Oh the chimney’s fallen down and the roof’s all caved in
Lettin’ in the sunshine and the rain
And the only friend I’ve got now is that good old dog of mine
And the little old log cabin in the lane
____”Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane”, Will S. Hays, 1871
Along a forest path a few miles from here is the long-abandoned cellar hole of the Negus family home. It’s a little hard to find: the little country lane meanders through deep woods, unconnected to anything, and the house foundation is just barely visible through the rampant vegetation. If you follow the stone walls they’ll lead you on a pine-sprouted roadbed; if you look alongside the walls you’ll see ancient sugar maples planted by an 18th century farmer’s hand. As you pick your way through the brush, search for a giant multi-branched pine revealing the location of what once was a field. It’s now surrounded by tall straight hardwoods and younger pines, but it got into that fabulous shape by first growing out in the open where it had plenty of room to spread.
Today I’m pushing my way through thickets of mountain laurel and waist-high ferns; under the shady canopy of tall oak, ash, and maple I gingerly ford a swampy creek on cushions of damp moss, finally reaching the spot where, early in the 18th century, William Negus and his wife Persis cleared the stony land and built a house. Here they farmed, raised 10 children, and found time to plant lilacs by the door.
A lot happened here over four generations. Great-grandchildren Nathan and Caroline Negus would grow up to be wonderful, notable artists (Caroline painted portraits, including those of Bronson Alcott and Ralph Waldo Emerson). And one terrible day in 1797, William’s grandson Joseph, age 14, was dealt a mortal blow by his sister Mary, age 15, in a freak accident – an accident involving horseplay and a sharp scythe.
I’ve been here drawing to the tune of a hermit thrush. What lovely, haunting music to sketch by.
A big thank-you to the Petersham Historical Society, which has been sharing the Negus family historical material with me- and a special thanks to Bob Clark of the PHS, who somehow remembered how to find this place, and led me to it.
Department of Corrections: Caroline Negus didn’t live at this site; the family had moved to another house in Petersham by the time she was born. Nathan lived here until he was around seven years old. Mary Negus was 12, not 15, when she dealt her brother Joseph Jr. the mortal blow with the scythe. He was either 14 or 15 years old- the record is a bit hazy. The Motmot regrets the errors.