The Bayer’s Lake Mystery Wall
(Bayer’s lake historic site BeCv)
The Bayers Lake Mystery Wall site is located on the south side of Geyzer Hill in the Bayers Lake business park. The site lies just off Lovett Lake Court and is easily accessible from the road. Jack McNabb first reported the wall structure in the 1990’s. A report prepared by CRM for the Halifax regional municipality was completed in August 2006, along with other studies including archeological surveys by Saint Mary’s University. Before making any hasty conclusions as to the sites purpose, it is important to keep in mind that the site is not protected. It is unknown the amount of times it has been visited, altered, reconstructed or vandalised. Due to its proximity to the city and people, surely it has been altered to some degree.
When we first arrived at the site and saw the five-sided structure, I immediately realised that the site’s history would be difficult to unravel without the help of archival records. Other than the fact that the site may have been constantly disturbed, the site is built at the top of a steep hill made of sheer bedrock. This makes the preservation of artifacts more problematic. In fact, previous archeological surveys have not yielded any artifacts related to the sites original purpose (Sanders & Stewart, 2006).
My first impression of the structure was the location is odd and the construction method does not appear to serve any domestic purpose, but possibly more of a military purpose.
Dry-stone walls and structures are a common sight in landscapes across the world. Farmers often move rocks around for agricultural purposes, to outline their properties or even to build structures. These types of structures can be informal and not always appearing on official property records or maps. Simple domestic purposes are the most common reasons for these types of structures construction. But during my initial observation of the site, it was obvious that this hill had very few opportunities for agriculture or raising livestock, and so cannot be explained as a simple domestic site. The dry-stone wall follows a winding path over the surrounding natural cliff and does not seem to serve as a regular property divider. The CRM report has not uncovered any known property lines or farms that coincide with the location of the wall. The wall itself does not appear to have ever completely enclosed the site, and so would not work to hold animals.
Upon arriving at the five-sided structure, the first thing you notice is the view. The location on top of the hill offers an imposing view over Bayers Lake. Even with the trees that have grown in the way, the view spans from the industrial park to First Lake, Second Lake and even Long Lake. This location would be particularly ideal for defensive purposes. The surrounding cliffs offer a natural defensive feature, slightly enhanced by the construction of the wall. The wall is built on the south side of the hill, offering a defence from the mainland.
The structure itself is not big, 1.25 metres tall and 1.30 metres thick (Sanders & Stewart, 2006). At first glance, it appeared as though it could have been used as a foundation for some sort of platform that may have been built on top of it; or simply that it was meant to be a stone structure, but was never finished. This is a dry wall construction meaning that no mortar was used in its construction. Naturally, the walls have to be thicker than one with mortar to stay up. If the stones did support some sort of structure at some point, we would expect that there would remain material evidence of the structure like nails, supporting beams or joints in the wall meant to hold the floor in place. Also, if the site were used for domestic purposes, there would most likely be some remnants we humans typically leave behind. This is simply not the case. The CRM report mentions a variety of test pits that have been done at the site but none of them have uncovered any materials normally associated with the existence of a platform, or any other structure superimposing the stone structure. Nor has the archeological surveys produced any artifacts hinting to a prolonged domestic habitation. Many other things such as glass, bullets and other modern items were found. This only shows that the site was often visited by a variety of people and for a wide variety of reasons since its construction.The building itself is built on top of a slanted piece of bedrock, making the floor of the structure uneven. If the structure did not intend to ever support a platform, it is safe to say that its floor does not appear to be very comfortable. Whoever decided to build it in this location was clearly more concerned with practicality and location rather than comfort.
The five-sided building has three interesting features. The fact that it is five-sided is strange in itself, but there is also an entrance and a fully enclosed stone box inside the building. Having an entrance included in its design makes it unlikely as being designed as a foundation, although the stone box enclosure inside the building does resemble a cellar, where food could be kept cool. In my opinion, it could also serve as a powder magazine. Ammunition in the 18th century was highly dangerous for both your enemy and yourself due to its flammability. Ammunition needs to be kept dry, secure and close. During battle, the ammunition can explode and cause casualties to its own troops; even a mere spark from a nearby rickshaw bullet can spell disaster for a group of surrounding soldiers. This stone box could serve as a perfect location to keep ammunition secure; it also serves to deflect the blast in case of an accidental ignition.
Also mentioned in the CRM report, a lichenologist who studied the site came to the conclusion that the rocks used to build the structures, had not been disturbed for at least 200 years. This fact cannot be ignored and would eliminate many other possibilities of a modern construction such as the possibility that someone, or a group of people had decided to build these structures for no real purpose. It was suggested during our visit that hikers could have possibly built up the structures over time, placing one stone at the time every time someone went up there on a hike. Although this has happened in other areas, this is most likely not the case since it contradicts the lichenologist’s findings and that this area was ever a travel destination.
The history of Halifax is generally well documented and most military and land appropriations are well known. The fact that this site is not mentioned in any military document, map or land record makes it seem unusual for a military site.
Although there is no mention of a defensive position in records, it is common for a military commander to take defensive matters into his own hands. If a unit is posted in an unfriendly location for an extended period of time, they often begin building themselves some form of defence. These often do not make it to official records. Also, if the post was abandoned before completion then it could have gone unrecorded.
Roy Bird Cook compiled a list of fortresses found in West Virginia. The fortresses range in dates from 1719 to 1795. Some of the forts described resemble the fort at our site.
“The defenses of the frontier may be classified into three general groups. First, the fort, which was the strongest type of a fortress, and generally but not always erected under the direction of the Executive Council of the State, and garrisoned in like manner. Second, the stockade, which was usually a large log house with a palisade around it, embracing enough ground to shelter several families in time of need. Third, the blockhouse, which was to be found of several types. Some had a second story, overhung, and others simply had provision made for rifle defense” (Bird Cook, 2013).
He mentions that not all blockhouses were constructed with a second story but that they could simply be installations built to enhance a rifle defence. The lack of artifacts connected to military or domestic purposes is an indication in itself. Perhaps the site was never finished, was purely temporary installation used for training or perhaps even the domestic occupants of the site were simply obsessive compulsive cleaners.
The CRM report mentions that in 1751, defences were placed across the neck of the Halifax peninsula. From the northwest arm to Fairview, blockhouses were constructed to defend the patrol route (Bird Cook, 2013). These defenses were needed to protect the town of Halifax from the French and their native allies. During this period, there were many skirmishes happening between the English, French and the natives who inhabit the region. This series of blockhouses is depicted in Map 1, made in 1759.
Map 1: Halifax Harbour (Wilson, 2013)
It is reasonable to belive that 1751, during the efforts to secure Halifax peninsula, represents the earlyest date within the spectrum of time possible for the sites construction. It is not uncommon for the military to establish forward observation points ahead of the actual line that are reasonably well defended in order to warn the line of incoming danger and to act as a buffer to slow the danger down. The site is at a comfortable distance ahead from the main line to the nearest set of cliffs.
Map 2: Halifax Harbour (Greenway Maps, n.d.)
It is mentioned in the CRM report that quarries were found here and there in close proximity to the site. Some of the stones chipped away from the quarries were probably even used in the construction of the wall (Sanders & Stewart, 2006). Map 2 shows many quarry sites in the area surrounding chocolate lake, and makeshift roads leading towards the mystery wall site. After 1758-1760 after the defeat of the French fort of Louisbourg, tensions diminished and people were more free to expand beyond the safety of the Halifax peninsula defensive line.
In 1757, the government decided to build an important route that would connect Halifax and Lunenburg by land (Sanders & Stewart, 2006). This route could have passed near the mystery wall site in order to circumnavigate the inhabitants of Dutch village who did not want to be connected to Halifax by road (Sanders & Stewart, 2006).
Map 3: Penn Block Houses (Landry, 1999)
Map 3 shows the defensive line with the blockhouses extending from the Northwest Arm to the Bedford Basin. The map does not encompass the mystery wall site but does show the Dutch Land Grants to the west dated 1763. At this time, development has already begun to sprawl beyond the limits of the Halifax peninsula rendering the defensive line pretty much useless. The defensive line cannot protect the vital assets and populations that now exist beyond this line. This is a possible motive for the construction of forward observation posts. As development expands faster than anticipated, defences quickly become outdated.
I believe this represents the latest possible date for the construction of the mystery wall, built approximately from 1751 to 1763. The site is most likely a military forward observation point built around the year 1757 by the English soldiers tasked to defend the population of Halifax and its surroundings. During this period, they were anticipating possible hostilities from the French due to the impending attack on Fort Louisbourg. The post would have also served the purpose to protect the inhabitants and quarry and lumber industries during the rapid expansion of Halifax. As tensions with the French and natives decreased after the capture of Fort Louisbourg, and the expansion extending beyond this point, the post was quickly abandoned and forever left behind.
Bird Cook, R. (2013). Virginia Frontier Defences 1719-1795. West Virginia Archives and History. Retrieved from: http://www.wvculture.org/history/journal_wvh/wvh1-2-4.html
Greenway Maps. (n.d.). HUGA webpage. Retrieved from: http://www.halifaxurbangreenway.org/maps/halifax2.gif
Landry, P. (1999). Introduction To The Early History of Nova Scotia (Acadia). Retrieved from: http://www.blupete.com/Hist/NovaScotiaBk1/Part5/Maps/PennBlockHouses.htm
Sanders, M. & Stewart, W.B. (2006). Bayers Lake Historic Site, BeCv-9, Bayers Lake Business Park, Archaeological Screening. CRM Group Project Number:2006-0008. Cultural Resource Management Group Limited (Halifax).
Wilson, A. (2013). Document 2: Woods and Lakes. Retrieved from: http://recallingyourpresencewhilecallingyourname.com/