Deed Rock & God's Ten Acres

Worcester Massachusetts

 

 

Field Investigation: 31 March 2007

by Daniel V. Boudillion

 

 

 

Note: this is the full text of the abbreviated version published in the book Weird Massachusetts

 

   Introduction

Once upon a time a kindly old man created one of the strangest sights to be seen in Worcester, Massachusetts.  High in hill country he dedicated ten acres to God.  And just to make sure God got it, he carved the 215 word legal document into a flat rock on the hillside.  It is unknown if God ever took delivery of the parcel, but Deed Rock remains as an enduring testament to his unique faith.

 

Just as enduring, modern rumors of dark curses and hangings swirl around the area.   What is the story with Godís Ten Acres?  And why is it apparently the Devilís Playground today?  Lets start at the beginning. . .

   Solomon Parsons

Solomon Parsons Jr. was born in 1800, son a Revolutionary War veteran, in Leicester, Massachusetts.  When he was 12 years old, his father bought a farm in Worcester, which Solomon would call his home for the long length of his extraordinary life. 

 

Solomon Jr. came from a line of religious men.  His grandfather Rev. David Parsons was the first Puritan minister in Leicester.  His father Solomon was one of the original members of the First Baptist Church in Worcester in 1812.  The newly formed Baptist movement, far from being the pillars of the community they are today, where very much looked at askance and under considerable negative pressure from the Puritan Church who clashed with their New Testament teachings.  This maverick religious streak was inherited by Solomon Jr., and he was one of the founders and pioneers of the First Methodist Episcopal Church in Worcester. 

 

In his domestic life he was an ardent and successful farmer and took "especial delight" in the cultivation of the soil on the family farm in Valley Falls in Worcester.  He joined the local militia and was active from 1821 to 1831 as an officer in the Worcester Light Infantry, first as a Sergeant, and later was commissioned as a Lieutenant in 1827.  He married the granddaughter of a Hessian soldier in 1828 and had 2 sons and 3 daughters. 

   Enter, William Miller

Like so many people of that era, his life was forever changed by the Prophet of Doom, William Miller.  Mr. Miller was a Vermont farmer-turned-preacher who prophesied the second appearing of Christ and the imminent end of the world.  His whirlwind tours across New England where the thundered his end of the world message in the late 1830ís and early 1840ís fired the imagination of the time. Whole communities were taken with the Millerite fever, as the Second Adventists were popularly known. 

 

Solomon Jr. was a man who valued religious liberty and free-thinking above all things.  In the free-for-all of the open air Millerite meetings he found a home that suited his free-ranging mind and maverick religious feelings. 

   A Man at Midlife

Solomon Jr. heard the Millerite message at midlife, sometime prior to 1840, and many changes ensued.  He severed his connection with the Methodist Church.  He became a pacifist (a position that intensified twenty years later into a fierce hatred of war when he lost his namesake son in the Civil War).  He entered into a strict vegetarian diet that he practiced for the rest of his life, for more than 50 years.  He regarded animals as created by God and that killing them for any purpose was a sin.  He used no leather in his apparel or in his equipage, going so far as to harness his team with ropes and chains instead. 

 

In 1840 he bought a ten acre tract high in the wilds and hills of western Worcester as a sanctuary to God.  How he came to choose this tract is unknown. 

   God's Ten Acres

The ten acres were high on a small plateau on the eastern slope near the top of Tetasset Hill, reached by a winding footpath.  A magnificent slope of jumbled boulders rises from the plateau to the hill top high above.  Tetasset is a Nipmunk Indian name, but the Colonists soon renamed the hill Rattlesnake Hill.  It was perfect cover for rattlers with plenty of basking sites facing the rising sun and deep hollows for winter dens.  The rattlesnakes were wiped out in Worcester by 1800, but Rattlesnake Hill, or more specifically, Rattlesnake Ledge (as the slope itself was called) was the last pocket of rattlers in the town. 

 

Rattlesnake Ledge

 

In 1840, this wild woodland plateau was one of those beautiful sylvan glades where, according to George Maynard in 1903, "the devout soul can fitly seek communion with its Maker."  A first-hand account in 1870 by T. W. Higgins describes it as, "a dark, dense tract of second-growth forest, masked here and there with grapevines, studded with rare orchids, and pierced by a brook that vanishes suddenly where the ground sinks away and lets the blue distance in."

 

Upon paying $125 to William G. Hall in 1840 for this beautiful tract, Solomon had Hall deed over the parcel to God, rather then himself.  And to immortalize the intended enduring nature of the transaction to perpetually dedicate the site to the service of God, he had Sylvester Ellis carve the deed into a flat boulder in the shadow of Rattlesnake Ledge.  This 215 word inscription must have taken months if not years to carve.  The workmanship and depth of carving was so carefully done that 170 or so years later the inscription is still as clear and legible as when it was first meticulously chipped into the rock. 

 

   Deeded To God

The deed reads exactly as follows, as transcribed at the location by my friend Scurv Dawg on March 31, 2007:

 

"Know all men by these presents that I William G. Hall

Of Worcester in the County of Worcester and Commonwealth

of Mass in consideration of 125 dollars paid by the hand

of Solomon Parsons of the same Worcester the receipt where

of I do hereby acknowledge do hereby give, grant, sell

and convey unto God through the Laws of Jesus Christ

which are made known to man by the record of the New

Testament recorded by Matthew Mark Luke John the

Evangelist this land to Governed by the above mentioned

Laws and together with the spirit of God the said tract of

Land is situated in Worcester above mentioned the South

Westerly part bounded as follows viz beginning at the southwest corner

Of the lot at a stake and stones by land of E Daniels

Thence easterly by land of S Perry about 97 Ĺ rods to a

Corner of the fence thence northerly by land of L Cates

About 54 rods to a corner of the fence thence westerly

By land of the heirs of J Fowler about 24 rods to

A chestnut tree in the wall at the corner of the

Land of said Daniels and a heap of stones by the

Side of it thence southerly to the bound first mentioned."

 

ē For a detailed image of the engraving on the rock, click here.

 

   A Legal Document?

Was this deed carved in the rock even a legal document? Despite its time-consuming and meticulous carvings the deed had legal flaws.  For starters, William Hall did not have his signature, execution date or an acknowledgment chiseled into it.  Even if the rock was loaded and hauled to the Registry for recording, it would not be transcribed into the record books because it wasnít a "duly executed and acknowledge instrument," even though Hall apparently relinquished possession of the property. Then there is the secondary issue of God taking delivery of the deed and possession of the property. 

 

It is the realm of the theologian to determine if God took possession, but in the eyes of the law, the only apparent possessor was Solomon. It can be argued that Solomon, as paying consideration to Hall for God was thus Godís agent, and that the conveyance created a "Resulting Trust" on Solomonís behalf.  On the other hand, it may also be argued that Solomon was effectively a squatter on the site.  However, he made "open and notorious use" of the property for more than 40 years.  He would have had an adverse possession claim to the property, especially since Hall, who held "record title," failed to bring an action to recover the land within 20 years. However, anyone reviewing the Registry of Deeds records would conclude that William G. Hall was the "record owner.

 

 

An Analysis of the Legitimacy of the Deed, by Scurv Dawg

 

The Massachusetts Bay Colony was the first to enact a recording act so that "Every man may know what estate or interest other men may have in houses, land or other hereditaments" and was initially established to protect a grantee where a grantor remained in possession. The Massachusetts recording statue was enacted in 1652 and the law provided that no conveyance would be valid unless it was "By deed in writing under hand and seal" accompanied by livery of seisin, or the acknowledgement and recording of the deed. In 1697 the recording statue was amended and provided that a recorded deed was valid to pass title without any other act or ceremony. However if a deed was recorded without an acknowledgment it was not valid except as to the grantor and the grantorís heirs. In 1836 this last part of the statue was revised to include the grantor, the grantorís heirs, the grantorís devisees, and persons who have actual notice. The purpose of the revised statute is to prevent fraud where the grantee (having actual notice of a prior conveyance) who takes a subsequently executed deed could defeat the title of a prior valid deed simply by being the first to record.

 

William G. Hall did not have his name, date or an acknowledgment chiseled in Deed Rock. Even if the rock was loaded and hauled to the Registry for recording it would not be transcribed into the record books for because it wasnít a duly executed and acknowledge instrument. Whether the Almighty was able to take "livery of seisin" would be a theological debate. . .

 

To read the entire article, click here

 

 

   Forest Sanctuary

Deeding the land to God was only the beginning.  The real purpose of the site was to erect a Temple to God, where He could be worshiped feely and spontaneously.  This structure was called the Forest Sanctuary and was built by hand by Solomon himself.  At the height of Millerite end-of-the-world fever in the early 1840ís, Solomon began construction of a building intended, he said, to "escape the wrath to come, and should endure even amid a burning and transformed earth." 

 

As he related to T. W. Higgins at the time, "if the first dispensation had been strong enough to endure there would have been no need of a second," and he therefore ďresolved to build for his part something which should posses permanence at least.Ē 

 

This Temple is no longer standing and is described in several varying accounts.  Higgins, an eyewitness, describes it as follows:

 

"There are four low stone walls three feet think, built solidly together without cement and without trace of tools.  The end walls are nine feet high (the sides being lower) and are firmly united by a strong iron ridge-pole, perhaps fifteen feet long which is imbedded at each end in the stone.  An arch in the terminal wall admits the visitor to the small roofless temple, and he sees before him, imbedded in the center of the floor, a large smooth block of white marble, where the deed of this spot of land was to have been recorded, in hopes to preserve it even after the globe should have been burned and renewed.  But not a stroke of this inscription was ever cut."  In another account the structure was further said to be flanked by two stone towers, four feet square and seven feet high. 

 

A more recent description, by Ivan Sandrof in a 1947 issue of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, differs from Higgins in startling ways.  He begins with the Temple being 25 feet square, but then goes on to contradict both Higgins and himself by saying, "Six huge pillars, arranged about 12 feet apart, formed the support of a hexagonal structure."

 

Footings for temple, marked in red

 

Field investigation reveals 5 pillar footings, but these are in a row, not in a hexagonal figure.  Both accounts agree that the entrance was through a stone gateway, and that the roof was constructed of large sections of sheet iron.  Solomon had designed the Temple to be made of iron and so that it would survive the impending cataclysm. 

 

However, it did not survive its own construction methods.  Higgins indicates that the building was made without cement, but Sandrof says it was, albeit a mortar lacking horse hair binder due to Solomonís vegetarian beliefs.  This mortar lacked durability and crumbled away easily.  A local legend says that during one particularity spirited meeting in the Temple, a sudden windstorm "unroofed and unwalled the sacred edifice." 

 

However that may be, Forest Sanctuary Temple was no longer with a roof at the time of Higginsís writing in 1870.  Higgins goes on to comment on the mystical abandoned feel of the roofless woodland temple, "There is a little monument [Forest Sanctuary], Öwhich always seemed to me as wild a memorial to forgotten superstitions as the traveler finds amid the forests of Japan." 

   The Great Disappointment

William Miller predicted the end of the world to happen between the vernal equinoxes of 1843 and 1844.  During this heady time of both repentance and religious exuberance, Solomon and his fellow Millerites met for prayer and worship and awaited while wearing white ascension robes the bodily flight to heaven and the worlds demise. 

 

Solomon also spent 1843 selling off property.  Like many Millerites, he appears to have been jettisoning personal belongings that he considered unnecessary including land holdings, prior to being taken up to heaven.  In that year he sold off 4 parcels, a move reenacted many times that year by other Second Adventist brethren. 

 

Forest Sanctuary Today

 

When the world did not end on the final predicted date of October 22, 1844, many Millerites abandoned religion in the shock and disappointment of that emotionally catastrophic night.  However, Solomon and his friends continued to revere Forest Sanctuary as a place of worship and continued to meet there for many years to come, if not as Millerites.  Indeed, for approximately 50 years, Solomon continued to worship God at the Temple every Sabbath "according to the dictates of his conscience" with any who wished to climb the forest path to join him there on the log seats among the vines.  According to Maynard, "thousands Ö in those long years visited that forest shrine." 

   The Hermitage

Solomon Parsons passed away in 1893 at the age of 93.  Godís Ten Acres came into the possession of a business tycoon, Abel Swan Brown.  However, it was not a linear change of hands or chain of title.  Rather, it seems that Brown simply started building on the site sometime after 1883 with no legal claim to it. 

 

Brown owned more than 300 acres surrounding Godís Ten Acres,  and had a total acreage of more then 650 acres in the Rattlesnake Hill area.  He chose the little plateau of Solomonís Forest Sanctuary as his building site.  He named the estate Wildwood and built there a luxurious two and half story summer home called the Hermitage, named after the little hermit shack where Solomonís nephew, Andrew Clark, lived like Thoreau for several years in the late 1870ís.  (Clark was recuperating from a serious illness at the time and sustained himself by playing a cabinet organ for a dime a listen.) 

 

  

Hermitage foundation (left), and Hermitage barn foundation (right)

 

As early as 1886 (seven years before Solomonís death), the City of Worcester Assessors Atlas shows the Hermitage and its attendant buildings on the site.  However, Brown never had title to the land.  Legal title to the property was never fully obtained until after Brown died and his heirs were trying to sell it in 1904.  To do so, the heirs of Hall had to issue a "quit claim" to the heirs of Brown.  Solomon heirs deeded their interest in the property to Brown prior to his death but this deed was not sufficient as Hall was still the record owner.  God as grantee in the Deed from Hall, never took delivery, never recorded his deed, nor did he ever make an attempt to clarify his chain of title through subsequent conveyances or by court order. God may have been able to exert some authority over his land if he had stepped forward as beneficiary of the Resulting Trust prior to the conveyance by the heirs of Parsons but, alas, he did not.

 

Worcester Assessors 1886 Map

 

It is unlikely that Brown would have started construction while either Solomon was worshiping at the temple or when Clark was living in the hermit shack.  Because the Assessors Atlas shows a fully constructed Hermitage complex on Godís Ten Acres by 1886, and it is recorded that Clark had returned to civilization by 1883, we can infer that Solomon had stopped climbing the old trail to Forest Sanctuary by then as well.  It would have been at this point that Brown simply moved in and began building. 

 

Brownís Hermitage included a stable, its own gas plant, kennels for his 50 dogs, terraced gardens, rock gardens, fountains, decorative ponds, and waterfalls.  The old forest trail to the Sanctuary was abandoned and a road was carved along the hillside all the way up to the Hermitage.  This required building sections of roadway into the steep hillsides that were 15 foot high, hundred foot lengths.  Brown named this dirt road Swan Avenue after the Swan branch of the Brown family.

 

The Forest Sanctuary had either fallen apart from the mortar problems or had been demolished by Brown at the time of his construction.  Brown also cleared the little plateau of trees, using much of the timber for the Hermitage.  This opened up a spectacular view but also removed the last visual connection with Solomonís woodland place of worship. 

   Of Hangings & Curses

On March 31, 2007, my friend Scurv Dawg and I made the trip to Deed Rock and Godís Ten Acres.  I had heard rumors of the rock for several years, but only got a good description of the location from "Mac," a Worcester fellow who had emailed me earlier in the year about it. 

 

Deed Rock is not an easy place to find if you have never been there.  Even with directions, topographical maps, and aerial survey photos, Scurv Dawg and I spent a good hour among the foundations of the Hermitage looking for the rock.

 

Map of God's Ten Acres, Deed Rock is marked in red

This map will save you a lot of trouble

(click to enlarge)

 

However, we did however find the Hanging Tree.  Local legend knows Deed Rock as "Will Rock."  In fact, all the correspondents who have written me about the rock have called it Will Rock.  It is only in researching the subject at the Worcester Historical Museum that I learned that its historical name is Deed Rock.  Local legend has it that the "will" carved thereon is from a man who hung himself from a tree at a fork in the road where the old lane enters the Hermitage, thus "cursing" this area.  There actually is a short chain hanging from a fork high in that tree, mute testimony to superstition. 

 

  

The "Hanging Tree" and close up of metal chain

(Click to enlarge)

 

About 1000 feet further down Swan Avenue on the right is Paris Avenue.  Here I have been told that in the 1960ís there were two suicides by hanging and an attempted hanging.  Both suicides happened within five years of each other and both victims were discovered by their younger brothers.  Later a teenage girl attempted suicide there by hanging as well.  This legend, as described by a former Paris Avenue resident who knew one the suicides as a boy, is that they were victims "of the woods up there Ė the Will Rock area - and the curse that was left behind." 

 

According to a Worcester document called A History of Your City Streets, there have indeed been suicides in the Wildwood area after the Hermitage burned down in 1942: "Police occasionally swung up there and returned with a suicide."  This is an oddly worded sentence and I imagine it to mean that more then one victim has been retrieved from the old Hermitage area. 

 

Further, Abel Swan Brown died quite suddenly in 1899 at age 54, according to his obituary, "at the Hermitage, his summer home" after a "sickness of less then a weekís duration."  The obituary notes that a doctor was in attendance.  However, this strikes me as the same careful wording and protective cover given suicide victims in obituaries today. This conclusion regarding Brownís passing is solely mine and only a conjecture. 

 

It appears that the modern local legends are a mingling of Solomonís stone-carved deed (the "Will") and Brownís death (possibly a suicide).  Add to this the dereliction of the property and subsequent suicides in the area, and it is no surprise that the reputation of the place has darkened. 

 

If nothing else, the location went from a Temple to God to a Temple to Mammon.  Brown was one of the wealthiest men of his era and he demolished Forest Sanctuary and turned the plateau into a rich manís playground.  Fifty years after Solomon created a temple to God, it still stood.  Fifty years after Brown demolished it to create a temple to himself, it had burned, the property fallen to ruin and become the haunt of suicides. 

 

Clearly, Godís Ten Acres have undergone a transformation of a very dark kind.  Perhaps it would be better named the Devilís Acres these days.  I canít say if it is cursed, but the old Hermitage area and the Paris Avenue area are as uncomfortable as described by the residents.  It honestly wouldnít surprise me if the restless spirits of suicides, or darker things, roamed the area. 

   Rocks & Ruins

In our search for Solomonís deed to God, we eventually wandered back to Swan Road, and there we noticed the small sign and arrow pointing to the Deed Rock trail.  A scant minute later we were standing at Deed Rock.  It was well worth the journey and search.  Unlike the Hermitage area, Deed Rock is a serene and contemplative place.  A spring-fed brook softy burbles as it passes beneath Deed Rock itself.  The view though the trees is amazing and Rattlesnake Ledge is both imposing and impressive. 

 

Spring Fed Brook

 

High up near the top of Rattlesnake Ledge, overlooking Godís Ten Acres, is a cave made of jumbled boulders.  The foreyard of the cave at its opening appears to have been built up with earth to make a flat platform in the steep hillside.  Sitting within the mouth of the cave the view above the trees easterly across Worcester is spectacular.  This certainly would have been a place known to Solomon as its mouth is clearly visible from the Temple location below.  Within the cave the initials L. M. are carved.  (click here for picture of initials.)

 

  

Cave & View from Rattlesnake Ledge

 

The local Nipmunk Indians who named the hill Tetasset would have known this cave as well, although that was rattlesnake territory at the time.  There is legend that a Sachem lived on this hill near the spring in a tribe of about 100 people. 

 

Below on the plateau, all that is left of Brownís Hermitage are the stone foundations and a small pond.  There is nothing serene or contemplative about this location these days.  It is a stuffy claustrophobic place, dumped with trash and junk, and I felt uneasy the entire time I was there.  It is the kind of place you expect to find trouble, even at 10 oíclock in the morning.  I was relived when we left.

 

Hermitage Pond

 

The site of Solomonís Temple is marked by a few pillar footings, and unless you know what you are looking at, they are unremarkable.  Gone is the Temple built with human hands, but the spiritual essence of Natureís Temple still remains, even amid the wider negative field of the Hermitage, if you are sensitive to such things.  Indeed, an old Beech tree standing nearby, which knew in its youth the days of worship here, still has within its aura the whisper of Solomonís Forest Temple and its cleaner, purer, vibrations. 

 

Gone are the "Thou shalt not kill" commandment at the Temple door and the entrance slabs that proclaimed, "Peace on earth," and "Good will to men." Though the reminders are gone, we know that such messages should first and foremost be written in our hearts anyway. 

 

"Uncle Solomon" was a "quiet, thoughtful farmer, long-bearded, low voiced, and with that aspect of wild refinement which and ideal life brings forth even in quiet uninstructed men."  He deeded this land to God, and had that deed carved in stone, in the hopes to preserve this place "even after the globe should have been burned and renewed."  Today, the Worcester Airport Commission owns it, and has placed it under a conservation restriction, prohibiting its development in perpetuity.  Solomon Parsons would be pleased with that. 

 

Deed Rock is located at approximately these GPS coordinates: 42.2560N, -71.8620W.  If you are visiting you will notice a lot of trash in the Hermitage area.  Please bring a garbage bag or two and do a quick clean up.  Uncle Solomon would thank you. 


 

 

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Copyright © 2007, 2009 by Daniel V. Boudillion

 

 

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