Phillip’s Wildlife Lab

After Camp Stover closed, the buildings of Camp SP25 at Upton State Forest became the State Field Headquarters for the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game until 1956 when they moved to Westborough. Prior to this time, employees of the department worked out of their homes or small offices throughout the state. The Upton facility was named Phillip’s Wildlife Laboratory (PWL) after noted conservationist, John C. Phillips, providing office space as well as housing for lab employees and their families. Interviews have given us a picture of many projects that were managed from there as well as what life was like for those that lived in the former Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) barracks buildings.   The former CCC Headquarters building became the main office for Phillip’s Wildlife Lab.

Looking from the Headquarters building behind the car, the first building on the left was used as housing for employees and their families. The building in the background was the Fisheries office. (Photo credit: Massachusetts Deptartment of Conservation and Recreation Archives)

The late Jim McDonough, division wildlife biologist, spoke about some of his projects including a study of the habitat of the Eastern cottontail rabbit. This involved plantings to see if the cottontail population could be increased in an area. On Pratt Hill, there was a 50-acre control area in which no management was done, while various food patches were planted in concentric circles. There were managed plots in other nearby areas, including one near the Rabbit Run Trail off Ridge Rd. Rabbits were trapped and brought to Upton to be released for the study. Results of this study contributed to the knowledge of the different food requirements of the Eastern cottontail and the New England cottontail.

Photo credit: Ellen Arnold

The wood duck population was brought back from a threatened status by a highly successful project managed from the Upton site. The Hurricane of 1938 had destroyed thousands of trees with nesting cavities used by the wood duck. Nest boxes were made and distributed throughout Massachusetts to ponds and sportsmen’s clubs. The earliest boxes were actually Navy surplus ammunition boxes. Later they were made of wood. In two seasons, 12,000 ducklings were born in the boxes. In addition, a film was made at Upton showing the dangers that ducklings were exposed to from snapping turtles.

This photo by L. Doucette shows a wood duck nestling emerging from one of the boxes at the Upton State Forest bog. More information about the wood duck projects at PWL can be found in articles published in the Friends of Upton State Forest newsletters. (Winter 2013 newsletter page 3, Joe Nava article part 1)  and  (Spring 2013 newsletter page 4, Joe Nava article part 2)

In 1948, a reorganization of the Fish and Game allowed for a section to do information and education. In September 1949, Daniel Grice was assigned to take photos and movies of all Bureau programs. A dark room was constructed in the east end of the Administration building. The well-respected magazine Massachusetts Wildlife began life in the same end. Bryant Chaplin was hired to coordinate public relations. With little more than a desk, a typewriter and almost no budget he produced a two-page, mimeographed newsletter. About 50 copies were sent to sportsmen’s clubs, officials, and members of the media. Today, it is a magazine published four times a year, with no ads. There are colored photos, articles about wildlife and department programs as well as book reviews.

In an interview with Mrs. Woolner, a secretary in the Fisheries office, she said their department was located in the former North Barn which is no longer there. It was the first building on the left as you entered the complex. She remembered spending a great deal of time putting fish scales on slides to be studied during the winter months. While the department was located at Upton, they also created the small pond near the cottage. Today, the pond is home to turtles that sun themselves on a fallen tree that they share with an occasional Great Blue Heron.

Many of the employees and their families lived at the site in the former infirmary and old barracks buildings as well as a portable trailer. Local people have fond memories of friendships with people working at the facility and visiting to have dinner or play cards at night. Children living at the camp attended local schools. There was a great camaraderie between the men working on projects helping each other when necessary. One former employee said he looked forward to going to work each day because he could be putting out nest boxes one day and the next day, he was in a plane flying over western Massachusetts counting deer.

Former CCC building used for housing employees and their families.Photo courtesy of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation archives.