New England has many rocks with mysterious and cryptic messages scaring their surface. One of the more recognized is ‘Dighton Rock’ located along Route 24 in Dighton Massachusetts . Also off of 24, buried in the forests of East Bridgewater , is a strange rock known as Minister’s Rock that not many are aware of. In this case, the words can clearly be read by anyone and the person scribed them is not a mystery at all. What inspired this man to sprawl these words on a boulder is what puzzles me.
A few years ago I had heard that there was an interesting rock in the town of East Bridgewater . The rock itself is the standard type of New England bedrock sitting on a lonely hillside in the middle of nowhere. What makes this rock so unusual is the poem that was brazened onto its side. Also on the lower left was a small notch with three lines of Roman Numerals carved marking the year it was created, 1862. The man responsible for this granite enigma was Reverend Timothy Otis Paine. Rev. Paine was a student of poetry, sculpting and oriental languages and a native of Winslow Maine. He moved to Bridgewater where he became the minister of the Swedenborgian Church in Elmwood. At his time he was considered to be the most educated Egyptologist in America . In 1897, over 30 years after he chiseled the poem into stone, a volume of his poetry was published. For a man of such notoriety, I was surprise to find very little written about his life in Bridgewater . I can only assume there is much more about this interesting man waiting to be uncovered.
Finding the general location of the rock was not difficult at all, but actually locating it within 10 acres of forest was more of a challenge. The hill covered spacious pine forest, making it difficult to spot any old trails. Peppered between these tall pines are many outcroppings of bedrock. With no actual clue as to where the
correct rock was, made it necessary to leave no stone unturned. As the day was coming to an end, I discovered the rock hidden in the brush along the SW side of the hill. Though the letters are still deeply etched into the stone after decades of weathering, a hiker could easily miss this lonely monument. Without the help of the setting sun, the letters seem to blend into the gray of the boulder’s uneven and lichen cover surface.
When I sat down on the forest floor to relax, I found that the boulder provided a comfortable place to rest my back. The curved face of the boulder, the slope of the hill and soft pine needle on the forest floor provided the perfect natural seat. It provided a wonderful view of the swamp nestled in the valley below. As I sat watching the sun setting, I suddenly realized why Rev. Paine may have written these words:
This rock I visited so oft.
I wish may here remain.
When yon brick shaft, on leafy Sprague,
Overlooks no more the plain.
And let the trees around it grow
to stripe its sides with shade,
As on the quiet August days
When I these letters made
The boulder still provides a breathtaking sanctuary for the weary soul. I felt separated from the world. While sitting at the rock watching the sun set as the forest and swamp below come to life, I felt part of a bigger community and in some ways, connected to Rev. Paine.
As I dug for more detailed information on Rev. Paine I stumbled across what seemed to be a diary entry of Edgar P. Howard in 1900. In it he told the tale of the first elopement old colony. The young Ephraim Howard and his bride to be Mary Keith raced from Bridgewater , on horseback, while being chased by Mary’s Irate father Rev. James Keith. the first minister of Bridgewater . Following an old trail to Taunton they crossed an ancient stone bridge called “ Comfort Bridge ”. This is where Rev. Paine enters the story. As the author Edgar P. Howard was sitting on the same bridge pondering this tale, his attention was draw to what he referred to as an “ancient inscription which comprised of six lines” chiseled into the stone forming the south side of the bridge. It was difficult for him to read this ancient text. “By clearing away the tangled vines and filling the letters with black chalk,” he was able to decipher the words. It was a poem left by an anonymous author. Edgar began to question as to who might have written this poem. “After some inquiry among the elder residents of West Bridgewater ”, he discovered that “Rev. Thomas Paine L.L.D… had inscribed the poem on the boulder.”
The same day I learned of the second rock I made plans to visit it that day. Comfort Bridge is now long gone. It was removed when a more modern bridge was widened. Fortunately the stone, then named ‘Solitude Rock’, was moved to small plot of land along the side of the river. Luckily the bridge and road are still in use. This would make it easy to find the Boulder . Regrettably, since it was so late in the day, I had little time to find it before the sun would set. I jumped into my car and raced up to the bridge. By the time I had reached the road it was beginning to get dark. The further down the road I went I found fewer and fewer homes. Eventually I arrived to the section of the road with the Legendary Hockomock Swap to my left. Along the edge of either side were tall trees that arched over the road. With no street lights and the sun quickly setting, the forest began to feel as if it was closing in on me.
It wasn’t long before I arrive at the bridge. Nearby were a few home nestled in the dark forest. This provided some comfort as the sun sunk below the horizon. Eying the land near the modern bridge I spotted the rock. The words were easy to read even in the black of the night. Much like Minister’s Rock, it had the Date July 22, 62 in Roman Numerals along the lower Right.
I marked the location and attempted to take a few pictures and headed home. A few days later I returned to better survey the area. What was so cold and spooky by night was warm and beautiful by day. Standing on the bridge I tried to get a sense of what Rev. Paine might have seen when he chiseled this poem into the boulder:
All ye, who in future days
Walk by Nunckatessett stream
Love not him who hummed his lay
Cheerful to the parting beam,
But the Beauty that he wooed
In this quiet solitude
Jy. xxii, lxii.
Again it was easy to understand what might have inspired those words. Just as mentioned in Edgar P. Howard diary “To the south stretches what was known as Eagles Nest Meadows toward the Hockomock, with the winding Nunckatessett and the woods beyond.” and To the North was “Pine Hill ridge crowned by whispering pines.” Aware that the few nearby homes, and the modern bridge were not there during the time of Rev. Paine, I could see why might have chosen this place to do his work. Even with small intrusion of civilization the area is still very beautiful and peaceful.
I suspect that this is not the end of Rev. Paine’s story. I still have find his book of poetry to look forward too locating. I also have a feeling that somewhere out there, deep in the forests of Bridgewater not frequented by hikers, lays another example of Rev. Paine’s handy work waiting to be rediscovered. Next time you’re hiking in Bridgewater and you stop to enjoy the beautiful view, spy the rocks around you, maybe just maybe you might find another of the Minister’s Rocks.
~Strange New England
Ministers Rock Gallery
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