Bill Edgerton, draft a Food Philosophy to guide farming, cooking, and program curriculum. The intention is to integrate teaching about the food cycle–production, preparation, consumption, and waste–into all Chewonki programs.
Sustainable Farm and Forest Grow Benefits: 2017
Farming at Chewonki now produces eggs, vegetables, meat, hay, manure, compost, wool, and firewood. The kitchen pasteurizes 2,148 gallons of milk a year for drinking, yogurt, and cheese. Maine Coast Semester and Elementary School students engage in work on the farm, in the kitchen, and in the woodlot. Campers help at the farm and maintain gardens. Outdoor Classroom students learn about the food cycle. The farm is fully integrated into academic programs and residential life.
Eastside Pasture Restoration Project: Late 2017-2019
Chewonki restores an 11-acre area of former Bailey farm pasture in order to increase vegetable and meat production, provide more educational opportunities, and create a more sustainable community food system.
Selective Cutting: December 2017
A local logger removes trees on the parcel, leaving some for shade and maintaining forest buffers along the shoreline, road, wetlands, and streams. Roundwood goes to sawmills and a pulp mill; pine logs to Maine and Canadian lumber companies; spruce and oak logs to a Maine buyer. Most treetops and branches go to a Maine biomass plant.
Lying Fallow: Winter 2018
The newly cleared ground lies fallow through the cold months.
Subsoiling: Spring 2018
A subsoiler machine grinds remaining stumps and brush with the top layer of soil, creating a field ready for seed.
New Growth: Spring and Summer 2018
The farm crew, with support from the facilities crew, amends the soil (based on soil test results), seeds a diversified pasture mix, and establishes fencing and other necessary infrastructure.
Grazing Begins: Spring 2019
Cows and sheep begin rotational grazing on the Eastside Pasture. Farmers convert some current pasture land on the west side of the farm to gardens.
Place-based learning is at the core of every Chewonki experience. We ask, “What is this place?” “What are the ecosystems?” and ”How can humans co-exist in a sustainable manner?” We look forward to studying, cultivating, and stewarding the new (old) pasture, a valuable addition to our modern-day campus. It is a link to the past and an opportunity for future learning–and good eating.