Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Delaney Complex, Stow, MA

Sunrise at Delaney Pond, Stow, MA (frozen) looking north, January 2017
The Delaney Complex, also referred to as the Delaney Project, applies to two earthen dams in Stow and Bolton that provide flood control on Great Brook and Elizabeth Brook. These were completed in 1971. The larger dam is in the northwest corner of Stow. It creates a permanent pond with a surface area of 163 acres. It times of heavy rain the water-covered area expands to surrounding marsh and lowlands to cover as much as 397 acres. Surrounding the pond is a wildlife conservation area. The whole encompasses 580 acres in Stow, Harvard, Bolton and a wee bit in Boxborough.  

The Delaney Complex serves three functions: flood control, wildlife preserve, and recreational use for boating, fishing, hunting and hiking. There are many rules applying to the Delaney - a state Wildlife Management Area - including no alcoholic beverages, no fires, no overnight camping, etc. Example, "Any person aboard a canoe or kayak between September 15 and May 15 shall wear at all times a Type I, II or III Coast Guard approved personal flotation device."

Dog rules for Delaney Complex
 Dogs are allowed (unlike in the federal Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge), but one rule that irks many people is the 2008 Stow decision that all dogs must be leashed and owners required to pick up after their dogs, enforced by a $50 fine. The rationale for this was that dog owners were using the grassy area and main path leading from the boat launch parking lot as a dog park, to the annoyance of people who pass through to get to the hiking trails.

Flood control areas (marked "Fc" on maps) are designed to either retain a permanent pool of water, such as at Delaney and Nichols (the headwaters of the Assabet River) or to be dry except in times of heavy rainfall or snowmelt, such as at Tyler Dam, also on the Assabet. All told, the Assabet River and its tributaries have ten flood control dams - the two in Delaney and eight others. Collectively, these dams can hold back up to four billion gallons of water, and by doing so, reduce downstream flood damage by millions of dollars.

In 2015 the federal National Resources Conservation Service evaluated all dams on the Assabet and tributaries and decided that six needed work (Nichols had work done in 2012). This included $2.9 million to modify the auxiliary spillway of the Delaney Dam and to raise the height of the East Bolton Dam by 3.5 feet. These projects will increase flood holdback capacity of the Delaney Complex. 

Stow Conservation Trust has descriptions of trails, with maps, posted at The listings include two trail walk guides for the Delaney area. However, parking for both is supposed to be at Finn Road, Harvard. The area in question is a bit west of the Stow:Harvard border sign. It is very small, currently iced over and presumably soon to be snowed over. Come spring thaw, a good guess is that it is a morass of mud. This leaves as the only realistic parking the lot at the boat launch site, next to Harvard Road, in Stow. From there, the south set of trails can be accessed by walking to the end of the dam, and then north.

There are unknowns to this column that internet searching could not solve, but may have answers in the Stow Historical Society records. Or the memories of people from Stow. For example, is the area so-named the Delaney Complex/Project because it is near Delaney Street? Was the street named for a landowner? If so, who? And was there a Delaney Farm before it became Delaney Pond? There do not appear to be Delaney family members buried in any of Stow's cemeteries, so no clues there. 

Flood control structure referred to as a riser. Water enters lower openings,
which are protected by the sets of bars called trash racks. Except in times
of drought this allows some flow into Elizabeth Brook. Only after water level
rises about six feet would it enter the larger opening protected by the top
set of bars, resulting in faster outflow. Click on any photo to enlarge. 
The aforementioned walking guides show the network of trails as twisty and criss-crossy, so even an experienced woods hiker should have a compass or a cell phone with a compass app. Worst case - the latter will allow you to call for help, and for rescue to find you. Police reports in the newspaper have on occasion been about darkness and foul weather descending on people lost in Delaney.

Odds are this pond is quite shallow, given its man-made nature. By comparison, Walden Pond, formed by glaciers, covers only 61 acres but has a maximum depth of 102 feet.  

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Most Popular Columns of 2016

First, a look back at the most popular columns of 2016 - as determined by numbers of visits to columns posted at All of these can still be visited. Last, a recommendation for a New Year’s resolution and some column ideas for 2017.

A history of the effort to create the Assabet River Rail Trail was posted in June, followed by three related columns in July and August on start-up of construction, the massive tree removal, and the aerial departure of the old footbridge over the Assabet (via crane, not helicopter). Photo montage updates were posted in October, November and December Construction is scheduled through late 2017, with the final landscaping planned for early 2018. This section runs from the Stow/Maynard border to the South Acton train station, and is 3.4 miles long.

A MUELLER and THE COREY hydrants side by side on Forest Street.
Yellow means so-so water volume, red means meh. Click on photo to enlarge.
Two columns on fire hydrants were published in May. Through the paint, and sometimes through the rust, most of the fire hydrants in Maynard read MUELLER, ALBERTVILLE, and either ALA or AL (for Alabama), plus a year for when the hydrant was made. Mueller Company was started in 1857, but did not get into the hydrant business until 1933, when it acquired Columbian Iron Works. Any Mueller older than 1975 is identified as being made in CHATTA TENN (meaning Chattanooga). Oldest Mueller in town is from 1958, newest 2016. Forest Street and O’Moore Avenue host a hydrant model with “THE COREY” across the top. These, from the Rensselaer Manufacturing Company, were named after the inventor William W. Corey, and date to 1900-1930. The winner for oldest is a Chapman Valve hydrant, dated to 1890-1900. It is on Winter Avenue, which was not created until 1921, so it may be one of Maynard’s original hydrants – circa 1890 – later relocated. 

The image on the Town Seal is the clock tower
showing the time as 12:10, not 1:00.
April saw the publication of a column on Founders’ Day. Maynard's creation dates to April 19, 1871. The town celebrated its 145th anniversary as the First Annual Founders' Day via various events, including a lecture at the Library on how Maynard came to be created and named. Briefly, Stow and Sudbury were paid to give up their claims to the land, and Mr. Amory Maynard decided he liked his own name for the town. Much of the 2016 organizing was accomplished by Maynard High School senior Haley Fritz as part of her Girl Scout Gold Award project, in collaboration with the Board of Selectmen, Maynard Business Alliance, and Maynard Historical Commission. Hopes are that the town can repeat the event in 2017 without her help. Looking into the future, the Maynard Historical Commission is also beginning to make plans for the sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary celebration, April 2021.

Edward A. Mason, Jr., showing the Coast Guard Silver
Life-Saving Medal he was awarded in 1952. In case you did
not see the movie "The Finest Hours," two  oil tankers broke
in half in a winter storm off Cape Cod. Mason was involved in
the less dramatic rescue (4 men saved versus 32).
A February column that drew a lot of traffic to the website was about our local connection to the Coast Guard rescue events of February 1952, parts portrayed in the movie The Finest Hours. A Silver Life-Saving Medal was awarded to Edward A. Mason, Jr., Apprentice Seaman, age 23, for his part in the USS Fort Mercer rescue. The citation read in part: "Mason's exceptional courage, professional skill, and unwavering devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Coast Guard." He had lived in Stow and Maynard before enlisting, and returned to Stow to raise a family after leaving the Coast Guard. On the afternoon of February 7th he sat down in the Fine Arts Theatre in Maynard with his daughter to see the movie.

As for the new year - plan to spend more time outdoors!  Stow and Maynard have miles of trails perfect for winter hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Many of these are marked with blazes painted on trees. Keep an eye out for animal tracks.

LIFE OUTDOORS began November 2009, and is closing in on its 250th column. Topics have been mostly history-related, with the others divided across observations on nature, outdoor recreational ideas and a smattering of health-related topics. On the docket for 2017 are a history of our towns' newspapers, Rodoff Shalom Synagogue (1921-1980), what this region was like before the Europeans arrived, and more. Suggestions welcome!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Assabet River Rail Trail - Dec 2016

New photos on status of Assabet River Rail Trail, Maynard and ActonMassachusetts, as of late December. There has been a tremendous amount of work done in Maynard, much less in Acton. In Maynard, all parts widened (resulting in removal of >600 trees) and all railroad ties removed. Two-thirds of the Trail has received preliminary paving (there will be another layer added later). Curb cuts and street-crossing lights are being installed. The old footbridge was removed and abutments are in place for the new bridge. In Acton, the focus has been on the boardwalks over wetlands in front of and to the north side of The Paper Store building, on Route 27. There is also work on the north end, from Maple Street.  Other sets of photos posted in November and October.

 Click on any photo to enlarge.

Assabet River Rail Trail looking north from Summer Street, Maynard.
Apartment building (right) lost much of its tree shade and Maplebrook
Park (left) lost about one third of its area.

East abutment for the new footbridge over the Assabet River. The abutments
on both sides are bridge-ready. Installation of bridge set for Spring 2017.

Frozen canal (center) from river to mill is flanked on left by a retaining wall
for the Trail, which for this stretch parallels Winter Street, south of Rt 117.
Paving and railings not yet in place. Work continues.

January 2017 update: The bridge in Acton has been removed. A new bridge will be installed later this year. Original schedule calls for June/July.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Lafayette's 1824 Visit to Stow

Lafayette, we are here.” Thus ended a speech by Charles E. Stanton, Lieutenant Colonel on the staff of General John J. Pershing. The event was a visit to Lafayette’s tomb, on July 4, 1917, just three months after the United States has joined the war against Germany and its allies. The speech acknowledged France’s support for the American Revolutionary War. In context: “America has joined forces with the allied powers, and what we have of blood and treasure are yours. Therefore it is that with loving pride we drape the colors in tribute of respect to this citizen of your great republic. And here and now, in the presence of the illustrious dead, we pledge our hearts and our honor in carrying this war to a successful issue. Lafayette, we are here!”

Stanton could say "Lafayette" in the same way other political and military stars need only one name: Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, Mao. By his full name and title, Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier (Marquis de Lafayette) was born in 1757 into a noble French family with a LONG history of military service. Nearly 350 years before his arrival in the at-war Colonies his ancestor Gilbert de Lafayette III had been a companion-at-arms with Joan of Arc's army, fighting against English invaders. And nearly 50 years after Lafayette first arrived on our shores to fight in the Revolutionary War, he returned to the United States and visited, briefly, Stow, MA.

Portrait of Marquis de Lafayette, Lieutenant General,
French Army, 1791 (age 34 years)
Lafayette first arrived in 1777, age 19, as a volunteer, a French Army officer, but without official approval from the French government. He swiftly became an aide to General Washington, endured the winter at Valley Forge, and was given command positions in the Continental Army. He was also an essential liaison between the warring Americans and his home country, traveling back to France in 1779 and again in 1781 to beg for aid. The arrival of the French navy at Yorktown, Virginia, coinciding with land attacks by the Continental Army, in part led by Lafayette and Alexander Hamilton, led to the surrender of the British Army and the end of the War. Lafayette returned to France where he had a life-long involvement in French governments under the King, the revolution, Bonaparte and the restoration of the monarchy.

President James Monroe and Congress invited Lafayette to visit the United States in 1824-25 celebrate the nation's upcoming 50th anniversary. Lafayette was 66 at the time. His intended four month tour of the original 13 states became a thirteen month, 6,000 mile tour of 24 states, traveling by horseback, carriage, canal barge and steamboat. And this brings us to the point of our local interest. On September 2, 1824, Lafayette and his entourage left Boston via carriage to events scheduled in Lexington and Concord. Lexington claimed it was where the war started. A banner read “The birthplace of American liberty.” Concord counter-claimed it was where the colonists first fired at the British. When Lafayette visited North Bridge in Concord, Judge Samuel Hoar told him that he was looking at the spot where “the first forcible resistance was made.”

1824 portrait by Ary Scheffer
Interestingly, echoes of the Lexington/Concord feud sounded down through the years. In 1894 the Lexington Historical Society petitioned the Massachusetts State Legislature to proclaim April 19 as "Lexington Day." Concord countered with “Concord Day.” Governor Frederic Greenhalge opted for a compromise: "Patriots' Day." The Boston Marathon, started to honor the holiday, dates to 1897 - one year after the modern-era Olympics, including a marathon, was started, in Greece.

If Lafayette's coach traveled west from Concord, stopping at Stow along the way, there is only one logical route for him to have taken - Laws Brook Road to School Street to Parker Road to Concord Street to Summer Street - and hence to Stow Lower Village.

From the written records it does not appear that Stow was a planned stop, perhaps only a place to rest the horses and let the travelers stretch their legs, but there ended up being a reception of sorts. According to Crowell’s history of Stow (1933), Lafayette and his entourage reached the Stow common [next to Route 117 east of Shaw’s shopping plaza] after sunset and stayed for almost an hour. They were met by a military company led by Captain Pliny Wetherbee and feted at the Gardner Inn. The Honorable Rufus Hosmer coordinated the event. There were refreshments, the Marquis received a bouquet of flowers, and then departed into the darkness, miles to go before reaching the residence of Sampson V.S. Wilder, in Bolton, for a sumptuous feast and overnight stay. The house still stands, on Wilder Road.  

Stow Minutemen Company, 2011 (Click on photo to enlarge)
The above-described route across Stow (parts which did not become Maynard until 1871), would have been the reverse of much of the line of march of the Stow Minutemen on the morning of April 19, 1775, on their way to Concord. The Stow Minutemen Company re-enacts the march every Patriot's Day. New recruits welcome!

Lafayette had become a Freemason early in his life. There is dispute whether this had occurred before he left France, or at Valley Forge, in December 1777, with General George Washington present and acting as Master of the Lodge at the time of initiation. Regardless, he remained an active Mason, and as such, was asked to place the cornerstone of many monuments, including Bunker Hill, on the 50th anniversary of that 1775 battle. From one description, "Lafayette became so emotionally connected to the United States that he took dirt from the excavation of the Bunker Hill Monument in Massachusetts and shipped it to France so he could be buried in American soil."


Stanton speech:

The Schiller Institute:

Cornell University:

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Density of Stone, Wood, Water and Ice

Stone wall, corner of Maple and Brooks Streets. Estimated
weight six tons. Click on photos to enlarge.
This website has density of >300 materials as kg/cubic meter and pounds per cubic foot:

Stone is heavy. Every stone mason who has ever blackened a fingernail knows this to be true. Granite weighs 165-170 pounds per cubic foot. One 2x3 foot piece of bluestone for a walkway, two inches thick, weighs 150 pounds. Filling a wheelbarrow with gravel will exceed the safe load capacity of the wheelbarrow. Tons of stone are needed for a not particularly long or tall stone wall. 

Steel is heavier. Steel weighs 490 pounds per cubic foot. Pieces of rail on old and abandoned railroads across New England are 13 yards long and weigh half a ton or more. Going price for scrap steel is roughly ten cents per pound. 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 silver-colored molten metal is actually lead, which becomes liquid at 621 degrees Fahrenheit. Real silver melts at 1,763 degrees and glows red hot.

Twenty-four carat gold is 1,206 pounds per cubic foot. Standard-sized gold bars are a tad under 2x4x8 inches and weigh 27.4 pounds. 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 November 2016 price of $38.80 per gram, that solid gold baseball would be worth about $160,000.

Wood floats, except when it does not. Water density is 62.4 pounds per cubic foot. Many dense-wood species of trees from around the world are called “ironwood.” In Spanish-speaking regions of South America, these trees are “quebracho,” derived from “quebrar hacha,” which translates as “axe-breaker.” Wood from quebracho, ebony, lignum vitae and other species can weigh as much as 80 pounds per cubic foot.

In Massachusetts, the tree species American Hornbeam is also called ironwood, but its density is approximately 48 pounds per cubic foot, so it floats. Density of wood in part determines how much heat is produced when burned. After sufficient air drying, softwood trees such as poplar, aspen and willow weigh 20 to 25 pounds per cubic foot. Ash, birch and elm are intermediate woods with weights of 35 to 40 pounds. The common hardwoods, which include apple, beech and oak, all exceed 40 pounds.

Cord for cord, the net heating value of oak or sugar maple will be nearly double that of poplar or aspen. An equal weight of coal will deliver nearly twice the heat of hardwoods. For all wood, the higher moisture content of green wood means less heat generated compared to wood properly air dried, the reason being that heat is lost vaporizing the water content. Splitting speeds the drying process.

Pure water weighs 1,000 kilograms per cubic meter. Converted to English units, that becomes 62.4 pounds per cubic foot. A gallon of water weighs 8.33 pounds; thus, the mnemonic "a pint weighs a pound," is close, but not spot-on. Sea water, because of the dissolved minerals, has a higher density of 1,026 kg per cubic meter. Ice from fresh water has a density of 919 kg per cubic meter. Dividing by 16.02 to get to pounds per cubic foot yields 57.3 pounds.  

Salt crystal melts surrounding snow.
Because of the salt content, ocean
water freezes at 28F. Water with a
higher salt content would have an
even lower freezing temperature.
As ice is only eight percent lighter than water, it would take an ice floe with the dimensions eight inches thick and 7x7 feet square to (barely) support a 160 pound person. Obviously, when walking on a frozen lake, it is the tensile strength of ice spreading the weight burden over a wide area rather than the floatation capacity of the ice directly underfoot that keeps you from plunging through. On fresh water, four inches of clear ice is considered the safe minimum for skating, walking or ice fishing.

Locally, winters average 40 to 50 inches of snow per year. The loose rule of thumb is ten inches of snow equates to one inch of rain. That puts snow at 100 kg per cubic meter, or 6.2 pounds per cubic foot. Wetter snow will be denser. Powdery snow will be much lighter. Roof melt that ends up on an unheated porch or garage roof can refreeze. In this way a flattish roof with an area of 20x20 feet could easily end up supporting two to three tons of dense snow and ice.