Thirty hearty history buffs hit the trail two weeks ago as part of a guided hike of the Deer Jump and Merrimack River reservations.
The hike, which was co-sponsored by the Andover Historical Society and the Andover Village Improvement Society, or AVIS, lasted two hours. It was led by John Hess, vice president of AVIS, and Jane Dietzel Cairns, president of the Historical Society.
Cairns provided the narration during the hike based on her research of the area.
At the first stop along the river, Cairns showed the participants a large stone with a plaque honoring Harold Rafton, a former AVIS member, who spearheaded the purchase of the riverfront for AVIS beginning in the 1950s.
Cairns discussed the history of the ownership of the land along the river, noting that in the mid-19th century, the Essex Company purchased the land from local farmers to protect the watershed from development and eventually to build the Great Stone Dam in Lawrence, which provided water power to the mills.
At another stop, hikers learned that archaeological digs as well as the daily work of many farmers along the river over the years have helped uncover artifacts from the Penacook Indians. The tribe used the river banks for fishing and hunting, with evidence suggesting that these Native Americans lived here only part of the year. Some experts, however, believe they may have lived along the river year-round.
Finally, the group stopped at a scenic point of land that included one of many ferry stops located along the river during the 18th century. The ferries were used by sightseers and partygoers who would come to the river to picnic, in this case at Laurel Grove, a locally owned venue that catered to those who sought a day along the river.