HONORING THE LAND: Before there was a Rolling Ridge

As Rolling Ridge celebrates 75 years of ministry in 2023, we continue a monthly series on the second Tuesday of the month to share our history.  The natural beauty of our 38 acres on Lake Cochichewick have inspired people for generations, even before there was a Rolling Ridge.  We remember the history and seek to retell our relationship to the land honestly.  We hope that you will join us on this historic land on Sunday, September 24th as we celebrate 75 years of the Ridge with an Arts and Music Festival.


"In 1899, a rich wool merchant from New York named Ethan Allen (not THAT Ethan Allen) purchased the 38 acres along Lake Cochichewick to build a summer home."

For decades, this is how we would begin our story with guests at Rolling Ridge.  No more.  This is how we begin our story now...

"Before the Earth beneath our feet was called Rolling Ridge,
before there was the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,
before there was a North Andover, Andover, and Lake Cochichewick,
generations of Pennacook people,
an Algonquian-speaking tribe of the Wabanaki Confederacy
belonged to this land and considered it their home."

So begins what we call our Land Acknowledgement.  As we shift the narrative from Ethan Allen to the Pennacook, Rolling Ridge is committed to retelling our story honestly.  This is the story of how and why we made the change in sharing our history as we seek to honor the legacy of the land and the people who have called it home.

It all began during the pandemic.  When Covid shut down our facilities, I began to connect with other retreat sites to learn what other centers were doing to get through and survive the growing fears.  The Retreat Center Collaboration (RCC) had begun a few years earlier and was having a nationwide reach in networking retreat center professionals.  While many of our online conversations focused on operations and programming, one growing topic on the weekly calls was the importance of Land Acknowledgements at these sacred places that spiritually connect people.

When I first heard about Land Acknowledgements, a light bulb went off in my eco-spiritual brain, "Why has Rolling Ridge never done this?"  But to be honest, I also felt a bit ashamed that this had not crossed my mind as I seek to embrace a spiritual connection with the Earth through my ministry.  "Why had I never considered this?"  The indigenous history of the land is just as important, if not more spiritual, than the natural history.  Thus, with the pandemic shut down opening up more time for me to research and explore, I began to work with due diligence to ask the question: "Who called these 38 acres home before Ethan Allen purchased the property in 1899?"   

The first Land Acknowledgement workshop I attended introduced me to Native Land Digital. Through their interactive map of the entire global, this site is the recommended first step to begin understanding the indigenous history of an area.  The shape of Lake Cochichewick made it easy to locate Rolling Ridge on the map.  What was not easy was understanding the indigenous history as five different colored circles representing five different nations intersected around the lake with the Massa-adchu-es-et (Massachusett), Wabanaki (Dawnland Confederacy), Pawtucket, Agawam, and Naumkeag indicating a connection to this area, along with the Pentucket, Pennacook, and N’dakina (Abenaki / Abénaquis)  tribal people.


Sigh.  This was not going to be easy.  Yet as Native Land notes on their front page, they "encourage people to treat these maps as a starting point and to do their own research in engaging with communities and history themselves."

With such a broad starting point from a global resource, I knew that I needed to dig into more local connections for some answers.  I figured that I couldn't be the first person from North Andover to engage in the search to know the indigenous history of this area.  Thus, I reached out to the North Andover Historical Society.  

While their website notes that the Merrimack Valley was home to the Pennacook People for ten of thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans, Carol Majahad, former director of NAHS, began her email response to me about the indigenous people in North Andover with "It is indeed a complicated question,"  because "Indigenous people do not seem to have a permanent settlement in what is now North Andover/Andover."

The earliest report of Indigenous history in the Merrimack Valley ("Merromah Awke" meaning "the strong place" or "place of swift waters" in the Algonquian dialect) comes from 1623 by Captain Christopher Leavitt who notes that Passaconaway was considered “powwow” or shaman, "Bashaba of the Pennacooks."  It is believed that 8000 years ago the Pennacook Confederacy had their locus between Pentucket Falls (now Lowell) and the historic Shattuck Farms (now the Andover Industrial Park), which was "the largest American Indian settlement in what would later be called New England". 

With notes about the Pennacook settling alongside the south side of the Merrimack River, did they also spend time further east in what is now North Andover near Lake Cochichewick?

Given that "cochichewick" means "place of the great cascades" in the same Algonquian dialect spoken by the Pennacook of the "Merromah Awke" Valley, there must be some connection. 

The North Andover Historical Society put me into contact with Nancy Lennhoff from North Parish, the big white church at the rotary in the center of the town.  Nancy was part of the team that created their congregation's Land Acknowledgement.  Through their research, they came to meet Paul and Denise Pouliot of the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook-Abenaki People.  With the support of the Pouliots, North Parish came to recognize that "The land now called North Andover sits on the original homelands of the Pennacook tribal nation, an Algonquian-speaking tribe of the Wabanaki Confederacy."  

I found my starting place, my confirmation, and my contacts as I reached out to Paul and Denise who are identified as the "chief speakers," the Sag8mo (Head Male Speaker/Grand Chief) and Sag8moskwa (Head Female Speaker) of the Cowasuck.  The Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook - Abenaki People identify as the indigenous and aboriginal First Nations People of N'dakinna, of the united Pennacook and Abenaki People of the greater Abenaki Nation of the Wabanaki Confederation.  N'dakinna  represents area now known as the province of Quebec in Canada, and the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, and Massachusetts in the United States.  North Andover is in the southern part of their sovereign homeland.

According to their constitution, they commit "to preserve our historic form of government and enrich our culture, our Aln8bad8wa language, N'dakinna - our homeland, and to achieve and maintain a desirable measure of prosperity and the blessings of freedom. This is done, acknowledging, with humility and gratitude, the goodness of Kchi N'waskwa the Creator and Great Mystery of all the unknown and boundless universe in permitting us to do so, and asking for aid and guidance in this endeavor."

When I first reached out to Paul and Denise, they were very gracious amid all my ignorance and very patient with my desire to have easy answers to very complex questions of history and politics.  What became very clear to me is the fact that a Land Acknowledgement should not been seen as a one-time act to alleviate guilt but the first step in a long-term commitment of education, advocacy, and partnership with the native people.  In other words, a Land Acknowledgement is not something to be entered into lightly if one truly wants to live into the fullness of its implications.

With pandemic concerns still burgeoning in the fall of 2021 and the need to assess the long-term implications of an honest Land Acknowledgement, I decided to have Paul and Denise first facilitate an ONLINE presentation as part of our Voices and Stories series, which we launched to "build bridges of understanding through historical education and contemplative listening."  To recognize Indigenous People Day in October of 2021, the Pouliots presented an overview of the history of the Indigenous People in New England and the laws which have silenced this community for generations.  Over 36 people registered for this inspiring event that officially began Rolling Ridge's relationship with the Cowasuck.

After the initial event with the Pouliots in the fall of 2021, plans were made for an official proclamation of our Rolling Ridge Land Acknowledgement in 2022 in partnership with our wider community.   Work on the Rolling Ridge Land Acknowledgement became a community collaboration with the Rolling Ridge board, the staff, and the Pouliots providing important perspectives that speak to both the physical and spiritual dimensions of this effort.

As part of the Land Acknowledgement, I talked with the Pouliots about our desire to name the island off of the Rolling Ridge peninsula to mark our commitment to retelling our history in light of the native connections to this land.  I was thinking "Pennacook Island" would be a good name, but wanted their perspective.

I remember Denise giving a knowing look to Paul and then explaining to me that landmarks were historically named for their use or reputation by a community, and not typically named for people or things.  Naming, she said, is really a community event.  We could name the island "Pennacook" but she suggested we consider other options and consult those who know and use the island.  How do they refer to it?  I of course embraced their suggestion  but asked for their recommendation of names, specifically in the Algonquian dialect as a way to highlight our connection to the Cowasuck.  They agreed to help but felt that the final decision should come from the larger community.  I wholehearted agreed.

To make a recommendation, they needed to come and look at the island and allow it to inspire them.  They also recommended that I check the community if they historically referred to the island in a particular way.  

As I contacted local officials, historical records, and long-time Rolling Ridge people, no one could recall a name for the island other than "the island."  After Paul and Denise visited during the spring of 2022, they offered two possible suggestions:
1. Bizewimenahan, meaning a "floating island or useless island"
2. Menahananiz, meaning "little island"

Very simply, "menahan" means "island" in the Algonquian dialect; "bizewi" means "floating or useless"; and "iz" means "small".

Because the tradition of naming is rooted in community for indigenous people, we put the two names to a vote by those in our Rolling Ridge community during the summer of 2022, with the official reveal of the naming coming at the Land Acknowledgement on September 24, 2022.

September 24th was a beautifully clear and sunny day as we gathered lakeside at our Point of Pines outdoor chapel but I knew that the howling wind and chill would not allow the program to be effective.  I decided after our gathering that we would move to the campfire pit which would have more protection from the wind.  

Following my welcome at the Point of Pines, Brian Howard, current director of the North Andover Historical Society offered opening words.  To move us to the campfire with a sense of purpose, I invited people to follow the native drum beat Paul provided as we walked in silence and considered the "Trail of Tears" historically walked by Native Americans as they were forced to leave their ancestral lands as we confess our own "Trail of Tears" in our desire to acknowledge the injustice indigenous people have endured for generations.   It was a powerfully moving experience, forced on us by the wind as I improvised.  The Spirit was at work.  Kchi N'waskwa the Creator and Great Mystery was present.

Around the campfire, our Rolling Ridge Land Acknowledgment was officially proclaimed, the name of the island was revealed as "Menahaniz" (little island) with Paul and Denise speaking to the historical connection of the Pennacook with this land.  While they addressed many topics, including fluid gender roles within their tribal tradition, one key point stood out for me.  

Indigenous people do not regard land in terms of ownership as modern people do.  They moved around as needed, often seasonally, based on food, weather, community.  In other words, the Pennacook did not own the land that is now Rolling Ridge but there is evidence that they used it.  And there is evidence that other tribal people also enjoyed the area around Lake Cochichewick as the boundaries intersect in this spot.  And that is okay.  The land belongs to no one.  It is shared and stewarded by the community that calls it home.  As Paul and Denise emphasized, anyone who now considers Rolling Ridge home is welcomed as part of their community.  Because of the land, we and the Cowasuck are connected as one.  It is a beautiful picture of unity and inclusivity which we at the Ridge want to continue to embody.


Historically many have belonged to this land which we now call Rolling Ridge -- the Pennacook and the Wabanaki Confederacy, but probably also the Massa-adchu-es-et (Massachusett).   In the era of the colonizers, we know that Moody Spofford worked the land as early as 1830 and gave a large tract of 70 acres along the lake to his son, Farnham, who farmed the land for over 30 years.  Winfield Scott Hughes bought the land in 1881, divided up the farm, and sold the current 38 acres of Rolling Ridge to Ethan Allen in 1899.   The estate was sold to Russell Tyson in 1928 and then purchased by the Methodist in 1948.   

And here we are 75 years later recognizing the larger community that is connected to the beauty of this land on the peninsula of Lake Cochichewick.  Bought, sold, and stolen, that is the history we've inherited as we look towards a new legacy of inclusion and recognize with our indigenous heritage that the land creates community for those who are connected to it.  

To honor our Land Acknowledgement and to be good stewards of our inherited legacy, Rolling Ridge looks to broaden our eco-spiritual programs with an Earth Center to bring environmental education to the community and to honor the indigenous intersections of the land.  If you are interested in helping us work towards this vision, please email us.  There is much work to do, but it is a commitment we embrace as we look towards the next 75 years, and the next seven generations of people who will honor and love the land we today call Rolling Ridge.

First publicly proclaimed Saturday, September 24, 2022

Before the Earth beneath our feet was called Rolling Ridge,
before there was the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,
before there was a North Andover, Andover, and Lake Cochichewick,
generations of Pennacook people,
an Algonquian-speaking tribe of the Wabanaki Confederacy
belonged to this land and considered it their home.
Today, we give thanks for their care and stewardship of this land. 
We acknowledge that our forebears prospered due to the appropriation of land inhabited by people who were indigenous to this area. 
We honor and respect the diverse Indigenous peoples still connected to this land, represented today by the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook Abenaki People.   
For us and for them, we promise to retell our history honestly
and to work toward a community made whole. 
And so, to all who gather here today - WELCOME
May the beauty of the land, the legacy of the Pennacook Abenaki People
and the Trinitarian love of God
encircle and enfold everyone
no matter your gender, your race, your background, your faith
for we are a community
that embraces everyone on the journey
as we enter through divine grace
into the fullness of who we are
created in the image of God
connected through the cosmic Christ
commissioned by the Spirit to love
To all who gather here - WELCOME



Lawrence Jay

As the Executive Director of Rolling Ridge, Lawrence works in partnership with the staff to ensure that the guest experience at the Ridge is top quality.  He also partners with retreat leaders to provide excellent programming at the Ridge, and is ...