Thousands of large stone monuments and structures are found from New England west to Pennsylvania. If they were found in England we would call them cairns, barrow graves, dolmens and standing stones, and university-led teams would study their orientation to the sun, moon and stars. In America we mostly ignore them or define them as piles, glacial erratics, anomalies or root cellars. They are bulldozed to build roadways, developments and parking lots, and even among tenured professors, they are not discussed in polite company. They do, however, remain in the most odd places.
One is on the front lawn of the firehouse in the town of North Salem, New York. It is easily spotted along the road on Route 116 as this dolmen, from the Breton word “Stone table,” weighs 20,000 pounds. It is held up by smaller stones that extend into the ground. The area between the support stones forms a triangle with a base that measures twice what is called the megalithic yard. Although this is an exact measurement first re-discovered researching the monuments in England, the sign near the stone claims nature did this. Along the Atlantic coast in Brittany, France many dolmens are found. There, the fact that man did this is not disputed.
Not far away, in the town of Poughkeepsie, is a large standing stone incorporated into a wall. In Breton it is called a menhir, or “long-stone.” In New York, there are several menhirs, mostly ignored. From Portugal to the Orkney Islands of Scotland such stones had meaning and were also used to determine astronomical phenomena. Native Americans in America often used them as meeting sites. There are many of these and the numbers thin out as we head west. In Pennsylvania it is difficult to actually find one remaining standing stone although two towns are named for these odd stones, both near the Susquehanna River.
While these larger monuments get the most attention, there are literally thousands of pre-colonial structures in the southern New York-New England area. Most are on private property and among the homeowners of New York’s Putnam County, they are not meant for tourists or hobbyists. These smaller structures are stone-built chambers, often with a large and very heavy lintel stone over the entranceway. In both Europe and America the stone lintel rests over a stone pier, that is one stone on top of another, or a monolithic stone post. Those who insist that everything built in America was built by colonials call the chambers “root cellars.” There are no stone chambered root cellars in En-gland, so the colonials would have had to invent them in America. While they did build straw and dirt-roofed cellars it is doubtful they would have laid multi-ton lintels over the doorways.
Even less likely is that these stone chambers would be oriented to the solstice sunrise. About 3500 years ago these stone-built chambers were meant to face the rising sun on astronomically auspicious days. The handful of small organizations that do their best to maintain and preserve such structures refer to them as solar temples.
Fahnestock Memorial Park is in Putnam Valley, just off the Taconic Parkway, and contains at least four. Two are still in very good shape, one marked with a tall standing stone. Even with fairly exact directions I found myself driving past one three times until I realized it did not face the road, so I had missed it. From Fahnestock I had better luck in locating a handful of standing stones and small solar temples. Whangtown Road in the town of Kent Cliffs has a large solstice chamber. The larger town of Purchase has a large standing stone on the campus lawn of the State University of New York.
The greatest surprise was only a few miles away, a rare structure called a Double Solar chamber. Again it is very close to the road but difficult to see. From the town of Putnam Valley, one needs to head north on Route 20 until reaching the school. Across the road from the school (on Oscawana Lake Road) is a large wooded field. Before reaching Kramers Pond Rd., sort of a corner between the two roads, lie two stone chambers sharing a common wall. Each has its own opening. There are two problems the visitor faces. One is that even though it is not far from the road, it is posted against hunting and therefore most likely private property. The second is the massive poison ivy. It is always best to seek permission and to wear the right clothes.
While such stones exist all over New England, they appear to be in clusters. The Putnam County, New York— Fairfield County, Connecticut area is one such cluster. Another is centered in New Hampshire at a coincidently named town, North Salem. Here is a 20-acre complex once called Mystery Hill by nearby residents.
About fifty miles north of Boston lies a megalithic center not normally found in the New World. From exit 3 of Route 93 in New Hampshire, it is a short ride on route 111 to this New World Stonehenge. The complex contains stone slab chambers like those in Putnam County and numerous henge stones similar to Stonehenge in England. These stones are situated to correspond with the sun rise on the solstice days as well as on the days of the equinox. More so than Stonehenge of which we can only speculate, Mystery Hill contains a chamber that goes into the ground under a large slab with grooved channels. This small cavern, shaped like a T, has a couch cut from stone. From above this room a speaking tube ascends to what is called a sacrifice table. It is a rectangular slab with a groove that runs around the slight tilted table. While there is no concrete proof, it is theorized blood would run from the victim towards this drain and could be collected. The speaking tube extending from the chamber called the Oracle Chamber, would make it possible for a concealed priest or wizard to trick the assembled faithful into believing the rocks or spirits in the rocks are speaking.
While the standing stones resemble some of England’s less spectacular monuments, the close proximity of the numerous shelters can be compared to Scotland’s oldest site, Skara Brae. This very ancient site predates the pyramids and appears to be a sort of astronomical college, where a proto-Druid-type group of priests and priestesses trained the initiate in the sacred arts and sciences.
Despite the age of Skara Brae, archaeologists have identified stone furniture, water closets with running water to dispose of waste, hinged stone doors and the ability to lock rooms. It does not require imagination to conceive of Skara Brae as a school where initiates were trained in the sciences. Nearby megalithic construction includes the Ring of Brodgar, Maes Howe and the Standing Stones of Stenness. All have astronomical significance. Maes Howe has a chamber where the entrance is positioned so the sunset on the earth’s shortest day would light the inside wall. Again archaeologists in the UK have no problem theorizing about the people that once inhabited Skara Brae while in America we scoff at anything older than colonial, except, of course, for the indigenous peoples who, we are told, did not build with stone.
The skeptical version: In the 1820s a farmer by the name of Jonathan Pattee lived at “Mystery Hill” with his five sons, and the place received the name Pattee’s Hill. It is claimed that Pattee and his sons built the structures, including 20-ton megaliths. The chambers, it was explained, were for penning animals, and the tall and massively heavy stones, well, there was no explanation. In the last century amateur archaeologist Frank Glynn, who has done much to advance the study of pre-colonial structures, discovered broken ceramic pottery that does not compare to anything found elsewhere. Glynn pointed out a white pine tree that is dated 1795 that grew through the walls of one structure, making it older than Pattee. He also found out Pattee did have five children, but four were girls. One by one pieces of the explanation fell apart. Most important, sophisticated dating techniques showed the site was occupied 1500-2000 BC.
In 1957 the site was purchased by Robert E. Stone who allowed access to the public. He served as president of the New England Antiquities Research Association and insured Mystery Hill would not be threatened by developer’s bulldozers. Since then NEARA has done more than any group to protect the sites that many simply deny.
In the Caithness area of Scotland there are numerous cairns which look like piles of stone from a distance. In 2003 I attempted to visit as many sites as possible. Some are barely marked, and it is possible to crawl, in some cases fifty feet, in the dark to a central chamber. Once in the beehive part of the cairn one can’t help but notice a tiny hole above that admits light. Like the gigantic New Grange structure in Ireland, we can never be certain just what rites took place three and four thousand years before, but it is relatively certain it involved the action of heavenly bodies.
If there is ever a chance of understanding the knowledge of the ancients, it can only be accomplished through preservation. For that reason under NEARA’s guidance, the Mystery Hill site was opened for visitors. It then became known as America’s Stonehenge.
Vermont’s Calendar Sites
North of Mystery Hill is another complex located in the towns of South Royalton and South Woodstock. These sites have been named Calendar One and Calendar Two and are within sight of Vermont’s great skiing areas including Killington and Pico, yet they are fairly remote. It wasn’t until 1975 that the chambers were “discovered” although the area was colonized in 1760s. South Royalton’s calendar is built in a bowl-like area. From the main chamber one can use sight markers built in the surrounding hills for observations of the sun, moon and stars. As an example, standing stones on one hill indicate May Day, important in the Celtic calendar. The chambers are large here and have yielded cutting tools and quartz implements. They have also yielded copper. It was outside of South Royalton that the founder of the Mormon church grew up. His early years were spent in the magical surroundings of standing stones and stone chambers. Later his family moved to Palmyra, New York where numerous earthworks, burial mounds, and again copper and brass plates were found. The Mormon church conceals and protects golden plates that were revealed to Joseph Smith in 1827.
Interstate 91 runs north-south through New England. From 91 exit onto Route 89 north and exit again onto Route 14 North. From the exit it is three miles to Dairy Road. Follow the signs to the Joseph Smith birthplace monument, about two and a half miles. Just before this monument there is a farmhouse. Here is where to ask permission to see the chambers.
At South Woodstock there is a large structure called the Winter solstice sunrise temple. It is built to admit light from the sun on that day which is reflected on the back wall. This again is similar to the large structure in New Grange, Ireland. The lintels serving as a doorway are over ten feet wide and weigh three tons. Besides the solar calculation the entrance piers were also used to observe the path of the moon and to predict eclipses. There is almost no way to construe this to be an astronomically correct root cellar. Again, one must take 89 north and exit at Hartford on route 4 heading towards Woodstock. After passing the South Woodstock general store one comes to the firehouse. About a mile past that, on the left is a large standing stone. To visit, permission must be requested.
Connecticut’s largest site is near Groton on the Long Island Sound. Groton is more known for its large U.S. Navy base, but it also contains one of the largest complex sites. What is called Gungywamp is a 24- acre hilltop with stone walls, stone roofed chambers, beehive tombs, standing stones and numerous enclosures. The largest chamber is 18 feet long and six feet wide, as well as six feet high. The Equinox chamber received its name because on the autumnal equinox, the sun shines through a high window. This is not different from the massive New Grange mound as the sun travels from a “light box,” through a long chamber, to illuminate a dagger on the back wall.
Gungywamp is a Gaelic word meaning the Church of the People. The problem for archaeologists is just which people. The site shows evidence as far back as 2000 B.C., and it shows more modern evidence of habitation or ceremonial use. Stranger still, the so-called Cliff of Tears within the complex gives off a very unusual amount of electromagnetic energy. The result for those who are sensitive ranges from the physical, including nosebleeds to the psychological, feelings of sadness.
The stone structures that exist along Europe’s Atlantic coast and the eastern states in America carry messages from the distant past. Our inability to decipher the messages with any certainty should not be justification to allow them to be ignored or destroyed. The future might provide a Rosetta stone of sorts that will open up the door to a full understanding and appreciation of what the ancients passed along.