Saturday, May 19, 2007

Lonely Grave


It’s a lonely grave. Most are of course, but this one is all by itself on a wooded hillside. A stone wall surrounds the gravestone and an old oak tree. You can tell the tree grew there when the hillside was a pasture. Massive limbs came out its trunk horizontally before heading skyward because sunlight was available all the way around for most of the tree’s life. Now, however, the sky is crowded with branches of taller white pines that choke out sunlight. Whoever made the cemetery likely planted the oak tree. Most of its limbs are dead now and the tree won’t live much longer. The gravestone shows a weeping willow etched on top of the dark, gray slate and one can still read the words clearly unlike inscriptions on the more popular marble stones which have disintegrated with acid rain over the years. It reads:

OLIVE W.
wife of Jacob Stiles
died August, 1848
AE 51 yrs 7m

Around the little cemetery beautifully-made, double stone walls snake over and around the steep forested knolls on what’s left of the old farm where Olive lived. Someone obviously took pride in their construction because they’ve held up well for more than a century and a half, but the cemetery enclosure is falling apart. I doubt it was built by the same person(s?) who made the others.

Down the wooded hillside and across an old road is a cellar hole. I assume it once held up the Stiles house, but I can’t be certain because roads on the old maps don’t always agree with what I could see on the ground, and I know why. There was a big wind in early December, 1980 that blew down a lot of timber in the area which is now mostly National Forest. The federal government built a new road through its holdings (which now include the old Stiles place) to salvage what timber it could. The government road doesn’t always follow the older roads on my maps.

The Stiles place was abandoned, probably after 1850 I’m guessing, and nobody hayed the hillside anymore. White pines and hardwoods took it over. The 1858 Stoneham Map is badly smudged in this area of Stoneham close to the Lovell town line near Horseshoe Pond and the nearest discernible house was then owned by someone named Stanley. There’s another home owned by someone named Gray further in toward the Stow town line. Both were gone on the 1880 map which shows fewer homes in that vicinity.

However, an eyewitness account was supplied to me by Lovell Historical Society’s Cathy Stone whose uncle, Arthur Stone, visited Olive Stiles’s grave in 1890 and again in the late 1930s. Stone describes the Stiles place as a cellar hole at “the end of the road.” In 1890, he’d hiked a road leading from near where Cold Brook goes into Kezar Lake westward toward Horseshoe Pond. The road is still discernible but not passable for vehicles of any kind. It comes out perpendicular to another road going from Joe McKeen Hill in Lovell northward over the Stoneham line to the new government road mentioned above where there’s a locked gate today. Stone said it was pasture all along this route in his day and still being grazed by cattle. It’s all woods now, however.

“Here on a rocky hillside farm . . . Jacob Stiles had lived and raised his family of eleven children” he wrote. “. . . . The Stiles farm stretched from the mountain top [Styles Mountain on the USGS map] down to the shores of Horseshoe Pond. . . . and Jacob Stiles doubtless named [the pond]. . . . About a half mile further out in the pasture there was a square lot enclosed on all four sides by a stone wall [containing] a slate grave stone . . .”

Remember, Stone was writing probably just before 1940 about both an 1890 trip and the more recent one: “Fifty years ago a small oak sapling was the only vegetation within the enclosure except the wild flowers that covered the ground. . . . Today, the oak sapling is a sturdy tree but otherwise nothing is changed.” Stone, also, called the grave lonely and “high on a hillside looking out over the pond and over miles of woodland to where in the south a low blue mountain wall stopped the vision.”

That view is gone in the 21st century, and can only be imagined. It must have been stunning. The 1941 USGS map confirms the area was still pasture.

Stone seems to have obtained information about the Stiles family from locals between his first visit and his second. “Olive was the second wife of Jacob . . . [she] brought up the first wife’s brood,” he wrote. Imagine stepping into that situation? Raising eleven children on the last farm at the end of the road in this remote corner of Maine? Olive Stiles must have been quite a woman.

“She undoubtedly won the affection of her [eleven] stepchildren,” wrote Stone. “The grave proves it. During her life she used to walk out along the cart path to the pasture and look out over the pond. Perhaps she and Jacob used to go out there in the long summer evenings after the chores were done. She thought the place was beautiful and told her family that when she died she hoped she could be buried there.” Stone suggested her stepsons built the stone wall around the grave. and that would fit with my observation. They didn’t build walls as well as their father did.
Stone owned a cabin on Horseshoe Pond and could look across toward the hillside pastures of the old Stiles farm. He dreamed of taking a moonlight stroll up there to sit near the grave in case Olive had something she wanted to whisper to him. We don’t know if she ever did, but perhaps she and Stone have communicated in some other place and time.

12 comments:

Tom said...

...something lost these days about the beauty of simplicity here.

Hard work and a deep romance.

cheers
- the other tom.

Ed Parsons said...

Tom, Nice article. Thanks again for the info you gave me once on the Cold Brook area.
Ed Parsons

Tom McLaughlin said...

Thanks Tom. Yeah. Fortunately, I've known both as well.

Ed: You're welcome, and thanks for keeping it secret.

Garnet said...

A charming narrative. Most enjoyable.

Ed Parsons said...

Tom, I would like to relay more of my experiences in that area to you. E-mail me if you want.
Ed (mtsandrivers@yahoo.com)

Tom McLaughlin said...

Yes Ed. I'd like that very much. I've traveled up every road in that area on my ATV and read some other accounts of Arthur Stone visiting people in houses that are now only cellar holes. With David Crouse, we did a reenactment of the murder trial of Mr. (I forget his first name now) Coffin who was found guilty of killing Calvin McKeen. I played the role of someone Arthur Stone had visited and who gave testimony at the trial. Senator Dave Hastings, a descendent of the David Hasting who was Coffin's defense attorney, played the role of his ancestor. It was a lot of fun.

Also, I remodeled an 1830s farmhouse near there for my mother, and that was way back in the 20th century.

Tom McLaughlin said...

I received the following today in an email. Thought I'd post it here:

Hi, I happened upon your blog while searching for some family history. Although the Stiles have been in West Virginia, for a short time they lived in Bridgeton, ME. I have had tons of trouble finding any info, and you can imagine my delight when I found your writing. Jacob Stiles was my grandfather, six generations back. I am actually looking for information on his father Noah Stiles, but any info is just plain cool. Do you know of anyone I could get in touch with? I also would love to visit Olive's grave sometime! Just so you know, I am in my 20s and have no idea about this whole family history thing! I have just started, beginning with the Stiles line. Thanks for the blog!

Rebecca Stiles Chapman

Joshua Kent Stiles said...

to Rebecca Stiles Chapman's post- I too have grandfather about six generations removed named Jacob Stiles, and his father was named Noah, perhaps same people but could be coincidence. The Noah I am related to was married in Boxford Mass to Lydia Curtis based on some old family records. wonder if same. This line goes way back to Robert Stiles and Elizabeth Frye, Yorkshire England. did you find out anything more on Jacob?

Tom McLaughlin said...

Joshua,
If you email me at tommclaughlin@fairpoint.net I can send you Rebecca's email address. I'm reluctant to post it here, but I contacted her and she says you're free to contact her, and she says she has some of the info you're looking for.

Tom

Lassy Stiles said...

I am a descendant of the Robert Stiles family of Boxford, Mass.

Tom McLaughlin said...

Got this email today:

Tom,
Let me first start by saying, thank you.
I am a direct descendant of Olive & Jacob Stiles, the wonderful lady that your article Lonely Grave reflects. Let me tell you, I have been researching my line since the early 70’s and Olive has been a ghost.
I just returned from a 3 week vacation in New England and trudged through miles of cemeteries looking for this obscure woman. You have no idea of the most warm and wonderful feeling (along with tears) that I had when I stumbled across your article.

I too, am an educator but gave up the snow and cold for a much easier life in Florida. It would be a great day if you would please give my email address to those researchers who had information on the Stiles family. I have most of my information proven and would without hesitation share with them.

Are you the photographer of the headstone for Olive W (her maiden name was Bryant, daughter of Ephraim)? If you are, is it possible to get a copy? I would like to find a close up and use it as documentation. If not, then is it at all possible to find the location and I will indeed visit her on my next trip north.

Tom, thank you again. It is because of people like you that I am able to continue with this labor of love called genealogy. If there is anything that I can do to return the favor of your article, please do not hesitate to ask.

Respectfully,
Sheila Stiles

Tom McLaughlin said...

Got this as an email today:

Dear Mr. McLaughlin:
I recently discovered your LONELY GRAVE article. What a gift to me. I am 6th generation from Jacob Stiles and 1st wife Betsy Harmon. How I wish Betsy was buried beside Olive Bryant, but checking my "THE STILES FAMILY" book by Mary Stiles Paul Guild, Publ. 1892, I find that Betsy Harmon Stiles d. after 1815 & they were living in Harrison, Me.when she died. I still enjoyed your description of Jacob's farm after he moved to Stoneham. Me. in 1821, thanks to Arthur Stone who visited the grave and walked the farm of Jacob Stiles. I descend from Samuel Stiles, b.1815 who was Jacob & Nancy's 3rd child. Samuel b. 1815, m.1838 E. Stoneham, Me. to Sarah Ann Sawyer (d/o Jonathan Sawyer & L. Goss). They moved from Maine in 1857 to Cambria Co. Pa. Their son, Elbridge Stiles was b. there 1842 and he and wife M. Fulmer came to Macon Co. Mo. in 1873 and my grandmother Margaret Stiles was b. 1879 to them in Shelby Co. Mo. I am a DAR member through Sarah A. Sawyer Stiles' grandfather Capt. Jonathan Sawyer.
I enjoyed reading your whole Web-Site, my branch of Stiles (from Robt., the Immigrant) came to Maine from Rowley, Ma. in 1771, there are an ancient and respected family. My next question is, are you a descendant of Jacob Stiles, or did you get interested in that area because of Mr. Stone's traveling over Jacob's farm? I just received the STILES Newsletter and found your article there about the Lonely Grave from Sheila Stiles. Since I will never travel to visit Jacobs' original farm, I appreciated so much being able to "share" his acreage with your writing. Thank you again, from Charlotte Thompson Pflum
PS. My grandmother Margaret Stiles m. 1904 Dr. Alonzo C. Thompson of Macon Co. Mo. and their son, Howard A. Thompson was my father (b.1905-d.1980).Write and tell me your descent from Jacob, if you are related to him.
Also, was the Stone family related to Jacob Stiles or the Bryants? i FIND ABOUT 36 STONE names is the index of the STILES book that I have.