Saturday, April 8, 2017

Assabet River Rail Trail - April 2017

New photos on status of Assabet River Rail Trail, Maynard and ActonMassachusetts. The replacement footbridge in Maynard was installed February 8th (photo). Work on the approaches, including the loss of parking spaces behind the post office, began April 10. The bridge remains closed to traffic.

February 8, 2017: A crane starts to lift and then lower the Assabet River Rail Trail
bridge at the same site where a wooden footbridge had been since 1989, previously
 the site of a railroad bridge, 1850-1979. 
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. Farther north, the old Acton bridge, over Fort Pond Brook, has been removed. Grading and filling ongoing. Nothing paved yet north of Concord Street, Maynard.  

Older sets of construction photos posted in November, October, December and January. The overall schedule calls for the complete 3.4 miles from near Acton train station to Maynard:Stow border to be completed by fall 2017, with landscaping (tree planting, etc.) wrapped up in early 2018.


Click on any photo to enlarge:

The bridge to cross Fort Pond Brook is being assembled near Maple Street,
Acton. It will be trucked to the site and lowered into place by crane


The bridge is 70 feet long. Like the Maynard bridge, it is to be 16 feet wide.
To be installed summer 2017. Maynard bridge will have lights. Not this one.


At the Paper Store office complex, on Route 27, Acton, a boardwalk is being
constructed over a small retaining pond and over wetlands. The Trail here has
left the original railroad right-of-way to be between the building and Route 27.



The boardwalk makes a right angle turn around a kiosk to connect with the
Trail, which resumes its route on the original railroad right-of-way
in the woods off to the left of the photo. SAAB dealership visible on right.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Revisiting the 2010 Flood (Maynard, MA)

The U.S. Geological Survey has an automated, on-line
measure of river height, but this ruler nailed to a tree is an
old school back-up. This photo from a low water day. Search
on USGS Assabet to get to the on-line site. See "Summary of
all available data on this site" and once there, "Peak
streamflow" for past years' high water.  
In case you missed it, the Assabet River officially reached 'flood' stage on April 7th. Water height at the gauge behind Tedeschi Food Shop reached 5.2 feet. This was the highest the river has been in three years. Officially, anything above 5.0 feet is 'flood,' over 6.0 feet is moderate flooding and over 7.0 feet major flooding. The 2010 flood peaked at 7.11 feet. Nothing since then has overtopped 6.0 feet.

The Assabet River starts in the Westborough marshes that drain into the George H. Nichols flood control basin (more on this later), then works its way first north, then east. For much of its length the Assabet drops 5 feet for every mile. Within Maynard, river elevation is 175 feet over the top of the Ben Smith Dam and 145 feet out the east side.

All this downhillness means that water moves quickly through the Assabet watershed. Although there were four major storms in forty days spanning late February to early April 2010, collectively delivering more than fifteen inches of rain, much of the high water subsided between storms. The river's high water caused minimal property damage and no road flooding anywhere in Maynard or Stow. In the much flatter Sudbury River watershed the river did not subside between storms, the river set a new record for height, and some roads were under water for weeks.    

There is a history of severe floods on the Assabet River, especially before three major flood control dams - George H. Nichols Dam, Tyler Dam and Delaney Complex - were completed. The impoundment area behind Nichols is kept partially full in order to be able to provide water to the Assabet in times of drought, but has a 500 million gallon flood hold-back capacity. Tyler’s impoundment area stays low between floods and has a hold-back capacity of 1,800 million gallons. Delaney adds an estimated 300 million gallons hold-back at full capacity. The amounts sound huge, but the Assabet River’s 2010 peak of 2500 cfs equated to 1,615 million gallons per day. The three dams are enough to mute the worst outcomes of these every 10 to 20 year floods, but not enough to prevent them completely.

Water outlet at Delaney Complex. Slow flow through the lower
bars, then more water exits once the level surpasses the lowest
horizontal bar, about six feet up. Click on photo to enlarge. 
To put all that flood water into perspective, water usage for Maynard and Stow combined is less than two million gallons per day. There is no place in either town to create a reservoir capable of retaining a useful amount of water, so we depend on what sinks down into the soil to refill the groundwater under our feet. Neither town connects to regional reservoirs. Maynard has town wells. Stow depends on privately owned wells.

Back before any flood control dams were in place, the November hurricane flood of 1927 washed away both the dam and the bridge at what is now the Route 62 crossing. A flood in 1936 took out the wooden Mill Street bridge. Hurricane Diane, August 1955, brought the most rain recorded in any one month and the highest water on the Assabet since modern record-keeping began in 1942. The river crested at 8.94 feet. Streets were flooded. No bridges were lost.

More recent floods of note occurred March 1968, cresting at 8.15 feet, and January 1979, cresting at 8.11 feet. Both flooded Main Street. Retirees from Digital Equipment Corporation remember sandbagging the buildings in 1968 in an attempt to keep water out of the production facilities.  Jack MacKeen noted, “I have a clear mental picture of Ken Olsen [President of DEC] in suit and boots, helping place sandbags between the buildings.” Afterwards, DEC had the river retaining wall built higher along the lowest stretch next to the mill buildings. The wall kept the river out in 1979.

Mill Street bridge, Maynard, at mid-summer low water. Note
sewer pipe. There is a narrow range of river height high enough
to float a kayak but low enough to fit under the pipe.
This month's high water was courtesy of two soggy snow storms followed by a significant rain storm. Vernal pools were topped up, which should bode well for the spring-mating frogs. Collectively, the storms were enough to temper but not end local drought status. Total precipitation for the last twelve months is still roughly ten inches below recent averages. Unless the rest of spring is abnormally wet, expect water restriction rules for this summer.

Mark's first book, "Maynard: History and Life Outdoors," (2011) has an entire chapter on the Assabet River. Parts of this column are from the book. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Assabet River by Other Names

1830 map shows Elizabeth River as the
border between Stow and Sudbury
River exploration tends to start at a river's mouth and work upstream, with naming following. At a major branching a decision is needed - is one the river and the other a tributary? Or better to think of the situation as two branches of the river? The Nashua River flows into the Merrimack River in Nashua, New Hampshire; upriver it splits into North Nashua and South Nashua. River naming was once as simple for the Assabet.

When Concord was established in 1635 the land - purchased from Native Americans - was originally referred to as Musketaquid for "grassy plain," and perhaps also meaning the river, as another history translates Musketaquid as Reedy River. This was descriptive. Both north and south of nascent Concord the river was slow-moving, with a very wide flood plain. The colonists coveted the reedy marshland as meadow, fodder for cattle and horses.  

Upstream the river forked at Egg Rock. Concord maps from 1753 to as late as 1835 refer to the north branch as North River, or on some maps Concord NR. An echo of this naming is the present-day North Branch Road, near the Concord/Acton border and parallel to the Assabet River. Settlement did not expand up both rivers at the same pace. Sudbury was named a town in 1639. Meanwhile, surveyors described the territory along the other river as "meane land," not settled until Stow was a named town in 1683.  

An early name for the Assabet River. Click on photos to enlarge

In Stow the river's name was in flux, with various maps and documents reading Asibeth, Assabath, Elsabath, Elsibeth, Elizabeth, Assabett, Assabet... One map even had it as Stow River. There was a consensus in 1830 that Elizabeth Brook flowed into Elizabeth River into Concord River, but by 1856, when Middlesex county was being remapped in great detail, it was Assabet Brook flowing into the Assabet River, with the pre-Maynard community identified as Assabet Village. (Nowadays it is Elizabeth Brook into Assabet River.)    

There is a well-known quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne (1846) which when cited now usually has the "Assabet" spelling, but what he actually wrote was: "Rowing our boat against the current, between wide meadows, we turned aside into the Assabeth. A more lovely stream than this, for a mile above its junction with the Concord, has never flowed on earth..."

Native American name? No one
knows for sure. Or what it meant.
As for how "Ass-a-bet" came to be the name of a river - a mystery. Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time. Our problem here is that various 19th century history attribute the origins to a Native American name, but if that is true, it would have been from the Nipmuc dialect of the Algonquian family of Indian languages. There is no resource to pursue this theory back to an original source. Supposed translations are to the reedy place, the miry place, or the backward flowing river place. A mire is more permanent - a marsh or bog - than a temporally fleeting muddy place. 'Backward flowing' is a reach. On infrequent occasions the Sudbury River, immediately upstream from the junction of the Sudbury and Assabet, flows backwards. This happens after heavy rain, and it happens because water from the steeper Assabet reaches the junction sooner than water from the flatter Sudbury. Place names are rarely for rare events, so this last theory feels unlikely.  

An alternative theory is that the various names of the river were corruptions of spelling of "Elizabeth." But it is more of a reach to go from this perfectly good person-name to Aisbeth or Assabath, both dating to late 1600s, than it is to consider all those Elizabeth-names as attempts to Anglicize the native name.

There are other examples of changeable naming. In southeast Stow, Bottomless Pond became Crystal Lake. In Harvard, Hell Pond became Hill Pond, became Mirror Lake. In early Sudbury documents the Sudbury River was referred to as the Great River, while at the same time the upper end from Framingham west was for decades called the Hopkinton River. And lest we forget, in 1902 the Town of Maynard almost changed its name to - Assabet.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

How Fast are Raindrops?

What do we know, and not know, about rain? For one thing, raindrops do not taper to a pointed end at the top. That image is only an artistic means of conveying downward direction. Small water drops are round. This is due to surface tension - round being the smallest possible surface area for any given volume.

Raindrops lose round shape with increasing size. 
Dotted lines are circles; solid lines are actual shapes. 
As water droplets float about in the air they bump into each other and merge. Once a drop reaches a diameter of 0.02 inches it starts to fall as a round raindrop. However, above a certain size, air resistance causes the bottom to flatten. The drops are no longer round. More speed, more assimilated droplets, faster, more resistance from air and these large raindrops become concave on the bottom. And then, large drops fragment into several smaller drops, which revert to being rounder and slower.

The larger the raindrop, the faster it falls. Newtonian physics is not being circumvented here. Rather, as drops become larger their mass increases faster than the friction of falling through air. Only in a vacuum would a large and small raindrop fall at the same speed. As noted above, drops get only so large before fragmenting into smaller, slower-falling drops. As a consequence, the maximum velocity of a large raindrop approaches twenty miles an hour. Very small droplets may have little or no downward movement, i.e., drizzle and fog. There are exceptions to the twenty mile an hour maximum speed: at higher altitudes the air density is lower, so rainfall is faster, and also when the air itself is moving down, as in a thunderstorm downdraft.   
Real raindrops do not look like this

Rain can feel like it is falling faster without exceeding the speed limit. What we feel is an average of small to large drops. When a lot of rain is falling in a very short period of time - say two inches an hour - all the pieces of fragmenting large drops quickly combine with other fragments. At ground level, majority of raindrops are large and fast. Once the storm's rainfall slows there is less recombination.

Light rain is defined as a rate of about 0.1 inches per hour, moderate as 0.1 to 0.4 inches per hour, heavy as up to 2.0 inches per hour, and violent rain as exceeding 2.0 inches per hour. Severe thunderstorms can exceed a rate of 4.0 inches per hour for short periods of time. The known U.S. record is 12 inches of rain in 42 minutes, falling on Holt, Mississippi, on June 22, 1947.

Virga is a term used to describe rain that starts to fall from a cloud but evaporates before it reaches the ground. From a distance this phenomenon appears as dark, straight or slanted streaks extending below the base of a cloud. When looking at a televised weather radar map this can explain why an area is shown with rain while for the people on the ground nothing is happening.
  
Sleet happens in winter, when rain from warmer clouds aloft falls through colder air near the surface. Frozen raindrops reach the ground as ice pellets. If the cold air layer is thin, then freezing will be delayed until the raindrops actually reaches the ground, resulting in an ice storm. In this uncommon meteorological condition raindrops are supercooled to a temperature below the freezing point but do not actually freeze until impact with cold surfaces, such as car windshields and tree branches. The result is a coating of clear ice.

Hailstones (internet download). In a severe hailstorm the ground
can become covered inches deep. Click on photos to enlarge.
Hail is what happens when rain goes very, very, very bad. A frozen raindrop, caught in a thunderstorm's strong updraft, can spend many minutes traveling upward, accumulating layers of ice. The hailstones that finally breaks loose from the updraft and fall to the ground can range in size from a pea to a golf ball, and in rare instances, much larger. Large hailstones can exceed the weight of a baseball and impact at more than 80 miles per hour. U.S. farm and property damage exceeds one billion dollars a year.

In the book Isaac's Storm the author retells an observation of a Texas hailstorm with unusual consequences. Heavy rain and large amounts of hail combined into an ice laden flash flood. Fifty miles downstream the ice had melted but the fast-rising river was icy cold. Water spread across the river's flood plain, carrying cold-stunned fish with it. People were able to walk out into the shallows and pick up the cold fish.  

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Thoreau "The Old Marlborough Road"

Old Marlboro Road in Maynard, MA. Click to enlarge.
This entry is about connecting Henry David Thoreau's poem "The Old Marlborough Road" to the factual people and places named. See below for final version of the poem. Marlborough is a Massachusetts town 16.5 miles from Concord.  Both towns date to the 1600s, so a road could be 'old' in 1850.

Thoreau created a lecture entitled "Walking," first delivered at the Concord Lyceum on April 23, 1851. He spoke on the topic close to a dozen times, revising the presentation as years passed, so it is referred to in some descriptions has having been written 1851-1860. As a published work, which includes the poem, "Walking" first appeared in the Atlantic Monthly magazine in 1862, shortly after his death. The entire essay is available at several websites, including: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1862/06/walking/304674/
https://www.walden.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Walking-1.pdf 

What is unknown is whether the poem was ever part of the lecture presentations, or only added to the essay for publication. Research on this would require locating and transcribing lecture manuscripts. The Concord Public Library Special Collections does have Thoreau's handwritten manuscript of "Walking" as submitted for publication. The poem - in his sister's handwriting - has no mark-ups or amendments. (Thoreau was ill/dying from tuberculosis as he worked on this and other writings that were published posthumously. His sister helped by making clean copy for some parts of his marked up drafts). The manuscript does differ in a minor way from what was actually published: the poem's title and spelling throughout were "Old Marlboro Road."

An earlier version of the poem can be found as an 1850 journal entry with the title already set, but missing the first eight lines, and with extra lines, later cut. What in the final version are the important last four lines instead were located in the middle, just before "Nobody repairs it." The journal version of the poem can be found on line at various sites, including pages 54-56 of the Bradford Torrey edition of the journals, covering 1850 thru September 1851. See:
https://archive.org/details/writingsofhenryd08thorrich

Elsewhere, as recorded in Thoreau's journal on September 4, 1851, he and William Ellery Channing walked on parts of the old road to Marlborough as part of their trek to Boon's Pond. Thoreau mentions that he had walked in this general direction many times - he described it as a tendency to head west or southwest once stepping out his door - but not as far as the destination of that specific trek. He described the road to Marlborough as "little-frequented," and no more than a woodman's cart path. [Torrey edition, pp.452-462]

The road exists again, paved, and named Old Marlboro Road. It wends west from near Emerson Hospital, cuts across the north corner of Sudbury as Powers Road, continues as Old Marlboro Road in Maynard, where it ends at the east border of the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge. Within the Refuge, it continues as a trail named Winterberry Way; then out the west site yclept Bruen Road, White Pond Road and finally Concord Road all the way to the center of Marlborough.

As to how old the road was, and why it had fallen into disuse, Marlborough officially became a town in 1660. By 1663, Sudbury records describe an intent to create a road to "Marlbrow." The road from Concord to Marlborough, across the northern part of Sudbury, became a major route for stagecoaches transporting farm produce, freight and people. From 1685 to 1815, Rice Tavern, Sudbury, was at the crossroads of the Concord-Marlborough and the Sudbury-Lancaster roads. But by Thoreau's time a new road had been built farther south. Rice Tavern had reverted to a farmhouse, torn down in 1942.  

This "C" for Concord marker (not on Old
Marlborough Road) bears evidence of repeated
visits. The "M" stands for town of Maynard, not as
diligent. The letters are carved into the stone.
While the theme of the poem is that by stepping out on disused/abandoned roads - as was already true of the old road to Marlborough in his day - you are in effect traveling on any road and every road, the poem also contains factual references specific to Thoreau's time and place. Martial Miles owned land near the road (Martial Mile's Swamp mentioned elsewhere in Journals). Elijah Wood (1790-1861) was a life-long resident of Concord, descendant of one of the founding families; his son, Elijah Wood, Jr. (1816-1882), was a contemporary of Thoreau. Why Thoreau wrote "And Elijah Wood/I fear for no good" is a mystery. Perhaps aware of Wood's pending death.

Elisha Dugan was a free Negro, never married, son of Thomas Dugan, an escaped slave who had become a landowner in Concord. The Dugan family history is described at length in Black Walden, by Elise Lemire. In the poem's context, "Close to the bone" would have meant in poverty/destitute.

"Not many there be/Who enter therein/Only the guests of the/Irishman Quin," Sudbury archives show James and Zana Quin on various town records (qualified voter, taxes). James, born in Ireland, died 1848. His wife died 1866. The house, on the old road to Marlborough may have gone to a son or relative, as an 1856 Middlesex county map shows Riley Quinn.

Granite markers: Thoreau's "Great guide-boards of stone" - were common then, and many still stand to this day. Some of these indicated town borders. Many Massachusetts towns have by-laws that require the Selectmen or their representatives to periodically confirm such stones' locations and status. Other reasons for a stone post would be to have directional arrows pointing toward towns, and perhaps mileage. One stone could serve both purposes.    

Esther Howe Wheeler's book, Nature - A Thoreau Country, (1965) has her circa 1940s photo of a large granite marker post besides the dirt road. The Concord Public Library Special Collections has a photo dated November 7, 1899, showing the same stone and calling it an Old Marlborough Road guide post. And yet more! The second (1892) edition of Old Concord: Her Highways and Byways, by Margaret Sidney (pen name of Harriet M. Stone), tells of visiting Martial Mile's House, passing by the remnants of the house of Irishman Quin, and taking her horse and carriage on the Old Marlborough Road, which she described as in poor repair. An artist's rendering in the book (pp. 176-178: https://archive.org/details/oldconcordherhig00sidn_0) shows the same stone marker as in the photographs. With a magnifying glass it is possible to discern "← 12 MARLBORO" and "→ 4 CONCORD" on one face of the stone. A recent drive-by found no stone marker at the road's boundary between Concord and Sudbury, four miles distant from the center of Concord.

Possible that Thoreau passed this stone on his way from Concord to the start of
Old Marlborough Road. This is facing west, as the intersection of Route 62 and
and Old Road to Nine Acre Corner. Follow ORNAC across Route 2, then turn
right onto Old Marlboro before getting to  Emerson Hospital. The faint grooves
on the left face indicate this piece of granite was split and shaped by hand.


The poem mentions Gourgas, Lee, Clark and Darby as Selectmen. Massachusetts towns elect men and women (only men back then) as Selectmen rather than electing a mayor. Francis Richard Gourgas was part of Concord government as Postmaster, Selectman and Town Clerk, also a Senator in the Massachusetts Legislature. Thoreau had surveyed land for him. Daniel Clark, Joseph Darby and Isaac S. Lee were identified in town annual reports as Selectmen serving prior to 1850 (first known date of poem, their names already included in that version).

The first two lines of the poem as published in 1862: 
       Where they once dug for money,
       But never found any;

Some interpreters took this as meaning people used to travel the road on business, which takes aim at the first line but elides the second. There is another interpretation that was possibly known to Thoreau and his audience at the time. There was a story back then, still well known now, that one spring, circa 1720, a group of men came and briefly stayed at the Thomas Smith family farm in what was then Sudbury, now Maynard. The house was close to the road to Marlborough.

As the story goes, the men one morning borrowed shovels and digging tools, went off into the woods heavily burdened, returned empty handed, paid for their lodging and fare in gold coins, and left. Months later Smith received a letter that his mysterious lodgers were now in prison in Boston, to all be hung as pirates, and that it would be of value for him to come to the city. Depending on the story's version, either he decided not to go, or went, too late. Either way, the story of lost pirates' treasure carries down to the present, i.e., people wandering about Maynard with metal detectors.

The earliest known source for the buried treasure story is Annals of Sudbury, Wayland and Maynard, (1891) by Alfred S. Hudson (p.70 of the Maynard section). So it is intriguing that Thoreau's couplet, predating the book by at least 30 years, may be telling the same myth. https://archive.org/details/annalsofsudburyw00huds

Added 4/13/17More likely Thoreau was referring to a 
Concord version of a buried treasure story.

In an 1856 journal entry, there is a sentence "On Money-Diggers’ Shore, much large yellow lily root washed up; that white root with white fibres and yellowish leaf buds." The text has no location, but the 1906 Gleason map of things Thoreau puts Money Diggers' Shore as squarely within Concord, on the west shore of the Sudbury River, near the start of Old Marlboro Road. Three other journal entries (1856, 1858, 1859) make mention of plants found growing on Money-Diggers' Hill without any clues as to location.

Thoreau's Nov 5, 1854 journal entry has a description of the legend of pirate treasure buried near John Hosmer's hollow. That would be near the west shore of the Sudbury River, in Concord. Hosmer and a friend had come across a pit some six by six feet, and as deep. They explained to Thoreau that there were old stories of pirate treasure, and that people had been digging near the river for a hundred years. Thoreau revisited the treasure story in a December 1856 journal entry: "Am pleased to see the holes where men have dug for money, since they remind me that some are dreaming still like children, though of impracticable things - dreaming of finding money, and trying to put their dream into practice. It proves that men live Arabian nights and days still. I would they should have that kind of faith than none at all."

THE OLD MARLBOROUGH ROAD (as published, 1862)
Where they once dug for money,
But never found any;
Where sometimes Martial Miles
Singly files,
And Elijah Wood,
I fear for no good:
No other man,
Save Elisha Dugan,—
O man of wild habits,
Partridges and rabbits,
Who hast no cares
Only to set snares,
Who liv'st all alone,
Close to the bone,
And where life is sweetest
Constantly eatest.
When the spring stirs my blood
With the instinct to travel,
I can get enough gravel
On the Old Marlborough Road.
Nobody repairs it,
For nobody wears it;
It is a living way,
As the Christians say.
Not many there be
Who enter therein,
Only the guests of the
Irishman Quin.
What is it, what is it,
But a direction out there,
And the bare possibility
Of going somewhere?
Great guide-boards of stone,
But travellers none;
Cenotaphs of the towns
Named on their crowns.
It is worth going to see
Where you might be.
What king
Did the thing,
I am still wondering;
Set up how or when,
By what selectmen,
Gourgas or Lee,
Clark or Darby?
They 're a great endeavor
To be something forever;
Blank tablets of stone,
Where a traveller might groan,
And in one sentence
Grave all that is known;
Which another might read,
In his extreme need.
I know one or two
Lines that would do,
Literature that might stand
All over the land,
Which a man could remember
Till next December,
And read again in the spring,
After the thawing.
If with fancy unfurled
You leave your abode,
You may go round the world
By the Old Marlborough Road.