The Foss Mountain Story:
"In 1860 most of Eaton lay open to the sky. Views everywhere were magnificent. Practically every house was in sight of at least one other house or half a dozen more. From the porches in Snowville, you could watch deer grazing with the sheep and cattle on the slopes of Foss Mountain."
– From The Early Days of Eaton, by Nella and Keith Henney, 1967
Foss Mountain is the ancestral homeland of the Wabanaki, including the Pequawket, Ossipee and Abenaki. The Wabenaki lived here for well over ten thousand years, and much of their way of life has been lost. Their relationship with the earth was more respectful and reciprocal than our current one is proving to be, as they held the earth to be sacred. As early settlers arrived in New England, they killed many of the Indigenous people and took their land; displacing them, spreading disease, and imposing cultural beliefs and treaties - unable or unwilling to appreciate the values that the Wabanaki held.
Foss Mountain and adjacent lands were completely cleared and farmed up to and including the Civil war. Around the turn of the century cattle drives started north of here in Jackson and ended up on Foss. Lacking enough pasture and field acreage to support their farms and pasture young stock as well, farmers summered all but their milking stock wherever they could.
Foss Mountain began to sprout trees and became less attractive for livestock by the early 1920's. Cattle drives were phased out with the introduction of the automobile, trucks particularly. Later, Foss Mountain was used for cow pastures, from Conway, Brownfield and Snowville. They put cattle up in the spring and got them in the fall. Unfortunately, cattle don't eat brush like the goats, and were no help in keeping Foss cleared.
By the 1940's, the fields had reverted to blueberry bushes, juniper and gray birch when Frank French began working the Foss fields with a chain saw. He hired crews to pick the berries. Frank used fire as well to encourage blueberries, and had a reputation for starting fires that inevitably got out of control. (See the Journals of Nella B. Henney, edited by Joyce Blue)
Ed Ellis, of Eaton, recalls working for Frank picking blueberries between 1954-1957. The crew started in late July and usually picked for about 3 weeks. Frank hired a few Eaton kids, but also bused in 25 kids from South Paris, ME every day – ending up with 30 or so pickers on any given day. Pickers were brought in from Berlin, NH during the harvest. Ed picked 300-500 pounds of berries per day, depending on how good the picking was where they put him. All pickers were paid at the rate of 4 cents per pound. Once the picking was over, he and one other guy cut brush with loppers for a few weeks, mainly clearing areas mowing machines couldn't get. Shortly after 1957, Frank French phased out the young people and brought in adult crews to pick. For a time, Frank also used goats to keep brush down. Frank had about 40 goats, as "Goats won't eat blueberries... but they will eat Juniper!" It is said that Frank French harvested 33 tons of blueberries off Foss the year before he died in 1962.
Lloyd Merrifield, a renowned blueberry grower from Maine, bought Foss Mountain in 1962. Please see Commercial Management for more about Lloyd's management of blueberries on Foss.
In 1964, the Currier Lot, Foss' southern 99 acres, was sold to Alexander and Barbara McKenzie. In 1970, Merryfield sold Foss Mountain to the Town of Eaton. This was made possible with assistance from J. Keith Henney and James G. Simonds. In 1972, The Currier Lot Annex was sold from Robert French to McKenzie, including Pond and spring water rights granted to the Town of Eaton. A right of way is noted on the Currier Lot to the Town of Eaton as well for the old road going to the south end of the ridge.
In 2010, The Upper Saco Valley Land Trust purchased the Currier Lot, which had come down to Garth McKenzie and then his widow, 99 acres that had come on the market with the real estate sign on the ridge reading "Build Your Dream House Here." This land is commercial blueberry fields which gives way to forest. USVLT placed an easement on the land preventing development while permitting blueberry and forest management, maple sugaring and public access. USVLT then gave the land to the town of Eaton.
Where we are today...
Foss Mountain is still home to low bush blueberries, though not without the persistent cutting of trees. Foss also offers a sense of connectedness to the natural world which sprawls around it in every direction. Foss offers a chance for those who cannot hike far, the young and the elderly, to be in the mountains, to see forever. Wildlife visits Foss, too, and migrating birds pass over.
In the lower fields we, the Eaton Conservation Commission, have them cut every other year, and we cut the saplings out of the fields annually. We also apply sulfur to keep the pH low to encourage the berries. The Blueberries are organically grown – then harvested by a local picker who sells them fresh.
Everyone may gather blueberries above the clearly posted lower fields. We ask that you stay on the rocks on the summit as much as you can if you wander to pick berries. Some years will be better than other, as with all fruit and berry producing crops. Please do not pick with rakes, and do not pick for resale. Leave some for others to enjoy!
Our mission and legacy are one in the same – to conserve, protect and enjoy Foss Mountain and all the life it sustains, plant and animal, for generations to follow. Caring for this town land is the on-going focus of the Eaton Conservation Commission and we need you help. The popularity of Foss is fast growing and our success depends on your ongoing support; please be a part of our story.
Eaton Conservation Commission
We can only plan for the future of Foss Mountain – set the stage as visionaries have done for generations. We learn from actions and through words written by the very people who knew this land. We aim to strike a balance between human use and the preservation of Foss Mountain's non human plant and animal life. Conserve, protect and enjoy. We carry forward this commitment in these times of increased human population and climate crisis.
Thanks to our forebearers, Eaton has more than 2,000 acres of Town Land, managed by the Eaton Conservation Commission. Foss captures the heart of everyone who experiences it's splendor, and we are committed to preserving this treasure. We appreciate your support.