Friday, November 6, 2020

MAYNARD MASSACHUSETTS (the new history book)

Front cover of the book shows the iconic 
clock tower, built in 1892 by Lorenzo
Maynard. Top photo is of the centennial
parade, 1971. Also shows clock tower
 MAYNARD MASSACHUSETTS: A BRIEF HISTORY is the title of the newest history book about Maynard. As we approach the 150th anniversary of the creation of the town in 1871, this book does not replace the fifty-year history book by W.H. Gutteridge, nor the centennial history “History of Maynard, Massachusetts, 1871–1971.” Rather, it sets the table with chapters summarizing the history of the first one hundred years and then plunges into in-depth content about what has happened in the following fifty years, plus a crystal ball peek at what might happen in the next fifty. Together, the 50,000 words of text and 90 images provide a frame of reference for the people of Maynard to understand where we are now and how we got here.

Maynard is different from neighboring towns in several ways—it is smaller in area, and its founding as a named town came one to two centuries later compared to Concord, Sudbury, Stow and Acton. From the beginning, it was part of the Industrial Revolution, whereas its neighbors were colonial-era farm towns. The very creation of Maynard came about because its population growth took place at the border between Sudbury and Stow and, thus, quite far from the churches and schools and businesses at the centers of those towns.

The book is divided into ten chapters: 1) Becoming Maynard, 2) Meet the Maynard Family, 3)  1871-1921: First Fifty Years, 4) A River and a Railroad, 5) 1921-1971: Second Fifty Years, 6) Downtown, 7) Maynard Booms and Busts, 8) Digital Equipment Corporation, 9) 1971-2021: Third Fifty Years, and 10) 2021- Future: Next Fifty Years. Each chapter is divided into subsections on topics as diverse as the great land eviction of World War II, to the history of Maynard’s eight co-operative societies.

The book is a production of the Sesquicentennial Steering Committee, a group established in September 2017 to plan for and manage celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the creation of Maynard, April 19, 1871. As of November 2020, committee members are: Molly Bergin, Lisa Dahill, Charles Caragianes, Paula Copley, Ellen Duggan, Dave Griffin, Donald James, David Mark, Lindsay McConchie and Jen Picorelli. In 2020, the Committee oversaw production of T-shirts and sweatshirts, mugs, anniversary flags and face masks (!) to sell as souvenirs. This book joins those efforts as means of raising money to pay for the celebration events planned for 2021. While the COVID pandemic put some of the scheduled events on hold, the hope is that as the calendar gets deep in 2021 events such as a parade, concert, etc. can be held.

Previously published books about Maynard, MA
The book is a perfect gift to self or gift to family members and friends who have moved away, yet may relish this description of the place they once knew as home. The Maynard Library will be hosting a Zoomed launch event the evening of November 19th, 7:00 to 8:30 p.m., followed by sale of the book at the Library parking lot on November 21st from 10 a.m. to noon. Register for the event at the Library website. The book price is $22.00 by check or cash. Checks should be made to “Town of Maynard” and on the memo line write “150th book.” People who cannot make that pop-up sales event can contact Lindsay McConchie at Lindsayhm@gmailcom to arrange payment and pick-up. For those sales, payment can also be via Venmo: send $22 to @Maynard150 and include your name and “Maynard 150th book” in the note.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

A Circus of Chipmunks

A "circus of chipmunks" proposed as a venery term
To anyone spending any time outside, this has been the year of the chipmunk. Yards and gardens are punctuated by holes about the size of a silver dollar. Under bird feeders, along the Rail Trail, these striped critters are always scurrying, scurrying, scurrying. The name “chipmunk” is derived from Native American “jidmoonh,” from the Odawa tribes that lived in the Great Lakes region. The Anglicized “chip” refers to the high-pitched “chip-chip-chip” alarm call made when a possible predator (fox, cat, dog, human) is seen.  

Chipmunks are rodents, albeit cuter than rats. Within the species family Sciuridae (squirrel) there is a division between tree squirrels and ground squirrels, the latter including not just chipmunks but also prairie dogs and groundhogs. Massachusetts is host to the Eastern chipmunk. Out west there are 23 chipmunk species – all not to different visually from the Eastern – but genetically different enough to not interbreed. There is one more species, the Siberian chipmunk, in northeast Asia, which has become an invasive species in western Europe via escapees from the pet trade. There is a strong resemblance across all of the species: brown, striped, furry tail and cheek pouches in which to stash food so that it can be brought back to the nest.

Eat and be eaten: Chipmunks are omnivorous. Their diet is primarily seeds, nuts, berries, fruits and the tender plant shoots and buds, but also insects, worms and the occasional bird egg. Same for squirrels. Chipmunks can be garden pests and wreak havoc on bulb plantings. Unlike squirrels, which scatter-bury acorns for digging up later, chipmunks bring nuts and seeds back to their nests. There, along the 10-20 feet of tunneling, they will have a larder of food set aside for winter consumption. The burrows extend below the frost line.

Chipmunks utilize an intermittent hibernating state. From a body temperature close to 100F degrees and a heart rate of 200-300 beats per minute, body temperature approaches 40F degrees and heart rate to 10 bpm. Every few days the chipmunks rewarm to normal temperature, become active, eat, and then cool down again. The net effect is less food needed to survive winter, and for the females, more body fat reserves for a successful spring pregnancy.

As to what eats chipmunks, think hawks, feral and pet cats, weasels, foxes, coyotes, snakes… As chipmunks’ diurnal lifestyle can extend to near-dawn and -dusk hours, they can also fall prey to owls. Great blue herons have been known to stalk near bird feeders for the foraging chipmunk, oft times dipping the struggling animal into a birdbath or other water before swallowing it whole.

As to why this was the year of the chipmunk, last year was the year of the acorn. Last year’s abundance of food carried over into this year, allowing for larger litters and better survival from the spring and summer pregnancies. The young, who at birth are hairless, blind and about the size of a small bumblebee, emerge from the burrow after about six weeks and strike out on their own two weeks later. With the exception of mating, chipmunks leave solitary lives; males have no part in raising infants. In normal times, population density is roughly 1-2 per acre. In good years, this can increase five-fold.

The abundance of acorns in 2019 occurred because oaks do not produce the same yield every year. Evolution research posits that a same-sized crop every year will support stable populations of acorn eaters, which includes chipmunks, squirrels, woodchucks, skunks, turkeys and deer. By producing a large crop every other or third year, populations of seed-eaters are curtailed, and a greater portion of seeds will remain uneaten in good years. The key to this strategy is coordination—it works only if trees of the same species do it at the same time. How tree species coordinate is still somewhat of a mystery, but this synchronicity is probably aided by some combination of chemical signals passed through the air or through underground root/fungal connections. Regardless, this year’s chipmunk (and squirrel) population explosions were newsworthy across New England.

We say a “pride of lions, gaggle of geese, school of fish,” but why? As it turns out, social standing among Medieval European nobility required that men knew their venery – the proper naming of groups of animals – else be taken for crass and uneducated. Collections of these “terms of venery” culminated in a master list compiled in The Book of St. Albans, in 1486. Thus, we have a “colony of ants, a pack of wolves, a murder of crows,” and so on. A group of squirrels is a scurry. Sadly, a group of chipmunks is also a scurry, which lacks the alliterative appeal of a “scurry of squirrels.” Chipmunks are not native to Europe, which perhaps explains the lack of a better venery term.


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

White Pond as Water Supply

For more than 100 years, Maynard sourced water from White Pond, which is located on the Stow/Hudson border, south of Lake Boon. Water was chlorine-treated pond-side, then piped about three miles to a pumphouse located on Winter Street – now part of the Department of Public Works facility – from which it was pumped into an open-topped tank atop Summer Hill, the highest point in Maynard. Addition of well-sourced water to the supply started in 1963. The town switched to getting all of its water from wells in 1999 after federal water treatment standards for surface water sourcing were made more rigorous. Maynard is considering reviving White Pond as a water supply. A 2019 report estimated the cost of building a water treatment plant and installing miles of new pipe at about $30 million dollars. (A 2011 report to the town had estimated the cost as half of that.)

Two water tanks atop Summer Hill. The original,
1888 tank (left) since capped. Courtesy Maynard
Historical Society. Click to enlarge.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts approved Act Number 407 on May 25, 1888 to provide Maynard with water from White Pond. The Act included a right to construct and maintain a pipeline across the intervening land in Stow. The Act concluded with a section specifying that an 1880 Act authorizing White Pond water rights to the Town of Marlborough was by this Act repealed.

Maynard, population 2,500, approved construction of a water system in 1888. It became operative in 1889 with just over 7,500 feet of iron pipe and 57 fire hydrants. Subsequent annual reports mention pipe and hydrants being added as the town grew. The pipe from White Pond to Maynard was replaced in 1942. A multi-year drought in the 1960s forced Maynard to start adding wells to the system. Currently, Maynard has seven wells that deliver acceptable quantities and qualities of water (albeit with demineralization facilities to remove water-discoloring iron and manganese). These include clusters of deep, bedrock wells on the north side of town, operative as of 2000, and shallow, aquifer wells on the southeast side. Collectively, the wells can achieve Maynard’s allowable usage of 1.09 million gallons per day (gpd), which is well above average daily demand, or even seasonal maximal demand.

So, what’s the problem? Lack of redundancy. If a major well fails, or a water treatment plant needs more than the usual maintenance, Maynard does not have reserve capacity. Running the remaining wells at full speed would pull lower quality water into the system, thereby increasing wear-and-tear on the treatment plants. Very short-term, keeping the two water tanks atop Summer Hill full helps. The every-year, Level 1 restriction on daytime yard watering from May through September slows daytime demand while allowing the tanks to be topped at night as a buffer for the next day.

Maynard also needs to work on its leakage problem. Old pipes leak, and at times, break. Lost water is estimated by what is being produced minus what is measured (and paid for) at water meters. Over the past ten years, loss has decreased from more than 20 percent to less than 15 percent, but the state calls for municipalities to be under 10 percent. More upgrading is needed.

Why not just dig more wells? Because through the years, Maynard drilled more than 200 test wells to get to the current seven working wells. Adding new wells, even at the most promising untapped sites, may not be cost effective. As Maynard’s population and water demand gradually increase, there will be a time for serious consideration to reactivating White Pond. The pond could in theory provide 0.72 million gallons per day.       

Water in, water out? Whereas the Town of Maynard began operating a water system in 1888, efforts to create a town-wide sewer system did not reach fruition until forty years later. An exception was the construction of Presidential Village by the American Woolen Company in 1902-03, as the first part of town to be connected to a sewer system. Wastewater was pumped to a wastewater facility in an area now owned by the Rod and Gun Club. For the rest of the town, wastewater went to cesspools or septic tanks with leach fields. Inadequate and failed systems meant near-raw sewage chronically seeping into the Assabet River.

The wastewater treatment 
facility is owned by Maynard
but operated by VEOLIA.  
In 1909, the State Board of Health ordered the woolen mill to stop polluting the river, but did not address residential wastewater. In 1914-15 the town came up with a plan, approved by the state, but World War I interfered with implementation. Finally, in 1929, a wastewater treatment plant was constructed at the Maynard:Acton border. Over years, more and more of Maynard was connected. Still, ten years later, only 812 homes were hooked up, and the plant was processing an average of only 181,200 gallons per day. By 1961 the town was providing 650,000 gpd of clean water and sending 500,000 gpd of wastewater to the Maynard Wastewater Treatment Facility. Today, the facility is designed to treat an average of 1.45 million gpd, with the discharge meeting the government’s standards for clean water. Despite a large reserve treatment capacity, Maynard has in the past declined proposals from Stow and Acton to accept payment for piping their poop to its plant.

What was being processed 60 years ago was below today’s standards, so discharged phosphorus and nitrogen caused algae blooms and decaying vegetation. The stretch of river backed up by the Powder Mill Dam was described in a 1982 book as “…the river smell is nauseating, reeking like an unpumped-out campground outhouse times ten.” While discharges are much improved, phosphorus and nitrogen in the sediments impounded upstream of the dams (Ben Smith and Powder Mill) still promote algae and duckweed growth, albeit less than in the past.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

METAL-ITY = Metal Menagerie

METAL-ITY, accent on the second syllable (think mor-TAL-i-ty), is an outdoor sculpture show at Artspace (63 Summer Street, Maynard, MA) that had its debut on September 19 of this year and will run to October 21 of 2021. The exhibition encompasses close to 100 metal-themed works of art from across New England. The show has received good publicity, so viewers are coming to Maynard from the greater Boston area and MetroWest.  

Use of the Artspace outdoor venue began in 2016 at the behest of then executive director Linda Spear. Artist/tenants formed a Grounds Art Committee. Each year, the committee conducted a juried selection of sculpture proposals submitted by Massachusetts artists. Entries were due in March, work installed in April and shows lasted through October. During the summer of 2019, about thirty works were on display. For 2020, Executive Director Jerry Beck, who came aboard in fall 2019, envisioned a metal-themed show that would include artists from all walks of life.

METAL-ITY sculpture
From the Artspace description of the exhibit: “METAL-ITY is intended to create a bridge between the past, present and future: from Maynard’s mill town history forged during the Industrial Revolution, to its current role as a growing cultural district, to its future as a progressive center for creative revolution, sparking a renaissance of cultural vitality and economic growth. METAL- ITY will feature the interplay between art and nature while offering bountiful opportunities for learning, while engaging in limitless art and community celebration.” Which means – I think – a lot of metal, some of it in various rust tones and some of it very shiny.

METAL-ITY sculpture. Click to enlarge
Curated mostly via word of mouth, Beck traveled throughout New England engaging with well-established sculptors, self-taught artists, high school students and Maynard residents. Names of many of the artists and descriptions of their work: 

From the Artspace description: “One of the highlights of the exhibition is the exceptional artwork of welding-course students from Assabet Valley Vocational High School, Marlborough, MA. The students created a surrealistic gateway of steel sculptures that showcases their immensity of talents, skills, technical virtuosity, and personal imagery. Their work includes musical instruments, spider webs, vehicles of travel, medieval iconography and strange plumbing devices.”

Some of the sculptures are animal figures. Driving north on Florida Road, one comes face to face with a gigantic frog. Wandering west, among the many sculptures, there is a horse feeding, a horse rearing, and an owl with outstretched wings. Elsewhere, a spider. Out back, bee sculptures complement the Honeybee Meadow.

Signage from "Where Do We Go From Here?"
Interspersed amongst the metalworks are fanciful wooden signposts, the fruit of the “Where Do We Go From Here?” project. People were asked to take home blank planks and paint messages and locations – real and imaginary – that reflected how they were feeling about the future in this pandemic time. Over 100 people of all ages returned signage with words and/or images.

Also gracing the Artspace lawn is Maynard’s only public labyrinth. In 2007, at the direction and supervision of artist and landscape architect Lisa Bailey, volunteers cut the pattern out of the sod, laid down a layer of stone dust and then installed more than five hundred rough-hewn granite blocks to create a seven-ringed labyrinth, thirty feet across. After many years of entertaining both children and adults, many of the stones have sunk into the lawn. METAL-ITY sculptures are atop the subterranean stones. A resurrection is planned for fall of 2021. The process will involve sequentially unearthing some 500+ granite blocks that each weight 10-20 pounds, putting a couple of inches of stone dust under each stone, then returning each stone to its original location. Between one and two tons of stone dust will be required. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020


 Nearly 20 years ago it was possible to buy ONLY IN MAYNARD bumper stickers, T-shirts and sweatshirts at local stores and at Maynard Fest. The lettering was orange against a black background - Maynard's school colors. Then, for a while, the sole remnant of this endeavor was bumper stickers for sale at Russell's convenience store, next to Town Hall.

Bumper sticker
The bumper stickers had TM superscripted above the end of ONLY IN MAYNARD, signifying that an application had been filed for a trademark in 2003. This was a Massachusetts-only trademark. It lapsed, but a new Massachusetts trademark was issued in 2017 to a new holder. As of 2020 there are ONLY IN MAYNARD bumper stickers and T-shirts, offered for sale at various venues and events, with profits channeled to non-profit organizations located in Maynard.

ONLY IN MAYNARD coffee mugs for sale at
various locations in Maynard, MA

In addition, an agreement was reached with the trademark holder that the slogan could be affixed to coffee mugs. The mugs, black exterior, orange interior, the slogan in orange on the outside, are for sale at The Outdoor Store, Serendipity, Boston Bean House, Sugar Snap and other locations. All profits are channeled to an effort to beautify the Assabet River Rail Trail with flowering spring bulbs, summer-blooming perennials and flowering shrubs and trees. This “Trail of Flowers” effort, initiated in 2018, has resulted in the planting of thousands of daffodils, plus hundreds of tulips, daylilies, irises and other plants in Maynard and Acton, with plans to extend the plantings to the south section of trail in Hudson and Marlborough. See for program description and photos.

A bit of history: In the original form and subsequent incarnations, the words on ONLY IN MAYNARD products were deliberately printed so that the right side was noticeably higher than the left. Best guess is the wording was askew to convey that negative, rueful pride that only in Maynard could things (town things, school things, people things...) be so humorously incompetent or fouled up.

To counter the prevailing negative impression, a group of civic-minded citizens approached the Beacon-Villager newspaper back in 2005, to see if they could take turns writing a pro-Maynard column featuring the friendly and welcoming nature of this unique small town. The column lasted only a few months. An echo of that positive intent was conveyed in a 2008 article in the Beacon-Villager that read in part "A clever slogan, coined some few years ago, continues to describe our singular uniqueness, our melting pot citizenry and our basic values for the 'good life.' That slogan, ‘Only in Maynard,’ sets up the town as a special place where very special people do distinctive and exceptional things. This is especially true in the art of song and music as developed in our town."

An informal survey of people about town yielded both the negative and positive connotations, and also a third meaning - the concept of specialness. Only in Maynard can you see Santa Claus arriving by helicopter for the Christmas parade. Only in Maynard can you still find a local movie theater. Only in Maynard are the bars close enough together to have a pub crawl that might involve actual crawling (or at least walking) rather than driving.  

So, after all this debate, what does "Only in Maynard" really mean today? Whether it is only in this small town are people so warm, friendly and welcoming, or only here are things so ruefully, headshakingly messed up, or a comment on the unique nature of life in Maynard, my own opinion is that in comparison, ONLY IN ACTON or ONLY IN SUDBURY or ONLY IN STOW would make no sense whatsoever.

A version of this was published in 2013, and again in February 2020 just before the COVID-19 pandemic closed the venues that were selling the coffee mugs. All profits to planting flowers along the rail trail.