Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Congregational Church, Maynard, MA 1852-2017

Congregational Church, Maynard, MA 1852-2017. Click on photo to enlarge.
The Union Congregational Church was Maynard’s first parish, established as a Evangelical Union Society in 1850, when eight locals decided to form a Sunday school. This predated the creation  of the  Town of Maynard by 21 years. Amory Maynard became the Sunday school’s first superintendent. The next step was to engage a preacher for Sunday services. Both school and services took place in the newly constructed train station. Prior to this, people walked or traveled by wagon the three miles to Stow’s Evangelical Church.

Within a few years these residents of Assabet Village incorporated as a church and selected a committee to find a site to build a house of worship. What came to pass is that Amory and his business partner William Knight donated land on Main Street (the same street they had petitioned Sudbury to build for access to their factory), and the building was built, financed by members. Buying in got these families reserved pews, as was a common practice of that era. The congregation dates it start to 1852, but did not move into the completed church building until spring of 1853. The cost of construction and furnishings came to $3,876. Rev George W. Frost was the first Pastor.

Stained glass window in chapel of Congregational Church, Maynard, MA.
Gift from Lorenzo Maynard in 1892, along with other windows.
A sampling of important dates: The steeple acquired a bell in 1855; the church its first organ in 1959; the church was enlarged in 1866. In the early 1890s, Deacon Lorenzo Maynard (son of Amory Maynard) contributed funds for stained glass windows in the church. Four of the windows bear the names of his daughters – Frances, Mary, Victoria and Hattie – who predeceased him. He also donated toward the addition of the building on the west side, to house a chapel and classrooms, including a glorious stained glass portrait of Jesus holding a lamb, over the words “I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD.” A similar window graces the Lorenzo Maynard family mausoleum in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, where Lorenzo, his wife Lucy and their five children are interred.

The building has no steeple from 1909 to 1920. The original had been blown off the building in a great storm on April 9, 1909. The church was officially renamed the Union Congregational Church in 1927. The bell was replaced by chimes in the mid-1940s.

1902 photo for 50th anniversary. Shows the
original steeple, and a picket fence bordering
the sidewalk rather than the current stone wall.
(Courtesy Maynard Historical Society)
A number of the students who attended services and the Sunday school at Congregational Church went on to find a vocation in the ministry, some in the armed forces in time of war. Corinna Shattuck, orphaned as a young child, was raised by her grandparents, in Acton. She was a member of the church 1866-1871, and taught Sunday school during that time. In 1873 she began missionary work in Turkey, where she remained – with interruptions to treat her health problems – until 1910. Miss Shattuck was in the city of Oorfa (now going by Urfa or Sanliurfa) in December 1895 at the time of attacks on Armenians and other Christian sects. She personally sheltered 300 men, women and children on or near the mission grounds, sparing them the fate of thousands of others. Afterwards she created shelters and schools and employment for orphaned Armenian children. She established a school for the blind. She was known and honored as the “Heroine of Oorfa.”

The closing of one church (Congregational 2017) or two (Methodist 2014) or three (Episcopalian 2006) is not unique to Maynard. Across the United States, what are referred to as the mainline Protestant churches have been undergoing a prolonged decline in attendance, membership and number of parishes since the 1960s. Estimates are that membership has dropped by half. In contrast, membership in Catholic and Evangelical Churches has been increasing, albeit not as fast as the population increase as a whole.

The re-use of church buildings as such is problematic, characterized by problems with an aged infrastructure, and a question of what use the main nave and altar space can be put to. Two churches in Maynard were deconsecrated and converted to private residences. One in Acton became home to a theater group. The future of the historic Methodist and Congregational Churches in Maynard remains to be seen.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Assabet River Rail Trail - August 2017

As of mid-August 2017 the 3.4 mile long Assabet River Rail Trail section between Maple Street in Acton (near the South Acton train station), to the bridge on the Maynard:Stow border is nearly complete. July saw paving in the north end of Maynard, paving in Acton, and completion of the bridge over Fort Pond Creek, in Acton. Landscape plantings beside the Trail, mostly to replace the hundreds of cut down trees, progresses.

Kayak launch dock at Ice House Landing, Maynard, MA.
The user gets into the kayak, then pushes backwards to
slide into the water. The notched railing on both sides allows
for the paddle to be placed across and used to push against.
July saw the installation of a kayak launch dock at Ice House Landing, at the end of Winter Street. A new parking lot provides a place for boaters to unload and load from cars, carry to the water, and launch. From the dock it is a short distance to the orange floats that prevent people from going over the Ben Smith Dam (photo, background). Heading upriver, there are miles of navigable water to explore, the great majority of it not developed. Sights on a recent voyage included bird sightings of swans, geese, great blue herons, green herons, an osprey, red-winged blackbirds and swifts.

There are still gaps in the Trail which hopefully will be resolved this fall, or by the latest, by spring 2018. In Maynard, south of Summer Street, there is a 100 yard section held up by the need for Eversource to install a new utility pole, as the existing pole is too close to the Trail. And north of Concord Street there is a stretch behind Artisan Automotive and Duncan's Beemers (the motorcycle shop) than needs complicated work because of past pollution and also flood control problems.

Northward, paving continues in August, in Acton, along with installation of mileage markers. Once completed, access in Acton will be from Maple Street and Sylvia Street, with some Trail parking at both locations. And access at the Paper Store office complex, but without parking.

Fort Pond Brook Bridge, installed, but as of August 1, 2017, not yet open
for traffic. The bridge is 70 feet long and 16 feet wide.

Mileage markers installed every quarter
mile, counting from southwest end to
northeast. Distance restarts as 0.00 at
each town line. Click on photo to enlarge.

In Acton, south of the Paper Store building, the Trail passes through a large
wetlands. Although hard to discern, the front is dominated by cattails, while
the back has been taken over by the taller common reed (Phragmites australis)
 an invasive species from Europe. The reed out-competes native wetland plants.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Writers on Writing - 13 Quotes

I recently attended the annual conference on all things Thoreauvian. I came away with the impression that in a room of 200+ people, it would have been hard to throw a book and not hit an author. Thoreau as topic is infinitely rich, and so fertile ground for those practicing the craft of non-fiction writing. Writers of fiction think of their product as art. Thus, they are more likely than non-fiction writers to muse on the nature of their artistic toil. A selection of quotes by writers on writing, gleamed from several websites:

We do not write because we want to; we write because we have to. - Somerset Maugham

Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.  - Robert Heinlein

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story - not Mark Twain, although frequently attributed to him.

A blank piece of paper is God's way of telling us how hard it to be God. - Sidney Sheldon

I try to leave out the parts that people skip.  - Elmore Leonard

Most editors are failed writers - but so are most writers.  - T.S. Eliot

i never think at all when i write nobody can do two things at the same time and do them both well  - Don Marquis

The first draft of anything is shit. - Ernest Hemingway

I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter. - James Michener

One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple. - Jack Kerouac

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader. - Robert Frost

Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. - Flannery O'Connor

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live. - Henry David Thoreau

When I am asked "Why do you write?" I answer "It's a disease." I have heard the same answer for people in the restaurant or acting industry. These are professions rife with rejection and failure. The people who persevere are those who cannot imagine doing anything else.

Decades ago, struggling to write a college thesis, I realized that although a voracious reader, I had difficulties with writing. And yet, planning a career in science, I knew that I would always be in the explaining business. From 1975-1980 I took up writing outside my field of nutritional biochemistry by committing to write restaurant reviews, recipe columns and health articles. From 1980 onward, science career launched, my writing was either academic or corporate, i.e., not public.

Starting this LIFE OUTDOORS column in 2009 was a means of reentering the public writer's life. Writing non-fiction, I was told, is a matter of bricks and mortar. The bricks are the facts and the mortar the story tying the facts together. The craft is in managing the right balance of the two. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Thoreau's Thoughts on Walking

See also a March 2017 posting on poem "The Old Marlborough Road."

"If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man; then you are ready for a walk."

May 2017: U.S. Post Office issues a first class stamp honoring
the bicentennial of the birth of Henry David Thoreau.
Click on photo to enlarge.
July 12th was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Henry David Thoreau. [Actually, birth-named David Henry Thoreau after his deceased uncle, David Thoreau. Thoreau reversed the order of his names shortly after he graduated Harvard College, in 1837. Apparently, growing up, his family had called him Henry rather than David.] The Thoreau Society recently held its annual gathering of Thoreauvians, to discuss all things Thoreau, and to celebrate the bicentennial of his birth. Many newly published books, and the U.S. Post Office issued a stamp.

“Walking” was the title of one of his essays. His first public reading was at the Concord Lyceum on April 23, 1851. Between 1851 and 1860 Thoreau read from the piece a total of ten times, more than any other of his lectures. “Walking” was published in the June 1862 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, shortly after his death from tuberculosis at age 44. The essay’s length is slightly more than 12,000 words. Various internet sources have the complete essay available on line – some with researchers’ annotations. A few excerpts:

“The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the world.” Thoreau felt that it was necessary for one’s soul to be able to walk in wildness every day. He was aware, however, that his Massachusetts terrain was not true wildness, but rather a post-colonial return of once-farmed land to wild meadow and forest. Thoreau's three excursions to Maine had brought him into true wildness ("grim"), so he knew the difference.   

Thoreau was not a casual walker. “It is true, we are but faint hearted crusaders, even the walkers, now-a-days, who undertake no persevering, never-ending enterprises. Our expeditions are but tours and come round again at evening to the old hearth side from which we set out. Half the walk is but retracing our steps. We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return; prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only, as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man; then you are ready for a walk.”

Thoreau’s opinions were not humble opinions: “I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absolutely free from all worldly engagements… When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shop-keepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them — as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon — I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago.”

Wooden dumbbells were a popular type of
exercise equipment in the 1800s.
Thoreau was aghast at the idea of exercise for its own sake: “But the walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours — as the swinging of dumb-bells or chairs; but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day. If you would get exercise go in search of the springs of life. Think of a man’s swinging dumb-bells for his health, when those springs are bubbling up in far off pastures unsought by him.”

Thoreau cherished the meditative rewards of wildness walking: “I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit. In my afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations, and my obligations to society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head, and I am not where my body is; I am out of my senses. In my walks I would fain return to my senses. What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?”

A human trial conducted at Stanford University (Bateman 2015) concluded that walking surrounded by nature reduced risk of depression more than walking an equal amount of time in an urban setting.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Boston Post Cane - Maynard and Stow

The Boston Post was a popular and influential newspaper some 100+ years ago.  In 1909, Edwin Grozier, the publisher, decided to promote the newspaper by donating ebony shaft, gold-capped canes to the Boards of Selectmen of 700 towns in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.  Engraved on the top of the gold head of each cane were the words "Presented by The Boston Post to the OLDEST CITIZEN of __________ [name of town and state] (To be transmitted)."

The idea was that the towns would award these BOSTON POST CANES to the oldest male citizen for the remainder of his life, to be returned to the town upon his death, to be awarded to the next oldest, and so on.

Maynard's Boston Post Cane (click on photo to enlarge). This cane was
presented to Maynard in 1909, awarded to a series of men in honor for
being the oldest male resident, went missing in 1928 and was recovered
in 1981. Honoring the oldest resident (male or female) started again in 1999.
The canes were made by J.F. Fradley and Co., a New York City silversmith and cane maker. Joseph F. Fradley (1843-1914) began a silversmith business in 1866. His business had an excellent reputation. J.F. Fradley items appear for sale in  fine arts and crafts auctions. The business was managed by his son, George F. Fradley, at the time the canes were made. Although many of the newspaper articles about recipients of Boston Post Canes describe the cane heads as 14 karat gold, some of the internet photos show wear to reveal non-gold metal underneath, confirming that the cane heads were gold-plated rather than all gold. This makes sense. Gold, rather than gold plated, would have made the canes prohibitively expensive, even back in 1909.  

Women achieved the right to vote in 1920, but it took ten more years before The Boston Post approved a changing of the rules to allow women to be awardees.  

The Boston Post went out of business in 1956, but the Boston Post Cane tradition continues in many towns. As years went by some of the canes were misplaced, stolen, sold, lost or destroyed. Some went missing for years, decades even, only to surface again. In time, most towns decided to keep the original cane in a town office or at the local historical society, and either discontinue the practice entirely or else award a plaque to the oldest resident in lieu of the cane. 

The Boston Post Cane Information Center [], maintained by the Maynard Historical Society has become a clearinghouse for all things BPC. The starting point was a 1985 article written by Maynard historian Ralph Sheridan. After his death in 1996, David Griffin took up the traces, and still gathers news of canes lost, found and awarded.

Side view, showing ebony shaft of the cane. "Ebony"
comes from the heartwood of several species of tropical,
slow-growing trees. It is black or near-black in color, and
extremely dense (will sink in water). The tree species are
endangered, and in many countries, harvesting or selling
of ebony is illegal. Well known uses include the
black keys of pianos, and parts of stringed instruments.
A few facts plucked from the BPC website: As of last count, 517 towns continue or have resumed honoring their oldest citizens. Most have the original canes gifted them in 1909, but some are using brass-capped mahogany replicas purchased from the Town of Peterborough, NH. Some towns stipulate that to qualify, a person must be a current resident and living in the town the past 10 or 15 years. Watertown's cane went missing in 1910, and did not return until 99 years later. At the time Mary Josephine Ray of Westmorland, NH, passed away, age 114.8, she was not only the oldest ever holder of a Boston Post Cane, but also the oldest person in the United States.

Stow's Boston Post Cane is kept in the Town Vault in the Town Hall building, along with other historically important artifacts. Recipients are presented with a Boston Post Cane lapel pin. The cane had gone missing 1951 to 1971. Actually, it was in the Vault all the time, but misplaced. Since 1971 there have been 12 recipients. The most recent was Dr. Donald Freeman Brown - awarded the cane when he reached 99 years. He passed away in 2014, age 105. The honor and lapel pin have not yet been awarded to a new oldest resident.

Top of cane showing non-gold metal. This may be silver. If so,
there may have been layers of copper and nickel between the
silver and gold, to prevent tarnish bleeding through the gold.
Maynard's Boston Post Cane is on permanent display at the town building. It had gone missing around 1928, not recovered until 1981. In 1999 the Maynard Historical Society decided to revive the tradition of honoring Maynard’s oldest citizen by presenting him or her with a plaque from the Maynard Board of Selectmen. The most recent five: Elizabeth Dodd, Dorothy Barlow, Arlene Cook, Mildred F. Duggan, and currently Ben Sofka. Ben, a life-long Maynard resident, received his plaque in February 2017, and is at present 101 years old.

Stow's and Maynard's neighbors do and do not continue the Boston Post Cane tradition. Hudson, Harvard and Sudbury awards plaques to their most senior citizens. Acton is considering restarting the same practice. Bolton and Boxborough apparently do not participate, either because these towns had too small a population to get a cane back in 1909, or because the original canes went astray. Starting in 1962, Concord decided to change to an annual Honored Citizen Celebration. The awardee is steward of the Boston Post Cane for a year and leads the Patriots' Day Parade.