SLIDESHOW: Rochester Lands Trust revisits history with Church’s Field tour

Jan 29, 2012

How many of us know what “ship’s knees” are, or better yet, how to make them?

On Jan. 29 members of the Rochester Lands Trust led guests on a tour through Church’s Field on Mattapoisett Road. The site where centuries ago builders gathered oak trees used for Mattapoisett ships, including the knees that brace together the deck of the ship and the hull.

“The knees were obviously a pretty important part on the ships and a lot of them came from here,” said Rochester Lands Trust Board member Norene Hartley.

Hartley and fellow board member Kirby Gilmore guided dozens of local residents around the 30-acre property they say is steeped in New England history. In fact, Hartley said it was her grandfather Daniel Hartley who used to mark the trees on the Church property used in building the ship’s knees.

“We certainly think this is our premier property,” Gilmore said.

In December 2009 the Lands Trust purchased the property from Rochester resident George Church, who owns the adjacent property where he runs his Old Sawmill machinery shop.

The Church family has owned the land since the mid-seventeenth century. During King Philip’s War, George’s ancestor, Major Benjamin Church, was a local ranger who, with the help of his men, defeated the Indian chief known as King Philip. This ended the war in 1676 and, to thank Church, the King of England awarded him this land in Rochester.

“It makes a good story doesn’t it,” Gilmore said.

Today, the property mostly consists of wetlands and wildlife habitat for birds such as bluebirds, woodcocks and sparrows.

Hartley said the Lands Trust has the fields mowed in the fall every two years to preserve the tall grass the birds use for nesting.

Behind the field, there is a winding path that leads to the Mattapoisett River. Hartley said that the path was once a footpath but was expanded upon by George Church over the years.

This path leads to the Church family’s Sawmill on the Mattapoisett River that operated from the 1800s until the early twentieth century.

Bill Hunt of Mattapoisett said he was amazed by the history of the Church property.

“What’s fascinating is that the land dates back to colonial times,” Hunt said. “It’s incredible to hear that they had so many uses for the land then."

Halima Tiffany, president of the Rochester Lands Trust, says the land is a calming spot for local residents.

“When you’re tired or stressed, just come by and sit by the river,” Tiffany said.