Oak Point

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Oak Point
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OAK POINT. Glimpses of its History and Physical Appearance. A Charming Summer Treat with Great Future Possibilities. Twenty-five miles from the city, near the head of Long Reach, jutting out into the broad stream half a mile or more, stands Oak Point, the most conspicuous feature in the whole course of the river St. John. The traveller who views it from a passing steamer experiences a mild sort of surprise at its aspect and wonders how this narrow promontory happened to be left when the waters withdrew from the great valley of the St. John, which in some remote age was evidently a lake. This, however, is a field of speculation that may very well be left to the geologist, and in the meantime we may find enough of a more modern character to interest us about Oak Point. No place could be more appropriately named for this is a veritable point of oaks, a clump of those hardy trees standing on its very extremity, and half concealing the structure on which the beacon is placed within their foliage. These oak trees, or their ancestors, seem to have been observed by the very first explorers of the St. John. Champlain speaks of them in his book published in 1613. The first white man who ascended the river thus far appears, according to Champlain, to have been Ralleau, the secretary of the Sieur de Monts, who went up to visit the Indian chief of the river, who was named Secondon. In his report of his visit, he speaks of its fine trees, such as oaks, beeches, walnut trees, and also of its grape vines. The oaks are still there; the walnut trees, by which, no doubt, Ralleau meant the butternut, are still there, and are to be found on Jones’s Island, half a mile from Oak Point. On the same island grape vines are still to be found in great abundance, and all along the sandy shore of the Point and its vicinity a species of grape abounds, different from the grapes on the island, but still edible, although somewhat sour. THE FIRST SETTLERS. The French, who were not fond of clearing upland when intervale and marsh lands were available, never seem to have settled at Oak Point or in its vicinity. When the loyalists came therefore they found the whole territory on both sides of Long Reach covered with the primeval forest. Among the first, if not the very first, of the Loyalists who settled there were Messrs. Brittain and Richards. They went up the river in boats to explore and find a place on which to settle. Brittain soon made a choice and settled on the point of land, which still bears his name, on the west bank of the river, above where the Nerepis joins it. Richards went farther and concluded that the land on the east side of the river, a little below Oak Point, would suit him. He landed there and camped for the night, but next morning, looking over to the other side of the river, he saw a rather extensive track of level land, so he crossed over and settled there. This was the flat just below Oak Point which extends from Marley’s Creek to Jones’s Creek and there some of his descendants are settled still. THE ISLANDS. Immediately below Oak Point are three high islands, familiar objects to all who are accustomed to go up and down the river in the steamers. The most distant of these from the Point is Caten’s Island, which is about one hundred acres in extent, and which, although much lumbered over, has never been cleared. The soil is said to be excellent and no doubt some future generation will see it turned into a sheep farm, for which it would be admirably adapted. The other two islands are named Rocky Island and Jones’s Island respectively and are joined together by a piece of intervale half a mile long. The lowest, Rocky Island, is a small affair with an area of little more than an acre and, although once cleared, has been suffered to relapse into a wilderness state. To anyone who wished to lead a solitary life, cultivate a garden and shoot ducks and snipe, Rocky Island would make an excellent home. He could see the busy throng pass his solitary retreat every day without mingling with them. The passing steamer laden with tourists or picknickers, and the shriek of the distant locomotive would remind him of the civilization he had left, while he continued to enjoy a Robinson Crusoe life with the advantage of being able to rejoin the world when he pleased. DIGGING FOR PIRATES’ TREASURE. Rocky Island from its picturesque aspect, girt as it is with a belt of rocks which goes down sheer into the deep water of the channel and rises high above it, has always been looked upon with awe as a likely place for Capt. Kidd or some other noted pirate to have concealed his treasure. More than one adventurous party of money diggers have been frightened from their midnight task by the sound of oars and the appearance of a spectre boat manned by four strong rowers and steered by Kidd himself, making its way to the Island. This constant vigilance on the part of the deceased pirate has proved the more provoking because it is always sure to be exercised at a time when the treasure hunters are sure of their prize; when all the indications are favorable and the mineral rod has pointed in the most unmistakable manner to the very spot where the money is buried. On more than one occasion, if we may believe these midnight devotees of the pick and spade, the actual treasure box has been struck by their tools only to shift its place and disappear on the instant in the most exasperating manner. These repeated failures, it might be supposed, would discourage the money diggers, but they appear to belong to the crop that never fails, and so, no doubt, a century hence the surface of Rocky Island will be broken and its peace disturbed by mysterious personages with masks and mineral rods, crow bars, picks and shovels in search of something which will never be found, for the excellent reason that it was never there. THE GROWTH OF THE FOREST. Rocky Island, when I revisited it the other day, furnished a striking illustration of the rapidity with which nature reasserts herself and restores to its primeval state that which has been wrested from her by the hand of man. A few years before I had seen it entirely free from trees, except around its margin, with as smooth a turf as any lawn; now it is a wilderness of such abundant growth that it is scarcely possible to penetrate it, and with nothing to remind one of its former aspect. We may learn from this a lesson of the transient character of man’s dominion over the earth on which he lives. Suppose the population of this Province to be wholly removed from it, how few traces of their occupation would remain after the lapse of fifty years. Every acre of cleared land would have become forest again, even the streets of St. John in spite of macadamizing and wooden pavement would be covered with trees. Whatever ruins remained of our stately buildings would be so densely overgrown with vegetable life that their uses could hardly be conjectured. Our dyke lands would be restored to the dominion of the sea, and our intervales covered with elms almost as stately as those that the first discoverers of the river saw upon them. A LAND OF VINES. Jones’s Island, which is the one nearest to Oak Point, contains about twenty acres of upland and a considerable area of intervale at each end. Its upland portion is almost entirely cleared and at present bears a flourishing crop of buckwheat. It is the prettiest and most interesting island on the whole river and one never grows tired of exploring its many beauties. The wild grape here flourishes in great profusion and comes to maturity. In the autumn the vines are loaded with luscious fruit, the whole island being apparently a natural vineyard. It is a great pity that some clever horticulturalist has not tried to see what can be done with our native grape with a little cultivation. But the grape is not the only fruit that flourishes on the island. Wild cherries are very abundant, the bilberry, dear to the heart of the rustic maiden, is found there, raspberries grow in unlimited quantities and I never saw such a place for blackberries. Much of the shore is a pleasant beach of sand where the bather may enjoy himself in the brakish and limpid water of the river. Where the shore is not sandy or rocky it consists of a broad margin of intervale, some of which is cleared, while other portions are covered with trees and vines. The butternut flourishes here, and many consider the pickles produced from its fruit equal to the best English walnuts. Jones’s Island is merely an appendage to a farm on the main land, but some of these days it will be put to a nobler use. Considering how near it is to the city and how kindly fruits of all kinds grow on its soil it should, in the hands of a skilful gardener, become a mine of wealth to its owner. GRASSY ISLAND. No stretch of Oak Point would be complete without an account of Grassy Island. This piece of territory is a short distance above Oak Point and is about three quarters of a mile wide. It is wholly intervale, is the property of Kings county, and probably contains 100 acres in all. It is divided into twenty three lots and the right to cut hay upon them is sold at auction every year. It usually brings from $600 to $800 into the county treasury and the annual crop of hay is from 160 to 200 tons. It was stated by someone at the last meeting of the Municipal Council that a part of Grassy Island was washing away, but this is a mistake. It is increasing both in area and in height every year and will continue to do so if left alone. At times the wash of the waves will undermine a piece of the low bank of the intervale in one or two places, but this is only the river’s way of preparing for a fresh addition to the island. The bank thus undermined falls into the water where it accumulates a fresh deposit from the material brought down by the freshet; presently it becomes covered with a growth of coarse sedge; then every freshet it continues to rise higher and higher until the sedge is replaced with England grass and an important addition made to the area of the island. This process is constantly going on. There are men now living who can remember when Grassy Island cut hardly any hay, and that little of very inferior quality. It was not so very many years ago that a man actually refused to take Grassy Island as a gift, because the grass on it was not worth cutting; now it is a property of great and constantly increasing value, and the revenue from it is a very sensible relief to the taxpayers of Kings. THE SOIL. The upland in the vicinity of Oak Point is mostly of a light character, a sharp gravelly soil that responds quickly to cultivation and yields good crops. That is the general character of much of the level land, but there are places where the soil is heavy and where brick clay is found in abundance. Bricks were made on the Richards farm as much as half a century ago, and three or four of the farm houses in the vicinity are built of brick. After the great fire a considerable quantity of brick was made at Oak Point. Beyond the level land which extends with varying width from the river, there rises a succession of hills, some of them of very peculiar shape. Two of them are circular on the summit, as if they had been formed by the grinding action of ice during the glacial period, while the main range extends in terraces, broken only by the brooks which penetrate them. The soil of these hills is generally excellent, and behind them there is much level land of good quality. The farms about Oak Point seem to be fairly well cultivated, and very large quantities of produce for St. John are shipped there, or rather at the public wharf above the Point itself. This wharf, which is a substantial structure with a low portion for ordinary water and a high portion for freshets, is more visited by the steamers than any other wharf on the river and affords them more freight. A SUMMER RESORT. The Point itself is probably half a mile in length and contains between 30 and 40 acres in all, is comparatively low, and of no great width. It contains some intervale land, but most of the soil is sandy and light in character. As a picnic ground it is unsurpassed, surrounded as it is with beautiful shade trees, and with a large, level area for sports and games. There is but one house on the point, which was erected by a city merchant many years ago for a summer residence, but which he seldom occupied. This dwelling has been since frequently used as a summer boarding house for people from the city, but the accommodation was never sufficient to enable a boarding house to be kept on a sufficiently large and liberal scale to be a paying investment and at the same time satisfactory to the guests. So far as site is concerned, however, no place on the river has so many advantages as Oak Point, and if a summer hotel there, supplied with boats and other conveniences for pleasure, would not pay it could only be because there is no field for such a hotel in New Brunswick. Boating is one of the pleasures for which Oak Point affords the best facilities. The river opposite the islands is between two and three miles in width, and the whole Reach is available for a cruising ground. There is almost always a sufficient breeze; sometimes, indeed, rather more than is needed; but dangerous squalls are seldom encountered, for the hills are comparatively low and distant from the water. There can be no more delightful amusement than to cruise among the islands with a good sail boat, when a fresh steady breeze is blowing and the cares and toils of every day work are forgotten in the exhilaration of the hour. THE CHURCH. Oak Point Church is a neat and commodious wooden structure with a spire, standing about midway from the end of the Point to the mainland. It is well arranged inside, with sixteen single pews in the centre, and eight large square pews on each side. It will contain about 200 people, and is usually well filled. The chancel, reading desk, and pulpit are all in good modern style and the Christmas decorations, which are always tasteful, attest the zeal of those who worship there. On my many visits to Oak Point I have never failed to be impressed with the simple services in this little church, which seem to fulfil the idea of what public worship should be, plain and sincere. The worthy Rector, Rev. D. W. Pickett, who has filled that position for more than 20 years, has never failed on any occasion that I ever heard him preach to give his hearers an admirable sermon, practical in its teaching and wholesome in tone. It is by such workers as he who, without ostentation and without the world’s acclaim, go forward in the path of duty that the great work of the Christian churches is done. The care of their flocks is in their hands from the cradle to the grave.