Today, however, most of Middleborough’s historic Atlantic white cedar swamps have been destroyed, victims primarily of heavy logging through the 19th century as well as subsequent agricultural uses which have had a detrimental impact upon the white cedar habitat. Middleborough’s situation is not unique, for throughout the region the majority of Atlantic white cedar swamps have been lost for the same reasons.
One of Middleborough’s lesser known cedar swamps was the Tispaquin Cedar Swamp located on the northern shore of Tispaquin Pond between Wood’s (or Wood’s Pond) Brook and Short’s Brook. Today, much of the swamp, now largely hardwood, is protected within the confines of the Frederick S. Weston Memorial Forest. Ironically, though the swamp has historically been known as Tispaquin Cedar Swamp, logging of the swamp and subsequent changes to the water flow and natural hydrological functioning have contributed to the decline of the species within the swamp, so much so that it can no longer be classified as a cedar swamp. Aerial photographs of the swamp attest to the paucity of white cedar trees in an area once presumed to be thick with them, so profuse, in fact, that they gave their name to the location. It is there to this one time habitat that I went this week to search for the elusive white cedar.
The factor which initiated the long tale of forest succession within the Tispaquin Cedar Swamp was the increasing value placed upon the white cedar. When Tispaquin sold the land which included the Tispaquin Cedar Swamp to Henry Wood in 1667 he was careful to reserve to himself “liberty to get cedar bark in ye swamp”, the earliest recorded indication of the swamp’s economic value. Besides the practical use they made of the tree, Natives would have found the swamp attractive as a hunting ground, in part because the white cedar attracted white-tailed deer in winter which fed on its foliage, as well as rabbits which made similar use of cedar seedlings.
Early English settlers came to value the tree for its resistance to decay and insects, and it was accordingly used for stakes, posts, shingles, buckets, barrel staves and other articles where durability and weather resilience was a must. In time, much of the swamp was periodically logged off, the cedars probably culled from the woods as a consequence of continuing demand for them. Logging was typically conducted in the winter when frozen ground made access to the swamp easier, and few areas were not impacted. Unfortunately, no records remain to indicate what percentage of swamp was historically comprised of white cedar, though it is presumed to have been high. It is also unknown as to how frequently the swamp was logged. Samuel Bourne’s 1831 map of Middleborough shows a considerable portion of the swamp to have been forested at the time, as does Beers map of 1879. It is probable that much of the swamp, which consisted of numerous privately held woodlots, was periodically harvested as was the case with the South Purchase which was never clear cut, though heavily and frequently harvested.
It is also likely that the construction of cranberry bogs along both Wood’s and Short’s Brooks also deprived the swamp of water. Atlantic white cedar swamps typically have higher water levels than hardwood swamps, and the disruption of the natural flow into the swamp from agricultural operations further upstream most likely lowered the amount of water in the swamp. Scientists have confirmed that lowering the water level in white cedar swamps has generally resulted in replacement by drier species.
This post is part of an on-going project to document the history and landscape surrounding Tispaquin Pond. One of two great ponds in Middleborough not designated for use as a municipal water supply (the other is Wood’s Pond), Tispaquin Pond is an important cultural and ecological resource. Readers who wish to share stories, history or photographs of Tispaquin are encouraged to contact me by clicking on the “contact me” link in the right sidebar.
Atlantic White Cedars, Frederick S. Weston Memorial Forest, Middleborough, MA, photograph by Mike Maddigan, September 4, 2011.
Atlantic White Cedar Trunk, Frederick S. Weston Memorial Forest, Middleborough, MA, photograph by Mike Maddigan, September 4, 2011.
Atlantic White Cedar Bark, Frederick S. Weston Memorial Forest, Middleborough, MA, photograph by Mike Maddigan, September 4, 2011.
Atlantic White Cedars, Frederick S. Weston Memorial Forest, Middleborough,MA, photograph by Mike Maddigan, September 4, 2011.
The hummocky moss-covered ground favored by Atlantic white cedar is clearly visible in this photograph.
Wood's Brook, Frederick S. Weston Memorial Forest, Middleborough, MA, photograph by Mike Maddigan, September 4, 2011.
Wood's Brook, also historically known as Wood's Pond Brook, is pictured a short distance north of its confluence with Fall Brook near Tispaquin Pond. In the right foreground a red maple (Acer rubrum) is noticeable near the sluggish stream. Unchecked, such trees will soon replace the white cedars which once dominated the swamp. Nearly half a mile upstream is the stand of Atlantic white cedar pictured in the post here.