Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Myths of Stow and Maynard


Oliver Cromwell's head
The historical setting: To understand how intent Charles II, the British king, was on punishing the 59 men who eleven years earlier had signed the death warrant for his father, King Charles I, on his orders Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) was subjected to posthumous execution. Cromwell was disinterred in 1660, his corpse hanged, then beheaded. His head placed on a spike on the roof of Westminster Hall, London. It remained there until a storm brought it down 25 years later. Found by a passer-by and hidden, it appears to have ended up in private ownership through the centuries, until finally buried in 1960. 

Of the other 58 regicides, five had died before the regency was restored, 13 were executed (hanged, drawn and quartered), 19 were imprisoned and 21 fled the country. Three of the last escaped to the English colonies. One of them ended up in Stow (or not).

Hanged, drawn and quartered: In Britain, the proper order of events for a man convicted of high treason back in that era was that he be dragged behind a horse, on a simple wooded frame ("drawn"), then hanged but not to death ("hanged"), emasculated, disemboweled - the entrails and organs cast on a fire, beheaded, and finally, the body divided into four pieces ("quartered"), to be displayed at different places about the country. Quartering could be by cutting or by tying ropes from the limbs of the headless body to four horses. Heads of the executed were put on public display. The dispersal and display of body parts prevented a proper burial. All this is what happened to William Wallace in 1305, as portrayed by Mel Gibson in the movie Braveheart.

William Goffe (1605-?) and his father-in-law Edward Whalley arrived in Boston in 1660. Within the year it became clear that the Royalist government was vigorously pursing their capture. Sympathizers to the anti-Royalist cause aided their escape, first to New Haven, then Milford, and then onward to Hadley, just west of Amherst, in 1664. There they lived a reclusive life until 1676, their true identities known only by a few. Goffe was able to maintain a letter correspondence with his wife, who had remained in England. He was using the name Walter Goldsmith, and in the letters they referred to each other as mother and son rather than wife and husband. He would never see his wife or children again.

There is a perhaps apocryphal story referred to as "The Angel of Hadley," in which an elderly man with a sword and military expertise appears a sudden in Hadley in 1676, where he rallies the townsmen to fend off an Indian attack, then departs. The story identifies the hero as William Goffe.   

Regicide grave? Stow, MA
At this point the story bifurcates. One history has Goffe living in Hartford under an assumed name Duffell or Cooke, where he died circa 1680 and was buried in an unmarked grave. The other has him living in Stow near Pompositticut Hill (now Summer Hill, Maynard) under the name John Greene, where he died in 1688. In this version of history he came to Stow because his sister lived here.

[One problem with this story is that the only Greene buried in the Lower Village Cemetery is Esther Greene Taylor, 1686-1755, too young to be Goffe's sister. A solution to that puzzle would be for her mother, maiden name Goffe, married name Greene, to have been Goffe's sister, but buried elsewhere. A larger problem is that Stow had barely been settled circa early 1680s, none of the score or so of founding families were named Green/Greene, and all the houses were along Great Road (Route 117), not off by Pompositticut Hill.]

In Stow's Lower Village cemetery there is a ground-flush granite slab some 9 x 4.5 feet in size, with no inscription, supposedly Goffe's final resting place. In 1930 the grave was exhumed, revealing a man's bones but no skull. The enduring belief is that Goffe's grave was dug up shortly after his death, his head removed and brought to England for the reward.


Maynard's best-known myth is much more mundane. As the story goes, circa 1720, a group of men showed up at the Thomas Smith family homestead asking for shelter from a storm, and were allowed to stay in the barn for several days. An account of the story: "The men were friendly and liberal with their money, paying generously for everything they obtained from the Smith family. The strangers were noted amusing themselves by throwing pieces-of-eight at the swallows around the barn. Before leaving, they procured some old clothing from the Smiths and made the clothing into sacks. They also asked to borrow some digging tools. Carrying the sacks, now observed to be loaded with something heavy, the men entered the woods in a northerly direction from the Smith house. When they returned, they were empty-handed. The men thanked Smith for his hospitality and left. They were never seen again."

In time, Smith received a letter from a man claiming to have been one of the visitors. The letter stated that the writer and his companions had been pirates, now captured, convicted, and about to be hanged. The writer asked that Smith come to Boston to see them, promising information of great value. Per the story, Smith ignored the request. There is no mention of Thomas Smith or his family members searching for (or finding) buried treasure. The story begs the question of what might have brought pirates so far inland or how they had been carrying the treasure if they needed to make sacks.

As for links to known history, John Smith came from England and settled in north Sudbury. Thomas Smith (1658-1718) was one of his sons, with a homestead on Great Road (Route 117). As for the treasure - who knows? Clearly it was not buried anywhere close to the Smith house or barn. The "northerly direction" the men purportedly walked in could mean anywhere between Route 117 and the Assabet River - far too vague a description to entice anyone with a shovel or metal detector to go treasure hunting.

I mean it. The people who own the Smith properties on Route 117 are tired of strangers knocking at the door asking permission to wander around with a metal detector - or worse - not bothering to ask. If there is ANY truth to this story, either the Smiths located the treasure (they were a well-off, land owning family going forward), or the site was north of the property, toward the Assabet River.  


The primary source for this story is the 1891 book Annals of Sudbury, Wayland and Maynard, by Alfred S. Hudson. Page 70 has the core of the story: Smith family homestead, strangers appear during spring storm, stay in barn, borrow digging tools, depart, letter received later from the men, Smith did not go to see what it was about. Does not mention a year and unsure whether it was about Thomas Smith or another of the family. In 1991 the Maynard Beacon recounted the story, as told to the reporter by Ralph Sheridan, town historian. The homeowners at that time said that trespassers show up with metal detectors. Lastly, a 2005 book Buried Treasures of New England, W.C. Jameson, dedicated four pages to "The Maynard Treasure." The core story is identical to Hudson's: strangers visit, borrow shovels for a mysterious errand, depart, later a letter from prison. The tale is heavily added to with details I believe Jameson made up: it specifies six men garbed in sailors' clothes pushing three handcarts who paid a gold coin for privilege of staying in barn, stayed a week and left ten pieces-of-eight when they departed. In Jameson's version the letter is described as coming 18 months later. Then, after a few days delay to complete farmwork, Smith travels to Boston by horse and wagon to get directions for locating the treasure, only to learn that the men had been hanged the previous day.  

Monday, October 10, 2016

Assabet River Rail Trail - Oct 2016

Photos on status of Assabet River Rail Trail, Maynard and Acton, Massachusetts, as of mid-October. Click on any photo to enlarge:

Between Summer and Concord Streets the old railroad ties have been
removed and clean fill brought in and compacted eighteen feet wide (for
what in the end will be twelve foot wide paved with two foot wide stone
dust shoulders). Additional clearing on sides. This was paved with base layer
on October 18th. Final paving and landscaping scheduled for 2017.

The town parking lot behind the Paper Store and Outdoor Store and Subway
lost end-on parking on the north side to make room for the Trail. When
completed, there will be parallel parking. One result is that the driving
lanes become narrow compared to what was there before.

This is one side of the abutments being constructed to anchor the new bridge
over the Assabet River. Original schedule was completion by March 2017,
but now quite possible to be done by end of November 2016. The new
bridge will be longer and much wider than the wooden bridge it replaces.
Binder (base) paving started the week of October 10-14. Base asphalt has larger stones
and less tar than surface paving, which will be done either later this fall or
early 2017. Most of the Trail from High Street (photo) all the way to the
Stow border is now paved. Work will move to next to Main and Railroad Streets.
The binder paving is 12 feet wide, which will be the Trail width when completed.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

ArtSpace Building Centennial

Maynard High School 1940 (Courtesy Maynard Historical Society)
Life-long Maynard residents 70 and older would have graduated high school from the building that now hosts ArtSpace. When viewed from Summer Street, the wing on the right side was Maynard's fourth high school. It opened on October 2, 1916, making the class of 1917 the first graduating class. Construction cost $61,600. The town's voters had approved the idea of a new high school in 1913, then more specifically a school on this site in 1915. This is the part of the structure that is 100 years old. The rest was built ten years later.

In 1916 Maynard had a population of 6,770, with town water (but no town sewer system), electric street lights, houses lit by gas lamps or electric lights, more horses than cars, a train station, and a trolley line servicing Hudson, Stow, Maynard, Acton and Concord. There were five hotels. Silent movies were shown at Colonial Hall, above what is now Roasted Peppers restaurant.

High school classes were at this site from 1916 to 1964, then relocated to a new building on the south side of town. The vacated building became Emerson Junior High School (1964-1980), later renamed Fowler Middle School (1980-2000). The left wing - initially housing Fowler Elementary school - opened in 1926, as did the center building, containing George Washington Auditorium.

Back in 1916-17 the school year was Labor Day to the end of June. Morning classes were 8:30 to 11:45. Afternoons 1:15 to 3:45. Half-days Wednesdays. There was no school lunch, nor any school bus transportation. The school had eight classrooms and 165 students – 78 boys and 87 girls. In that era school was mandatory through age 16, so the two lower grades had about 60 students each, whereas there were only 30 in the junior class and 16 in the graduating class.

Maynard High School graduating class of 1917 (Courtesy MHS)
The Principal was Horace F. Bates, graduate of Harvard. His salary was $1,480. Teachers included graduates from Wellesley College, Brown College and Boston University. Curriculum was basic – divided into Academic and Commercial tracks. Music and art were each taught once a week. No foreign languages. No AP courses.

The school was actually nameless until 1932, when "Maynard High School" was approved at a Town Meeting vote. The year after the new school opened football was re-started as a school team, after twelve years without. The team lost the first game by a score of 59-0.

As noted above, the high school relocated to the south side of town in 1964. The elementary school was next, followed last by Fowler Middle School in 2000. Four years earlier the town had voted to appoint a Fowler School Building Reuse Committee. The conclusion, reached in 1999, was that the only realistic plan was to lease the space to a non-profit arts/cultural group.   

ArtSpace main entrance, in the 90 year old part of the building.
Click on any photo to enlarge.
The official transfer of the building to ArtSpace Inc. took place January 2001. Today, ArtSpace provides 43 studio spaces for 80 artists. Demand remains high, with perhaps two or three studios becoming available each year. Rent for the artists is about nine dollars per square foot. The money raised suffices to pay for staff and operating costs. The town owns the building and property but pays nothing toward maintenance or operating costs.

ArtSpace continues to be fully occupied by artists, some in place since the start, and has a waiting list of applicants. Priority is given to Maynard residents. Many of the studios are open to the public every second Saturday of every month. The ArtSpace Gallery is a wonderful exhibition space presenting new and important contemporary art by both in-house and nationally known artists. All this offers a wonderful - and free - opportunity to see art, chat with artists and buy their art. Acme Theater offers a place for people to collaborate in all aspects of theater production and performance. Together, these organizations are an essential part of Maynard's cultural variety and strength. More information at and

Disclosure: Mark is a member of the ArtSpace Board of Directors.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Whatever Happened to Maynard's Stone Walls?

Wall behind 60 Nason Street, built to provide a firm base for the railroad tracks
circa 1850. Site of current ARRT construction.  Click on photo to enlarge.
New England’s famed stonework is a reminder of a period 150-250 years ago when dry-laid stone was part of every household: fences, walls, foundations, root cellars and more.  But anyone who has passed through Maynard and neighboring towns will notice Maynard’s relative dearth of stone fences and stone walls. Where did the stones go?  

It helps to know that during the Colonial era stone was the last choice of materials for fencing fields. Farming through the 1600’s consisted of laborious clearing of small fields for vegetables, corn and livestock feed. These plots were bordered by cut brush and branches. The fields were stump-filled and worked by hand.

In time, the stumps of trees left in fields were rotten enough to pull out of the soil and were laid along the border. As stones emerged through the eroding soil they were added to the fences. Stump fences were functional, but not handsome; hence the old-time insult “Ugly as a stump fence.”  When the stumps rotted away, post and rail fences were built over the growing rows of stones. The goal, always, was to keep horses, cattle, sheep and pigs out of the fields.

By the end of the Revolutionary War most of eastern Massachusetts was almost denuded of trees. What wood was left was used for building materials, heat and cooking fires. Stone fencing tall and strong enough to contain cattle took a day’s work from two men equipped with an oxcart to gather stone and build just 10 to 20 feet of stone fence. Most of what we see crisscrossing New England was originally post and rail over a low stone fence, and laid down between 1775 and 1850. Barbed wire, the easy solution, was not perfected until 1874.

Compared to the surrounding towns of Stow, Acton, Concord, and Sudbury, Maynard has very few remaining stone fences. As farms were divided into lots for houses and stone-bordered roads widened, many of the stones were hauled away to build the foundations of new houses. For example, the houses on Maple Street were built in the 1870’s with fieldstone foundations capped by brick above ground. But some remnants of stone fences can be found in Maynard. The hiking trail from Summer Street to the top of Summer Hill crosses a stone fence about half-way up, confirming that the top of Summer Hill was once a near-treeless cow pasture.  

Extensive stone fences can also be seen along the south side of ‘Track Road’ (the old railroad right-of-way and future Assabet River Rail Trail) as one walks from Maynard into Stow.  The woods south of one of these fences is all pine trees approximately 70 years old, suggesting that this pasture was abandoned when the land was seized by the U.S. Army during WW II.

Copestone-topped wall near church on Walnut Street
Stone walls are rarer than stone fences. Stone walls are what we see around churchyards, cemeteries and facing the road in front of the well-off homesteads.  In Maynard there are examples of these as mill races, river walls, and walls keeping private yards from washing away onto the sidewalks or streets. A very large retaining wall holds up the railroad right-of-way behind the apartment building at Nason and Summer Streets. A hope here is that it will remain undisturbed as the rail trail is built. Flat-topped ‘capstones’ line the tops of low stone retaining walls throughout town. In contrast, ‘copestones’ were set on edge on tops of walls to discourage wall sitters. Look for copestones near Maynard’s older churches.

Dry stonework, meaning constructed without binding mortar, is always at risk of theft of stone - a big problem throughout New England. Thieves have been known to back up a truck to a homeowner's border wall, or even a cemetery (!) and take the best stones off the top.
Stone on town property is not up for grabs, either. Tumble-down stone walls crisscrossing woodland are part of our collective heritage, a reminder of farmland gone wild again, and should never be moved or removed.

Poet Robert Frost famously wrote "Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,...” He meant winter freezes. Bad enough, but repairable. Once a wall is gone, it's gone.

The above is a slightly revised repeat of my first column, published November 2009. Below, a column fragment, never published.

 Density of Stone, Steel, Silver and Gold

This stone wall at the junction of Maple and Brook Streets is eight feet long,
four feet high and tapers from three feet thick at the base to two feet at the top.
Volume = 80 cubic feet. Mostly granite. Estimated weight = 10,000 pounds.  
Stone is heavy. Every stone mason who has ever blackened a fingernail knows this to be true. Granite weighs 168 pounds per cubic foot. Filling a wheel- barrow with gravel will far exceed the safe load capacity of the wheelbarrow. Tons and tons of stone are needed for a not particularly tall or long stone wall.

Steel is heavier. Steel weighs approximately 490 pounds per cubic foot. Pieces of rail on old and abandoned railroads across New England are 13 yards long a bit under 100 pounds per yard. Going price for scrap steel is roughly 15 cents per pound. New rails are marked near the ends with pounds per yard, manufacturer’s brand, and year and month made.

Silver, surprisingly, is not much less dense than lead. The two metals come in at 655 and 709 pounds per cubic foot, respectively.  In movies where silver is being cast into bullets (perhaps to shoot a werewolf?) the silvery molten metal is actually lead, which becomes liquid at 621 degrees Fahrenheit. Real silver melts at 1763 degrees and would be glowing red. Twenty-four carat gold is 1206 pounds per cubic foot. Standard-sized gold bars are 1.5 x 3.25 x 10 inches and weigh 27.4 pounds (400 ounces). In the movie The Italian Job the Mini Coopers escaping with the gold would each have been loaded with gold weighing more than the car itself!

In baseball terms, a regulation baseball is 12.8 cubic inches – give or take a bit – and weighs 0.3 pounds. Granite carved to the same dimensions would be 1.3 pounds; steel 3.7 pounds; lead 5.3 pounds and gold 9.0 pounds. At a late September 2016 price of $42.46 per gram, that solid gold baseball would be worth about $175,000.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

OARS Annual River Cleanup 2016

OARS: Poster listing sponsors.
Click on photos to enlarge.
The OARS 30th Annual River Cleanup took place on September 17, 2016. Teams of an estimated 200+ volunteers were assigned locations along the Assabet, Sudbury and Concord rivers. In Maynard, nearly 30 high school students were part of the effort, their presence organized by Maynard High School science teacher Rochelle Lerner.

At the post-event pizza celebration, dirtied and tired workers were joined by U.S. Congressional Representative Niki Tsongas and State Representative Kate Hogan, who had both been making a morning's effort to visit several of the day's river events. Tsongas and Hogan spoke to how efforts of organizations such as OARS (Organization for the Assabet, Sudbury and Concord Rivers) have made such a difference to our state's waterways. They also thanked the students for this year's service and charged them with the need to give something back to their community and country wherever their lives take them.

This appeared to be a watershed year (pun intended), as Maynard had more volunteers than trash to be removed from the river. Past years had yielded as many as 100 car and truck tires, plus bicycles, shopping carts, and tons of iron pipe, scrap metal, broken pottery, old carpets and miscellaneous junk. This year, only two tires, one bicycle, and an estimated total of less than one ton of glass, metal, plastic, broken furniture, etc. Not much in the way of newer stuff such as aluminum cans or plastic bottles. Clearly, less and less is being thrown into the river each year. Hurrah!   

Elmo (from Sesame Street), here posed kicking a soccer ball, was
salvaged from the river, as was hundreds of pounds of miscellaneous trash.
Each year the finds from the river include intact glass bottles with a bit of history. A Coca-Cola bottle, volume 6.5 ounces, with "LOWELL" inscribed on the bottom, was dated to the mid-1950s. In 2013 the find was an amber glass pint bottle embossed with the words CALDWELL'S RUM and the image of a three-masted sailing ship alongside a dock. The company had been started by Alexander Caldwell in 1790. Markings on the bottom signified that the bottle had been made for Caldwell's Rum in 1953 by the Anchor Hocking Glass Company. The oldest find to date is a one cup size bottle embossed with TURNER CENTRE SYSTEM, representing a dairy bottling and home delivery company active 100 years ago. 

Trash collected by the students.
 This year's find was a plain glass bottle with NEW ENGLAND VINEGAR WORKS embossed on the bottom, no other markings. Turns out NEVW began its life in 1865 in Somerville as the Standard Vinegar Company. Arthur Rowse bought the company in 1900, changed the name to New England Vinegar Works in 1907, then moved it to Littleton in 1930 to be closer to Massachusetts' apple orchards. Some time around then or a bit before, he created the name Veryfine, after bringing in pasteurization equipment and going into the apple juice business.

Veryfine and its popular bottled water brand Fruit2O remained a family owned business until 2004, when it was sold to Kraft. As part of the deal, the Rowse family insisted that Kraft keep any of the 400 employees who wanted to stay. Approximately fifteen million dollar from the sale was used to pay bonuses to employees; those who had been there more than 20 years got a bonus equal to a full year's pay. Kraft sold Veryfine to Sunny Delight in 2007. Sunny Delight closed the Littleton facility at the end of 2015 while continuing to make the Veryfine and Fruit2O brands at other sites. The Veryfine label has a banner that reads "Since 1865." Let's just call that a stretch.

As to the means by which thousands upon thousands of glass bottles ended up in the stretch of the Assabet as it wended it way through Maynard, think bridges and backyards, and the opinion that anything disposed into the river went "away." This is not a new problem. From the 1913 Annual Report of the State Board of Health "The Assabet River has at various times been seriously polluted in different parts of its course, the most serious condition in recent years below Maynard where the river receives sewage and manufacturing waste from a very large woolen mill and a considerable quantity of sewage also from the town... the river continues to be objectionable in appearance and odor, especially below Maynard."

To learn more about our rivers, go to:

U.S. Congress Representative Niki Tsongas (right) and State Representative Kate Hogan (dark suit, 
left of center) pose with Maynard High School students. Kneeling is Alison Field-Juma, Executive Director 
of OARS (left) and Lisa Vernegaard, Executive Director of Sudbury Valley Trustees (right). Science teacher 
Rochelle Lerner is in green shirt, to left.