This sweeping view of Colebrook over 100 years ago is from a glass negative taken by onetime local photographer Clarence Gates. Just about in the middle of the image, shot from Monadnock Mountain, can be seen Colebrook’s esker, a natural ridge that local historian Bud Hulse says is a remnant from the mile-high glacier that was once above Colebrook during the Ice Age.
By Thomas Jordan
An early picture of Colebrook that was brought to our attention highlights an interesting and little-known element of the town’s landscape. The photo, likely taken in the early 1900s from Monadnock Mountain, indicates a notable ridge of land between Bridge and Colby streets. This ridge is an esker, a mass of glacial sediment. Colebrook historian Bud Hulse, who supplied us with the photo, identified it as a ridge of sand and gravel deposited by a stream that flowed within the mile-high glacier that was once above Colebrook during the Ice Age.
Eskers are said to form by streams that flow within and under the icy walls of glaciers. As these walls melt away, steam deposits remain as the long and winding ridges, which often look similar to railway embankments. Bud speculates that Colebrook’s gravel probably came from the stream’s wearing down of the nearby Dixville Peaks.
The deposit has since worn down significantly, as most of the gravel from it has been used by local road crews during the winter months to spread over the highways. Portions of it have been built upon, identified by some of the houses such as the former Brad and Carolyn Brooks residence on the western side of Monadnock Street. It can also be easily seen from the Transfer Station in Colebrook.
In America and Europe, roads are sometimes built along eskers, due to their naturally uniform shape. A segment of Maine’s Route 9 between Bangor and Calais and the Trans-Taiga Road in mid-Quebec are examples of this, and a number of lengthy eskers can be found in New York’s Adirondack State Park. While Colebrook’s ridge only represents a small length of sediment, some esker systems in Maine can be traced for up to one hundred miles in length.
The photo is a subject of interest in itself. It originally came from a glass negative collection of Clarence Gates photos, currently owned by David Collins.
“In the mid-1990s, Greg Lewis and myself looked through these and purchased the views there from Frank (Owen).” He explains that the photographer, Clarence Gates, had a photo studio on the second floor of what is currently Hicks Hardware in downtown Colebrook. “Clarence Gates lived from 1885-1945 and married Tom Johnson’s daughter. Tom Johnson was an attorney and owned the home right next to Frank Owen that his son lived in (on Bridge Street) up to a few years ago.”
Although undated, elements of Colebrook’s landscape place it in the early part of the last century, according to an estimate by Collins. “I can see the new grammar school built in 1904-05 is visible along with the Old Academy–the new one built and old one moved in 1911. I would date between 1905-1911,” he notes.
Regarding the esker, David suspects the start of this removal of gravel from it was for the railroad, suggesting that in 1888 they made a cut through it to push the railroad to Beecher Falls and into Canada. Over the last 40 years, this has been almost completely removed.