2009-02-28 / Front Page

Sappy Story

Dawes sugar shack has history
by Scott Rawdon

Photos by Scott Rawdon Photos by Scott Rawdon JACKSONTOWN- None of the fifth graders from Jackson Intermediate School seemed to care that it was too cold for the Maple sap to flow Monday morning. The Dawes Arboretum sugar shack was boiling water to simulate the sap in the evaporator and a roaring fire kept the inside of the shack nice and warm, even though snow coated the surrounding icy trails. The fifth graders were one of many, many groups that will visit Dawes' sugar shack through March 7, as Dawes presents its annual Maple Syrup Madness program, which leads visitors through the process of creating maple syrup.

Unfortunately for the display, the temperature needs to rise a bit before the maple trees will surrender their sap; it was about 19 degrees Monday morningway too cold!

Dawes' sugar shack was first built in 1925 when it served as the Dawes family woodland retreat for relaxation and nature study. It was also a popular place to entertain friends. The cabin was originally built from hand-hewn logs and beams recycled from an 1800s barn and outbuildings located where the Zand Education Center stands today. The cabin's fireplace is made of local stones and its original floor was held in place with wooden pegs.

According to the New England Maple Museum's web site, maple sugaring has been an early spring tradition ever since the Eastern Woodland Indians discovered that maple sap cooked over an open fire produces a sweet sugar.

An old Iroquois legend describes the accidental discovery of the sugar making process. A hunter returned to his dwelling and found an enticing sweetness in the air around the kettle in which his mate was boiling meat. The fluid in the kettle, he learned, was sap collected beneath a broken maple limb.

To make their sugar, the Indians would slash the maple tree and collect the sap as it dripped. Logs were hollowed and then filled with the fresh sap, boiled by white-hot fieldstones. The Indians would process the sap through the syrup stage and end with crystallized sugar, which wouldn't spoil when stored.

When the first European settlers arrived, the Indians traded maple sugar with them and eventually taught the settlers the secrets of the maple sugaring process. The early settlers added their technologies. Reportedly, a French missionary was the first settler to make maple syrup in 1690.

Other Europeans bored holes in the maple trunks and inserted wooden or metal spouts. They used wooden buckets to catch the sap, and then carried the sweet water on shoulder yokes to metal boiling kettles. Early settlers, like the Native Americans, saved their maple as crystallized sugar.

Maple sugar ended colonists' dependence on foreign sugar. Commonly, each family made their own maple sugar for personal use. Later, sugar makers started businesses to produce maple products and sell them to the general public. Technology changed again, and tanks on oxen or horse drawn sleds were used to collect the sap. The sugarhouse was now their destination where the invention of the evaporator aided boiling.

Today, plastic tubing transports the sap from the trees to gathering tanks. From there it is taken to the sugar house where it is transferred to a central storage tank to feed the evaporator, which boils off most of the water, leaving sweet, thick maple syrup.

Dawes' Maple Syrup Madness runs through Saturday, March 7, Monday - Saturday, 10 am - 4 pm, Sunday, 1 - 4 pm. Admission is free. Guide yourself down the Maple Trail or take part in a guided tour starting at the Shelter House on Saturdays at 2pm. Group tours are also available on weekdays. Please call or e-mail to make a reservation-740.323.2355 or information@dawesarb.org.

Return to top