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Lynn Woods Wolf Pits

 

 

On the north side of Walden Pond there are two rectangular stone lined pits commonly know as the Wolf Pits.  The pits lie on level ground near the intersection of Ox Pasture Road and the Valley Trail.  They are two feet wide and five feet long.  The first is seven feet deep, the second nearly five and they lie about twenty feet apart.  Remnants of an iron railing stand next to the pits.  This railing was not part of the original construction but was installed by the Park Commission in the late 1800ís.

 

There has been considerable debate as to the original function of the pits.  If we are to believe they are wolf traps then some questions must be answered.  Were there ever wolves in Lynn Woods and was there any need to go to the trouble of building elaborate traps to catch them?  Are they really traps or are they actually the remains of some other structure?  Was trapping with pits a commonly used method of wolf killing, or do we need to believe that this practice was unique to Lynn?

 

The Lynn Woods was used as common grazing land until 1706 when it was partitioned and turned over to private ownership.  Prior to this time, anyone living in Lynn had the right to graze his animals on this common land.  The stonewalls that still cross the woods today are remnants of this practice, they weren't intended to mark property lines but were constructed to divide the land into different pastures for different types of animals.  Nahant was for sheep, horses grazed in what is now Pine Grove Cemetery, cattle in the Middle Pasture (most of Lynn Woods) and Oxen in the area still referred to as the Ox Pasture.  Wolves were a serious threat to livestock.  A stone wall was built across the Nahant Causeway to protect the sheep and, beginning in 1630, bounties were paid to anyone who killed a wolf.  In 1645 the Massachusetts General Court decreed "any person, either English or Indian, that shall kill any wolf or wolves, within ten miles of the Plantation of this jurisdiction, shall have for every wolf by him or them so killed ten shillings, paid out of the Treasury of the Country."  By the middle of the eighteenth century the bounty system had been replaced by general wolf hunting days when the citizens of Lynn would gather together for a thorough sweep of the woods in an attempt to rid them of this menace.

 

Are the pits seventeenth century wolf traps?  Skeptics have suggested many other explanations for the origin and use of the pits.  One of the most believable is that they were sawpits.  Before the invention of the circular saw timbers were cut buy two men working a large straight saw.  One cut from the top and the other beneath.  Logs could have been rolled over the pits and cut without needing to be lifted onto a frame.  A visit to the pits makes it quickly evident that they are just too small for this purpose.  Even a child would have a hard time working the lower end of the saw without constantly bumping the walls with his elbows.  A second suggestion was that they were latrines for some long forgotten Boy Scout camp or for workers clearing the bottom of the Walden Pond reservoir.  It is a little hard to believe that anyone would go to the trouble to carefully construct stone walls for a latrine; especially for a Boy Scout camp and the pits are simply too far from the reservoir to have been intended for workers clearing the bottom.  A third theory is that they were pits used for storage of food much like a root cellar.  If this were the case then where is the foundation of the house?  No record exists of there ever being a dwelling in this area and no physical evidence has ever been located.

 

There are numerous examples from Europe and North America of traps being used to kill wolves. One early method in Germany was to construct a dense hedge from plants and plant debris with a few select holes in it.  Snares were placed in the holes and the wolves where chased through them.  This was not too effective because the wolves quickly learned to avoid the hedges.  The next method was to dig a wolf pit.  A hole was dug and covered with branches then baited with meat.  The bottom of the pit was fitted with iron spikes and when the unfortunate wolf went for the bait he fell and was impaled on the stakes.  Wolf pits in Norway were round with ropes stretched across to hold the brush cover.  Scottish wolf pits were made exactly like those in Lynn Woods and were so effective that they are credited with eliminating the wolf in Scotland.  Wood lined wolf pits were constructed on a farm in Fairfax County Virginia.  An animal carcass was drug for a mile or so through the woods to create a scent trail leading to the pit.  A wooden plank was balanced over the pit and baited.  When the wolf went for the bait the plank and the wolf would fall into the pit.  The farm became known as the Wolf Trap Farm and is the present site of the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.  Locally there were other examples of wolf pits.  One was reported to be in Andover but was unfortunately destroyed during road construction.  Two others are in the Lynn Woods but they are covered by the water in Breedís Pond.

 

The historical record clearly shows that killing wolves was a high priority for Lynnís early settlers. Wolf Pits of various designs were the preferred method of wolf killing during the seventeenth century in Europe and North America and many had a design similar to those in Lynn Woods. This evidence strongly suggests that the pits are indeed wolf traps.  If you would like to make your own investigation you should begin your hike at the Great Woods parking lot.  Take the road to the right of Walden Pond.  This is Ox Pasture Road which is marked with orange blazes.  Follow this road for about 1ľ miles until you reach intersection D3-3.  Turn right onto the blue blazed trail and immediately look for an unmarked footpath exiting to your left.  A short walk down this path will reveal the wolf pits on your right.

 

By: Dan Small - Lynn Woods Park Ranger

Date Posted: 08/31/2007

 

 

 

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