Open Space — the Great Cathedrals of Bolton

by Hans DePold, town historian
(Published in the Bolton Community News, June 2005)

When we think of great cathedrals we think of places that open new feelings in the human soul, filling it with eagerness, joy, hope, inspiration, and yearning. Many people, not necessarily religious, find a source of deep spiritual refreshment in visits to great cathedrals. There is something about cathedrals that draws in even the most detached of those among us. They put us in touch with something larger and grander than ourselves and much more powerful than our fears. The cathedrals are among those things that endure, and in a world of seemingly interminable change we gravitate to such things and places. Indeed, we hunger for them. Eternity is palpable in such places.

There are many great cathedrals in Bolton. Anyone who has ever strolled through the fields of the Rose Farm, who sees the stone walls at their feet, a living carpet reaching into the distance, and the big sky overhead, knows that these fields and forests are as much a part of our heritage as any of the world's other great cathedrals. Jonathan Edwards, who founded The Great Awakening, wrote of how his epiphany occurred in 1723 while walking in these fields of Bolton, a great cathedral that we saved in 2000.

Later another period of revival renewed interest in our creator and spawned a new form of religious expression—the camp meeting. The very first New England Camp Meeting, which planted the seeds of the Methodist movement, was held right here in another great cathedral of Bolton. This amphitheater is a precious natural wonder, part of a stunning wetlands complex covering much of the southeast section of Bolton. It was built for us to stand in awe. It is hard and rough and wet but totally suitable for rendering pure delight that awakens, opens, and expands the heart, ennobling human nature. And it contains the essence of what is needed to sustain the land with fresh water, and to filter and scent our air. Bolton was chosen for the first camp meeting in New England in 1805 because Bolton had this great cathedral known to hold between 5,000 and 9,000 people. The Bolton Land Trust saved this great cathedral in 2004.

Many residents climb Bolton Notch (Saqumsketuck) in the fall to be dazzled by the lemon, orange, and raspberry colors. There on the sacred craggy outcrop of rock was the forward lookout used by the mighty Uncas, the last great Mohegan sachem (chief). That cathedral was saved by the state, as was Gay City, another cathedral of Bolton that was settled by a religious sect in the early 1800s.

We are drawn to these cathedrals where living water wells up, cold and pure, from the earth's dark bosom. And I know that for myself there is something deeper and more complex in Bolton's cathedrals. These are sacred grounds. It is a pleasure to stand in awe of these great cathedrals of earth, with their gates of rock, pavements of ferns, choirs of streams, altars of snow, and vaults of skies and stars.

There is a wind blowing in Bolton... to save all of Bolton's great cathedrals. It actually costs us less to save them than to allow them to be destroyed. After we have been here a while we discover that we don't just choose to live in Bolton, it chooses us and then it rouses our dormant spirits to take action to save our great cathedrals, our open space.