Piled high throughout various New England towns are some ancient-looking stone enclosures. While most have been abandoned for centuries, they actually used to serve an important purpose many centuries ago. Read along to learn about these mysterious stone enclosures and why they still exist today.
They're Easy To Miss
One thing people may miss while in New England are the unique rock and stone walls, which are usually found near main roads.
A woman named Lura Provost knows quite a bit about these formations. She's the co-president of the Westwood Historical Society and has one of these rock walls close by.
Entering Westwood, Massachusetts
The stone formation near Provost is on High Street in the suburban town of Westwood, Massachusetts. It's hard to see at first glance, but it stands quite tall at a little over five-feet high.
Provost exclaimed that many people don't bother to learn about the stones, but she knows there's a lot of history behind them.
They Date Back To Colonial Times
New England has a lot of early American history, so it makes sense that these rock walls date back to colonial times.
Every stone enclosure that has been found is open at the top and usually has a circular or square shape. Most have a gap on the side where a gate would go.
These Enclosures Were Necessary
During colonial America, these formations were crucial for a functioning community and were usually required by law. Their proper name is town pounds.
They were given this name because they were a way to fence in livestock. Animals such as sheep, pigs, and cattle were left out to graze around the land.
Animals Were Brought To The Pound
Similar to the idea of dog pounds, livestock were brought to the town pounds if they were found on someone's private property.
These animals would then be looked after by a town-appointed pound-keeper or pound-master until the owner came to claim them. Owners would need to pay a hefty fee to retrieve their livestock.
Prices Would Vary, Depending On The Animal
Each animal at a town pound was given a certain amount of days it could stay and be retrieved by the owner for a fee.
For example, horses, mules, cows, and pigs could stay for a few days and be bailed out for a little over 12 cents. Geese could only stay for one day and would cost eight cents.
Don't Think About Stealing The Animals
With all of these animals left in the town pounds, it may seem tempting to try and steal them. The pound-keeper made sure that didn't happen and would fine people seven dollars for trying to do so.
If animals were unclaimed, they would later be taken to auction and sold.
Pounds Were Required By Law
The earliest recording of town pounds was in 1635 when the court of Massachusetts called for towns in the colonies to build them.
Pounds were one of the most important parts of the community and were often discussed and voted on in local town meetings. Also, there were several requirements that needed to be met.
Building A Long-Lasting Pound
Pounds were meant to last and the fact that they've been around for well over 300 years proves it. Many colonies had certain guidelines that needed to be met for a proper pound.
For example, Vermont pounds needed to be 30-square-feet with six-foot-high walls that were four feet thick at the bottom and two feet thick at the top.
Crops Needed Animals And Vice Versa
Many farmers went by the saying that a pound needed to be "horse high, bull strong, and hog tight." Crops needed animals to grow and animals needed crops to survive.
This meant that communities made sure to have people looking after the enclosures at all times. They would hire fence-viewers who would earn two dollars a day to keep watch over the animals.
Town Pounds Started To Dissolve
By the late 1800s, there was no longer much of a need for town pounds. The land was starting to be divided and farmers were able to keep their crops and animals on their private property.
The majority of the pounds have been removed, but the ones that still remain are a symbol of early American life.
People Lost Interest
One of the most prominent town pounds that's still around is the one in Westwood, Massachusetts. It's shown on their town seal that depicts a stone square with an oak tree.
Even though this pound was built in 1700, Provost admitted that barely anyone asks her about it. She believes people in Westwood don't have much interest in history.
Moving Over To Sterling, Connecticut
While Provost didn't have much luck getting people interested in the Westwood pound, things were quite the opposite in Sterling, Connecticut.
Megan McGory Gleason, the president of the Sterling Historical Society, receives many inquiries about the Ye Olde Voluntown pound. This pound was built in 1722 and was rediscovered in 1931 when highway workers saw it as they were clearing some brush.
Ye Olde Voluntown Pound Today
The 400-year-old pound in Sterling is one of the oldest and most rare in the country and is now used as a picnic area.
Local history buffs had a lot of interest in it and created a Facebook page to spread the word. They also make sure it gets regular up-keep.
Pounds Built The Foundation For Modern Life
According to Gleason, the erection of the Ye Olde Voluntown pound led to the creation of multiple pounds across other areas of New England. Once these areas had a pound, they would start wanting their own church, school, and more.
Pounds became a foundation upon which modern roads, governments, and laws are made.
Some Towns Try To Keep Their Pounds Alive
While pounds are mainly a thing of the past, cities across New England have fun traditions where they try and keep the culture alive.
Westwood, Massachusetts and Hampton Falls, New Hampshire still appoint a pounds-keeper. Hampton Falls also named their governor and his wife hog reeves, which were people who took care of rogue swine.
How Many Town Pounds Still Exist?
While there are very few town pounds left in the United States, the ones that still exist help people understand the history behind them.
There are only about 100 pounds left in the New England area, but there are some in other parts of the U.S. and world. One was recently found in a Nevada ghost town.
There Could Be More Out There
Pounds are not as nearly as prevalent as they used to be during colonial times, but they aren't completely extinct.
There may be many more out there that have become hidden or buried under trees, vines, or other rubble. Some people actively spend time trying to find pounds and will report their findings online.
Another Pound In Sterling
One of the most well-known pounds is located in Sterling, Connecticut, but a couple made a recent discovery in their backyard.
They saw a stone structure that looked as if it could be a cemetery. After finding an 18th century hand-forged animal harness buckle, they spoke to the Sterling Historical Society and confirmed it was a pound likely from 1735.
A Pound In Your Own Backyard
Since pounds are not completely obsolete, it may be possible for people to find one in their own town.
These once thriving structures allowed farmers to find their important livestock, which was essential to the well-being of the community. The fact that about 100 of these are still intact allows them to be part of present-day America.