The world is ending! Prepare yourself for rapture! (Or not)
We’ve heard it before, and will hear it again (unless it’s really coming this time, that is): A radical preacher predicts that the end of the world is nigh based on numerology in the Bible, and believers prepare themselves, saying goodbye to those they believe will be left behind.
This week’s rapture hysteria brought to mind one of my favorite pieces of Worcester, Massachusetts folklore: Deed Rock and God’s Ten Acres. It is a tale of extreme belief, and the lengths some people will go to see another day.
See Deed Rock & God’s Ten Acres by Daniel V. Boudillion for more details!
Solomon Parsons and William Miller
The story begins in 1800, with the birth of Solomon Parsons, Jr., son of a Revolutionary war veteran, in Leicester, Massachusetts. Parsons moved to Worcester with his family in 1812 and lived as part of the Baptist movement that swept the nation at that time.
As often happens, charismatic preachers traveled the country at that time, reacting to changes in morals and society as the country developed. William Miller, a Vermont preacher, toured New England in the late 1830s and early 1840s, preaching the end of the world.
Parsons was inspired by Miller’s message, becoming a pacifist and vegetarian and fearing that the end times were approaching. This is where our story gets interesting!
God’s 10 Acres
In 1840, Solomon Parsons bought 10 acres of land on a slope known locally as Rattlesnake Hill. He purchased this land with the intention of using it as a refuge from the ravages of the End Times, building a temple on the hill as a retreat and sanctuary.
This temple was no ordinary building: it was constructed on sound stone footings with stone pillars and sheets of iron made up the walls and roof. Parsons felt that this building would survive any cataclysm that might accompany the apocalypse.
But Parsons went quite a bit further than most who fear the end of the world. To ensure that God would not destroy his sanctuary, Parsons deeded this 10 acre property directly to God himself. Fearing that God would not review the Registry of Deeds, Parsons went further and inscribed this deed on a large flat boulder on the site!
This “Deed Rock” remains on that Massachusetts hillside more than 160 years later, and is still legible today. It shows the land bordered by other landowners and marked by “a chestnut tree… and a heap of stones” among other landmarks. It also credits its legitimacy to “the Laws of Jesus Christ which are made known to man by the record of the New Testament recorded by Matthew Mark Luke John the Evangelist.”
Where Is God?
Although William Miller predicted that the end of the world would come between the vernal equinoxes of 1843 and 1844, history shows that this did not happen. Parsons began to sell off his property and possessions and settled in at his retreat to wait for an event that never happened.
Unlike many who believed Miller’s pronouncements, Solomon Parsons did not lose faith after October 22, 1844. With friends and followers, he continued to use the Temple and land at God’s 10 Acres until his death in 1893.
Sadly, the Temple no longer stands. Parsons refused to allow horsehair to be used as binder in the mortar, as was the practice at that time, so it crumbled and fell away. All that is left today are the footings of what must have been an impressive building.
A Progression of Tenants
Even before Parson’s death, God’s control of the land was in doubt. It abutted the estate of the wealthy Abel Swan Brown, who incorporated it without claim into his Wildwood estate and began building. His “hermitage”, kennels, and gardens were placed quite near to Deed Rock on the disputed parcel. After Brown’s death in 1899, and amusing turn of events surrounded the land and its deed.
Since God had never taken delivery or recorded His deed, and since Brown’s death was rather sudden, no one was entirely clear who really owned this land. Brown’s estate is today a modest housing development, with Swan Avenue a winding dirt road through the woods. Tellingly, no construction has been done on God’s 10 Acres, and the land serves mainly as a flyover for Worcester’s little used airport. Local legends abound, of wax wings and hangings.
Visiting Deed Rock
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Deed Rock is not far off this road, but can prove difficult to locate. Take Park Avenue in Worcester to Mill Street, then turn left on Swan Avenue. Watch for the branch and Outlook Drive, and stay on Swan Avenue as it gets worse and worse up the hill and through the trees. You will see a house with a little dirt driveway to the right; park there and look for the rock.
Deed Rock was recently vandalized, but it will no doubt survive and endure long into the future. Until the rapture, that is!