Comprising over 600 acres of woodlands, wetlands, and hilly terrain, Breakheart Reservation has expansive views that reach south to Boston, north to New Hampshire, and east to the Atlantic Ocean. What began as a parcel of common land awarded to new settlers arriving in Saugus in the early 1700s is today considered a gem in the Massachusetts state park system.
In the 1890s, businessman Benjamin Johnson and two friends bought the land to create a private hunting retreat called Breakheart Hill Forest. The tranquil forest was catapulted into the limelight in 1900 when their caretaker was brutally murdered. Three decades later, Johnson and his partners sold the land to the state. It became a camp for the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps and was later transformed into a recreational area.
Highlights of Breakheart Reservation:
• For the first time, this book reveals the origin of the name of Breakheart Reservation. State officials thought for decades that it was named by Civil War soldiers who found it so remote and lonely that it broke their hearts. However, the authors discovered a 1781 document showing that the name comes from a local hill named “Breakheart Hill,” named after a hill in England, probably near the home village of an early colonist.
• The book traces the history of Breakheart Reservation from colonial settlement over 300 years ago to the present, during which this area managed to survive as a forested retreat. Remarkably, the statement that historian Nathan Hawkes made in 1888, “This tract of land has exactly the same appearance it had when the old Puritan first looked upon it” remains essentially true today.
Alison C. Simcox and Douglas L. Heath are environmental scientists with an interest in local history. In Breakheart Reservation, they selected images from private collections and public archives, tracing the park’s history from its natural origins through colonial settlement and use as a private resort to a public park of extraordinary beauty.
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