Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Maynard's Co-operative Associations (part 2)

Riverside Co-operative Association building, southwest corner of Summer
and Nason streets, Maynard, MA. Built 1882. Co-op was bottom floor. The
rest of the building was rented out to organizations and for events. Burned in
1936. Replaced be two-story brick building, long-time Knights of Columbus.
All images courtesy of Maynard Historical Society.
Riverside Co-operative Association was Maynard’s oldest. It was started by English and Scottish immigrants who worked at the woolen mill. Many of them may have been familiar with the co-operative movement in Great Britain, which by the 1870s numbered in the hundreds. Riverside began in 1875 as a chapter in an American movement, the “Order of the Sovereigns of Industry.” This was an urban workers organization modelled on the Grange – a farmers’ organization formally known as the “Order of Patrons of Husbandry.” ‘Sovereigns’ was in effect a buyers’ club with intention to secure high quality goods at lower prices. Locally, this meant buying wholesale in Boston, transported to Maynard by train, delivered in town by wheelbarrow. Nationally, the Sovereigns organization faltered under financial mismanagement, but in 1878 the local chapter reformed itself as the Riverside Co-Operative Association.

Shares were $5 each (equivalent to about $125 in today’s dollars), members limited to 60 shares. The total capital investment was $1,500. Per the by-laws, regardless of how many shares owned, each shareholder had one vote. The operation started in the basement of the Darling Block building (northeast corner of Summer and Nason streets), moved to the Riverside Block (later Gruber Bros Furniture), and then in 1882 built its own building at the southwest corner of Summer and Nason. The building was a four-story wooden edifice, with the store on the first floor, entrance on Nason Street. The other floors were rented out.

Riverside employees in front of store, circa 1920.
Click on photos to enlarge.
By 1909, Riverside had more than 600 members. In addition to quality of goods and competitive prices, members were twice a year paid a cash refund ranging from 2 to 10 percent based on how much shopping they had done and how good a year the co-op was having. Additionally, shares earned five percent interest. Decline started with recession of 1920, compounded by cost of repair after a fire, same year. In 1929 the store business was sold to George Morse (the store manager), while the co-op continued to own the building. A large fire in January 1936 led to dissolution of the Association later that year and sale of the site to Knights of Columbus, which had been a long-time tenant. Proceeds were divided amongst the remaining shareholders.

A document from the United Co-operative Society criticized Riverside as having emphasis on dividends to stockholders, but without an education program for members and their children, lost coherence as a social institution. Contributing factors were that the children of the founders of Riverside were moving up the socio-economic ladder at same time as England and Scotland were less of a source of immigrant labor. A front-page newspaper article from 1913 had noted that prior to 1900 the town was mostly English-speaking, but the expansion of the mill had doubled the town’s population by bringing in large numbers of immigrants from Finland, Poland, Lithuania and Italy.

Sign on building at site of what was
Riverside Co-operative (KOC sold
bldg., currently Celia T's)
The rise and fall of the United Co-operative Society – the largest and longest enduring co-op in Maynard – will be covered in a subsequent article. There were smaller and shorter-lived efforts.  Suomalainen Osuuskauppa, which translates as ‘Finnish Co-operative Store’, started 1899. Capitalized at only $800, it lasted a few years before dissolving and selling its store to a private owner. Maynard had a chapter of the Grange, started 1913, but unlike in rural situations, the Grange never operated a co-operative store. Gutteridge’s 1921 history mentions “Keefe’s Co-operative” without any details. The Historical Society has a share certificate for the Russian Co-operative Association dated 1917, but there is no other evidence in the collection that this effort reached its capitalization goal of $5,000 or became operative.

Map showing First National Co-operative Association at
corner of Main and River Streets (site now Thai Chilli).
The Maynard Co-operative Milk Association was formed in 1914. Three years later it split, with some of the dairy farmers becoming the diary operations of the United Co-operative Society. The other members, who did not want to affiliate with the Socialist/Communist atheist United, formed the First National Association, which existed to 1941. It owned and operated out of a building on the corner of Main and River streets that had been the Somerset Hotel, site now occupied by Thai Chilli. The International Co-operative Association was started in 1911 by immigrants from Poland. It lasted 20 years. It began in a building near the Methodist Church, later moved to space in the Masonic Building. Membership numbered 200 to 400 over the years. First National and International failed in part because of extending credit to members during the Great Depression.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Maynard's Co-operative Associations (part 1)

Share certificate for Kaleva Co-operative Association,
 dated 1915 (Click on photos to enlarge)
Maynard’s various histories name eight co-operative associations or societies; six of these co-existed in 1917. The oldest was Riverside Co-operative Association (1875-1936). The longest duration and largest was United Co-operative Society, initially named Kaleva Co-operative Association (1907-1973). A U.S. Department of Labor report for 1947 mentioned that United was one of the top ten co-ops in the country for oldest, membership and annual sales. More than half the households in Maynard were members. This column is the first of a three-part series on the history of co-operatives in general and specifically in Maynard.  

To get back to the origins of the co-operative concept, in 1844 a group of 28 weavers in Rochdale, England, organized the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, “…and opened their first store, with a small stock of flour, oatmeal, butter and sugar.” Soon added tea, tobacco and candles. Their guidelines formed the basis for the principles on which co-operatives around the world continue to operate. The Rochdale Pioneers became highly successful, with 1,400 members by 1855 and 5,560 members by 1870, able to shop at many stores.

Share certificate for Russian Co-operative
Association (dated 1917)
There had been earlier attempts to establish co-operatives that were basically buyer’s clubs, which by pooling their purchases were able to buy at wholesale prices and sell to members at below retail prices. The Rochdale Pioneers were one the early co-operative efforts to add profit-sharing to members based on a percentage of the cost of the goods the members purchased, i.e., a patronage dividend. The seven Rochdale Principles:
   Open membership,
   Democratic control,
   Distribution of surplus,
   Limited interest on capital,
   Political and religious neutrality,
   Cash trading, and
   Promotion of education.
Open membership: Although co-operatives often started as groups of workers within one laborer profession (weavers, miners…) or group (Finns, Italians…) membership was not limited. Membership was also voluntary, meaning that members of a union could not be required to also join an affiliated co-operative. Non-members could shop at the stores at the same prices as members, but would not get the additional benefits. United’s start in Maynard was fomented by immigrants from Finland, working in the woolen mill, but non-Finns could join, and by 1947 outnumbered those of Finnish heritage.

Democratic control: All shareholders had one vote regardless of how many shares they owned. Typically, membership shares in the early twentieth century cost $5 (equivalent to $125 now), and members were limited to 20 or 40 shares. Shares could be sold back to the co-operative, but not to other people.

The Maynard Co-operative Milk Association merged into 
Kaleva,which in 1921 became the United Co-operative
Society (from collection of Maynard Historical Society)
Distribution of surplus: At the end of a fiscal year, profits were distributed to members based on the amounts of goods they had purchased during the year. In a pre-computer era, members saved their receipts, then brought all receipts to the co-operative. Staff checked their totals. For Maynard’s Riverside and United, depending on how well the year had gone, members got a cash payment equal to one percent to as high as ten percent of their year’s purchases. If the co-operative had operated at a loss for a year, no refund that year.

Interest on capital: In addition to reimbursements, shareholders got interest on their investment, typically five percent. Share value did not change. When a co-operative voted to dissolve, shareholders expected to get their original investment back.

Neutrality: Co-operatives were supposed to operate neutral to issues of religion, race or politics. The American reality was that co-ops were started by immigrant groups – in Maynard, English, Finnish, Polish, Russian – and often conducted business meetings in their native language.  

Cash only: Many early efforts at establishing co-operatives were under-capitalized, and foundered when members were allowed to purchase goods on credit. Two of Maynard’s co-ops failed in the Great Depression for this reason. Credit unions were separate entities, better capitalized, designed to serve as banks but return profits to members.

Kaleva (founded 1907) became the
United Co-operative Society in 1921
Education: Programs were conducted to educate members and non-members on co-operative principles. Maynard’s United Co-operative Association had adult classes, Young Co-operators’ Club, and Co-operative Day Camp.

United added an eighth principle, which was continuous expansion. Over the initial 50 years membership grew from 184 to 2,960 members as bakery and dairy delivery, coal, firewood and fuel oil, appliances and hardware, and a Gulf automobile gas/service station were added.

United's By-laws had an interesting clause: On the occasion of dissolution of the co-operative, which required a 3/4 majority of votes at a meeting, the assets would be used to pay the purchase value of the outstanding shares. Any surplus would go to the  Co-operative League of the United States rather than to members. 

The International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), founded in 1895, adapted the Rochdale Principles of Consumer Co-operation in 1937, then amended the list in 1966. A major addition was the concept of cooperation among cooperatives but without crossing lines into price-fixing or monopolizing markets. A subsequent revision in 1995 added autonomy from governments and concern for community. The ICA represents millions of co-operatives worldwide, and through that, more than one billion people who are co-operative members. Its purpose, in part, is to work with global and regional governments and organizations to create the legislative environments that allow cooperatives to form and grow.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Short Stories

In Oak Park, Illinois, a car stops at a traffic light, an older and a younger man in the front seats, a young woman in the back. She opens the door, steps out, tosses a keychain into a storm drain and gets back into the car. The light turns green.

Great Blue Heron with catfish
(Click on photos to enlarge)
In Boca Raton, Florida, a Great Blue Heron caught a catfish as large as its head. Standing in the water, it spent minute upon minute upon minute repositioning the fish in its beak, at times shaking the fish, placing the fish on the shore to start over, or dipping it in the water.

A bicyclist is riding the wrong way on a one-way street, next to the line-up of parked cars. A pedestrian steps out…

A bicyclist is riding the wrong way on a one-way street, next to the line-up of parked cars. A car door opens…

A bicyclist is riding the right way (with traffic) on a two-way street, next to the line-up of parked cars. A door opens…

Griffith Park, entirely within the City of Los Angeles, has signs at every entrance warning visitors that the Park contains rattlesnakes. One LA newbie exclaimed “Why did they put rattlesnakes in the Park!?” The answer was that the snakes were there long before it was designated a park. Snakes can strike to a distance of 1/3 to 1/2 body length. More to the point, snake strikes occur in one-twentieth to one-tenth of a second, whereas human reaction time is about one-fifth of a second. Snake beats human every time.

In addition to rattlesnakes (and coyotes), Griffith Park is home to one male mountain lion known as “P22.” The lion has a GPS tracking collar, so park staff know its location at all times. This did not prevent P-22 from entering the Griffith Park Zoo in March 2016, scaling a fence, then killing and carrying off a koala. P22 has TWO Facebook accounts.

The Assabet River rises after every rainstorm, after every snow-melting day. During winter weeks the water level can slowly drop while the air temperature is below freezing. Along the branches of trees that have fallen into the river, icicles form. Rather than tapering to a sharp point, the bottoms are blunt-ended, terminating just about the water’s surface. In sunlight, a long row of these, each several inches long, look like the pendant glass of a chandelier, shimmering white.

Great Blue Heron preparing
to swallow fish
The same river, summer, observed from a bridge: there are fish down there, swimming just fast enough to counter the flow of the sluggish low-water river. The fish are doubly camouflaged. From above, the dark upper surface blends into the dark tones of the river bottom. From below, silvery scales blend into the brightly refractive surface of the water above. One way to spot fish is to look for shadows on the bottom, then find the fish above.

Get in the habit of throwing food scraps out the back door and there will be visitors. Footprints from cats, skunks, raccoons and opossums can be differentiated in a night’s dusting of snow. The morning after tossing out some lamb shanks a murder of crows was working over the remains, scattering when a pair of ravens dropped in.  

Great Blue Heron
swallowing fish
One sunny late August day, gusting cold front blowing in, water temperature in the 70s but air temperature in the low 60s – the result for one small-boat sailor tacking into the wind was gradually progressive hypothermia. Each splash of water felt warm on a cotton T-shirt. Between splashes, evaporative cooling chilled. Physical clumsiness set in, and a touch of mental fog. A gust tipped the boat over. Swimming to the overturned hull, flipping the boat back upright and climbing in was more wearying than it should have been. Same the second time. The sailor turned toward home, miles away.       

Roadside, rural Pennsylvania: A fawn was thrashing about in the ditch next to the road, unable to stand, legs broken from being hit by a car, but otherwise apparently not seriously hurt. A doe stood in the wooded edge of the road. Cars drove by, occupants observing or oblivious. A bicyclist rode by. Stopped. Laid down the bike. Picked up a rock. Walked back…

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Birds of a Feather...

Some birds flock. Some birds don’t. Several hummingbirds may appear at a feeder, but they are definitely not a flock. Robins flock in winter, but in breeding season form territorial pairs. Ditto swans. Starlings, however, are rarely seen singly, and the same applies to flamingos. Other species gather in large groups to roost at night (crows) or only when migrating (sandhill cranes).

Geese in "V" formation
In flight, being in groups has several benefits. Geese form lines diagonal to flight direction, sometimes a “V” formation with one bird in the lead and lines trailing on both sides, because the air disturbance coming off the lead bird’s wings enables the trailing bird to expend less energy.

When feeding in groups, one or more birds are always pausing to watch for predators, either the fox on the ground or the diving hawk. Warning sounds and sudden movement by these observers triggers mass evasion by the rest of the flock. In the air or on the ground, being in a group can also hinder a predator from targeting and pursuing one individual bird out of the flock.

Group behavior is seen in species other than birds. Fish school. Mammals form herds. There is a saying about being on a hike in bear country: “You don’t have to run faster than the bear to get away. You just have to run faster than the guy next to you.” Generalized to herd behavior, the best strategy against a predator is to put another individual between you and the predator. A grouping may be somewhat scattered to feed, but cluster inward when predators approach, as each individual tries to move to the center. If the grouping has a familial relationship, vulnerable young may be moved to the center while adults form a protective barrier. Think musk ox or elephants.  

A different reason for forming large groups is referred to as “predator satiation.” When prey appear suddenly and in large numbers, the probability of any one individual being killed by predators is reduced, the reason being that the predator population is low before the prey arrive and cannot increase fast enough to take advantage of the sudden influx of food. The sudden appearance of prey in great numbers can be from migration by massive numbers, or by near-synchronization of birth of young, or even skipping years. An extreme example of the last is the 17-year cicada

Painting of passenger pigeons, male on left (internet download)
Back to birds. We are some 120 years from one of the greatest species extinctions caused by Man – the end of passenger pigeons. This native North American species – larger and with a much longer tail than the non-native pigeons we now know disparagingly as ‘rats with wings’, numbered in the billions before the arrival of Europeans, and actually well into post-colonial times. Their food of choice was acorns and other tree nuts, but seeds of any plant were also consumed, as was fruit, berries and insects. Individual flocks of migrating birds numbered in the millions, and were described as darkening the sky when passing overhead. From an 1855 description, Columbus Ohio: “As the watchers stared, the hum increased to a mighty throbbing…Children screamed and ran for home. Women gathered their long skirts and hurried for the shelter of stores. Horses bolted. A few people mumbled frightened words…and several dropped on their knees and prayed.”

Roosting at night, the birds were so densely gathered as to break the limbs off trees, and in areas where they nested, droppings piled up a foot thick, poisoning ground plants, and in time, the nesting trees. The birds moved on.

Passenger pigeons, more than other flocking bird species, depended on predator satiation, and so were not able to adapt to human harvesting. The end came quickly. Circa mid-1800s, market hunters used shotguns, nets, whiskey-soaked corn and so on to bring birds to ground. Birds were plucked, gutted, cooked, salted and packed into barrels, to be shipped by railroad to the fast-growing cities of the Industrial Age. Their meat ended up in pigeon pie (think today’s meat pies). At the nesting sites, ground fires would be lit when the nestling squabs were nearing adult weight but not yet able to fly. The squabs would fall to the ground, stunned, to be picked up by hand. As flocks vanished from the usual places, telegraph messages would go out about newly found locations. Market hunters followed.

Locally, Henry David Thoreau’s journal from 1851 recounts a visit to a ‘pigeon-place’ where birds were lured in by trees for perching (live decoy birds tied to the branches), then netted. The last birds seen in the east were early 1890s, the last wild bird shot anywhere 1902, the last surviving bird died in a Cincinnati zoo, September 1, 1914. From billions to zero in fifty years.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Freemasons in Maynard

From 1922 to 2013 the imposing wooden building at 100 Main Street, currently housing 5 PEAKS Fitness (until recently, Legends Comix and Games), Classic Hair, Siam Village and Boston Bean on the first floor, Concord School of Taekwon-Do above, was known as the Masonic Building. 

Entrance to second and third floor of 100 Main Street
when it was still the Masonic Building.
The Charles A. Welch Lodge (, founded by Welch in 1872, has since ceased to be housed in Maynard. Meetings were initially held at the Darling Block, a building on the northeast corner of Nason and Summer Streets. The lodge moved into the Main Street building in 1888 – the Maynard Block – but after the Masonic Corporation bought it in 1922, renamed the Masonic Building. The Freemasons occupied the top floor and rented out the rest.

The primary reason for selling the building in 2013 was the high valuation and hence high property taxes set by the Town of Maynard. The actual sale price was below the town's assessment. The Lodge continues to meet as Maynard's lodge, meetings held at the Masonic Corinthian Lodge, 58 Monument Square, Concord. The Corinthian Lodge was chartered in 1797 – by Paul Revere. Concord’s building (built 1820) serves as host to other fraternal organizations in addition to Maynard’s group. 

For those not familiar with Freemasonry, the initials A.F. & A.M. (see photo) stand for Ancient Free and Accepted Masons. All lodges in Massachusetts are A.F. & A.M., as that was the designation of the initial colonial Grand Lodge, in Boston, in 1733. In some states the term is F. & A.M. (Free and Accepted Masons). The difference is a carry-over from a 1700s schism among England's Masons into Ancient and Modern. The separation has long since been resolved. States' Grand Lodges and their member lodges recognize each other’s members as true Freemasons.

Circa 1900, when the west corner (now Boston Bean) was the Post Office
An important point here is that Freemasonry is not a beneficial fraternal order. Many of the nineteenth century organizations were created in part to pool resources of members so as to provide life insurance and other benefits. Some even owned cemetery burial plots for members and their families. Masonic charity is directed toward those who have met with misfortune, but in no way limited or preferential to members.  

As an aside, Freemasons did not drink at meetings, but unlike some of the other traditional fraternal orders which had a temperance (anti-alcohol) policy written into their founding documents, might tipple on their own time. The Masons definition of Temperance was and is that members, as a Cardinal Virtue, should ‘temper,’ i.e., manage and practice restraint, of their behavior in all things. The other three virtues are Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice. “The Four Cardinal Virtues of Freemasonry provide a framework for daily living and serve as a guide for our relationship with God and our fellow man.”

Dave Griffin and Paul Boothroyd of the Maynard Historical
Society holding the first petition to create a new town.
There is a small but interesting story linking Maynard’s Masons to the history of the creation of Maynard. In their possession was an original, never-submitted, petition to create a new town. This predated the official ‘Fowler’ petition of January 1871. In it, the town-to-be did not yet have a name and it called for some land to be taken from Acton and Concord in addition to Sudbury and Stow. How it came into possession of the Lodge is an unplumbed mystery, although there was a note that many of signers had been Masons. Lodge member Frederick S. Johnson was arranging to transfer it to the Maynard Historical Society in 2013 when he died, leaving the document’s location unknown. The task fell to his nephew, John Taylor III, who lived in Mansfield but had a family history with Maynard (his grandfather had owned the mink farm off of Concord Street). The framed document was given to the historical society on March 12, 2014.

Of Maynard’s many, many beneficial fraternal orders of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, only the Masons and Elks, smaller now, survive. The same attrition has occurred nationwide – a diminishing of local social groups as a consequence of an increasing mobile society. Same for churches. Same for bowling leagues for that matter. Robert Putnam’s book, “Bowling Alone,” describes the disintegration of our social networks, and the consequences on our physical and mental health of living a less connected life.