Dogtown

If you live on the West Coast, Dogtown is where skateboarding was born, a seedy seaside surf spot that barfed up a cadre of cult heroes with middle-fingers raised and the cultural zeitgeist somehow in their back pockets.

If you live in New England, Dog Town is a coastal no-man’s land that served as colonial shelter from pirates, then a refugee community for whaling widows later accused of witchcraft, and then a ghost town and a grazing common for local farmers. Settled in 1693, it was abandoned by 1830.

It’s a real headscratcher of a place, seemingly valuable real estate that’s escaped the predacious efforts of developers and land barons. It’s a kind of ghost town and geological anomaly, a destination for woodsy sorts but without the kinds of trail markings that other well-traveled woods have, as if someone decided that it should keep its abandoned vibe.

What’s still there are the partial foundations of all the razed homes, cellar holes mainly, behind numbered stones as if mail might still be delivered, if it ever was. There are also a high number of glacial erratics, boulders heaved up by the receding Laurentide ice sheet more than 20,000 years ago, and these are made more interesting by a series of carvings done during the Great Depression.

Local philanthropist Roger Babson, the same guy who identified and numbered the area’s cellar holes, commissioned unemployed stone masons to do the carvings, and now people walk Dog Town just to see them. Each one extolls some characteristically New England virtue, work, loyalty, industry, etc.

The boulders are charming in a way. They turn the place from just another stretch of New England woodland into a time capsule of sorts. At the same time, they grate in the way that humanity’s constant need to leave its paw prints everywhere ruins a wild place. That’s a modern viewpoint though, and Babson hired his sculptors at a time when there was more wilderness than there is now.

We walked Dog Town on a Sunday morning and learned that there’s a gun club in the adjacent woods. Our own dog cowered with the constant echoing of target practice and stuck close by our sides. It struck me as a perfect metaphor for the menace of modern life, in some ways the same sort of menace that brought people to Dog Town in the first place.

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