Devil’s Den

It’s Halloween, and I was looking for a subject with a spooky theme. Although by the title it would appear so, our story today really isn’t a spooky one, but I think you will find it interesting. The Devil’s Den exists, and it lies between the new Ashland High School on East Union Street and Wildwood Cemetery on Chestnut Street.

Located in a fairly remote area of Ashland, the Devil’s Den is really a cave, and it is also known as a talus cave. Talus caves are formed when irregularly shaped rocks are piled on top of each other, and are usually located on a sloped surface. Gravity and time can shift these rocks creating an opening, or “cave.” Ashland has an abundance of these caves, including the famous Witches Caves located in the Ashland Town Forest.

So where exactly is it, and why is it important to Ashland’s history? The Devil’s Den is located on what was known as the Old Mendon Road, or the Framingham to Mendon Road. This stretch of the road is located directly behind the new Ashland High School on East Union Street and the back side of Wildwood Cemetery at its furthest corner. Some sources say it is along the Old Connecticut Path, but there seems to be conflicting opinions as to where the Old Connecticut Path actually existed in the area. One source places it closer to Fruit Street, while another shows it closer to Cedar Street. At any rate, the road or “path” along Devils’s Den was well used and traveled, most likely by the Indians living in the area who probably used the cave for storing grain and other provisions. The path is in excellent condition today, but the Devil’s Den itself has been altered over the years. The property in the most recent past had belonged to the Kadra family, and it appears that the entrance to the cave had been filled in to the point that it is no longer accessible. Some sources claim it was deliberately filled in by the landowners to discourage less than favorable activity. The late Ashland historian Dick Fannon is quoted as having played in the cave as a child. Dick was a tall man, and even as a child I’m sure he was fairly tall. For him to fit inside, along with his friends, would certainly require a large area. Stories of people using the Devil’s Den as a hideaway are common too. Card games, rendezvous points, etc. are frequently cited if you Google Devil’s Den on the Internet.

A 2002 Massachusetts Technology Collaborative survey of the land for the new “High Performance Green” Ashland High School noted the area known as the Devil’s Den, along with the Old Connecticut Path as being possible historic sites that were not to be disturbed during construction of the school. It was interesting to note what they had to say about the Devil’s Den:

“… Prehistoric materials were recovered from a mottled soil matrix in association with historic/modern materials. It has been suggested that either the town or the previous owners of the property (the Kadras) had pushed some dirt into the cave, partially filling it in so as to prevent people from entering and using the cave. The observed stratigraphy seems to support that supposition. Indeed, several beer cans were observed in the back of the cave behind the large boulder. It is not known if the dirt that was put into the cave was brought in from somewhere else or was merely pushed in from outside the cave. The large boulder within the cave prevented additional testing in the furthest depth of the cave/rockshelter to aid in evaluating the extent of disturbance, presence of Native American materials, and overall significance of the cave.”

Sounds like they came to the same conclusion. They also went on to say that the Devil’s Den, and the path:

“… appears to be a remnant that has not significantly changed in the past two hundred years.”

I would have to agree. Much like the trails in the Town Forest, the path to the Devil’s Den is still wide enough to walk comfortably. There are a couple of fallen trees, but for the most part the path is clear. Just watch out for wet leaves this time of year. It can be accessed from the last road in the left rear of Wildwood, just before the new section. The cave is further up on the right hand side. You can see the back side of Ashland High as you approach the rock formation; though that was not the direction I took. I like to walk the old trails.

Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions
October 2009