Over 10 years ago, when we had just begun to delve into the stranger side of New England , a unique site that was top on our list was called the Upton Chamber. We stumbled across it in a book I had purchased from a used book store in Providence, R.I..
Upton chamber is one of the largest underground stone chambers in New England . A six foot high fourteen foot long tunnel leads into the mammoth chamber. The chamber is twelve feet in diameter and twelve feet high and beehive in shape, like a large stone igloo. Upton chamber is an amazing work of dry masonry with a cap stone weighing several tons. Archeologists believe it is just a colonial root cellar built in the 1700’s but there are those that recognized it similarity to early Irish and Iberic stone chambers and believe it was constructed over a thousand years earlier. Most archeologists feel this is fanciful thinking since there has been no evidence of Pre-colonial foreign visitors other than the Norse at Newfoundland in 1000 AD.
Eager to discover where the chamber was hidden, we trekked up to the library in Upton and dug through the historical archives. With the help of the lovely librarian, we were able to find a wealth of information. We began purchasing copies, like a housewife at a post Christmas sale. With our arms full and our wallets a little lighter we headed out to the location of the chamber. We had learned it was located on the lake side property of an Upton resident. Being our first time approaching a stranger for the purpose of asking to look at their backyard, we were a little nervous. I put on an anxious smile, walked up to the door and rang the bell. There was no answer. I took a deep breath and once again rang the bell. Still there was no response. Frustrated I began to peek around the corner of the house hoping to see a friendly family in the backyard grilling some burgers, or at the least see the chambers location in the distance. The property was deserted. Disappointed by our failure and concerned we’d arouse the suspicion of the neighbors if we lingered much longer, we jumped back into the car and headed home. Once we arrived back at my place we found solace in the stack of Xeroxed literature we had procured from the library. Most of it was field reports and surveys of the chamber and the surrounding land. We spent the evening reading through all of the material. Though we hadn’t found the chamber, we discovered something else, how exciting the research could be.
We now had a new purpose. We had discovered a new side to exploring and our adventures would no longer begin at the trailhead. From this point on we began to spend more time in the archives and interviewing locals than actually on the trail. We began to research places we’ve already been and place we were soon going to visit. As we would pour through the books we discovered other places to investigate. It became the norm to find two or more new leads for every story we looked into. Lost in our new found capital, we soon forgot about the Upton Chamber. This was the starting point of what eventually became Strange New England.
This past winter, while dreaming of the warmer days of the coming spring, the crew and I began to speak not only of adventures to come but days gone by. Many laughs were exchanged as we exhumed faded memories from our graveyard of bad decisions. Eventually I found myself thinking about the chamber. How could we have forgotten about it for so long? At that moment I made a concordat that this spring I would finally find the Upton chamber!
After spending the rest of the winter searching through my apartment for those Xeroxes made over 10 years ago, on March 2nd I was back in Upton Massachusetts. It wasn’t long before I found myself back at the same house. Since my last visit I had gained much experience negotiating access onto private property. With the confidence of a politician and the mild manors of a Jehovah witness, I walked to the door and rang the bell. There was no answer. This seemed all too familiar. I rang again and listened closely for signs of life. Not a sound. Spying the surrounding area, I saw a neighbor working in the front yard. I walk over and inquired about the chamber and property. The woman was very familiar with the chamber. She informed me that the property was currently owned but no one lived in the home. After exchanging a few words she politely offered to walk me to the chamber on the property.
In the back of my mind I had an image of what I expected it would look like. I had seen many pictures and illustrations of the chamber but I used my imagination to fill in all the missing details. It was much closer to the home than I expected. I had always assumed it would have been hidden under the steeper slopes along the edge of the pond. As we approached the chamber it blended in the wall flanking its left. Once we were close enough I could clearly see that a portion of that same wall had collapsed close to the entrance of the chamber.
I peered into the chamber and was amazed by how gargantuan the structure was. Though I was well aware of its exact size, pictures and measurements never seem to actually prepare you for what you will see. You could feel a light cool breeze coming out of the chamber. Though the weather had been very warm and dry recently, the entire chamber was currently flooded with six inches of water. I could only assume that the very cool interior prevented water from the last snow melt from evaporating.
As I entered the chamber, I attempted to wedge myself between the walls of the narrow tunnel in order to keep dry. This proved to be effective way to stay above the water but made it difficult to take pictures. I decided to take off my shoes and roll up my pants and walk through the mud and cold water. Once I reached the end of the tunnel, I was again dumbfounded by the magnitude of the domed chamber. Having worked with a mason, I was puzzled by the haphazard arrangement of the stones. It was frightening to think that several tons of caps stones were being supported by a jumbled mass of stones, without the help of cement. Most likely, many of these stones extend much further into the land surrounding the chamber. The chamber was an outstanding example of human ingenuity. After three hundred years or more of neglect, this corbel stone structure still stands strong.
As I was preparing to write the story on Upton Chamber, I discovered that the town had recently purchased the property it resides on. For quite a while the town had been petitioning to buy the land to preserve the chamber. The town used Community Preservation Act money to purchase the property form the owner Gerald P. Guccione of Warwick , R.I.. The chamber has now been gated by the town while they work out plans to develop the 7.5 acres into a public park.
My thoughts on the matter are mixed. I always believe that sites like these should be owned and preserved by the towns or states, but fear what will happen when they are made easily accessible by the general public. I prefer that property like this is open to the public but known only to those who take the time to search for them. We’ll just have to wait and see what develops in the near future.
~ Strange New England
Upton Chamber Mystery Gallery
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