Wednesday, February 25, 2015

SNOW - a Record Year for Boston

There are winters wherein February sees the first snowdrops and crocuses of spring, but it is not this year. There are years wherein the first returning robins are already arriving, but it is not this year. There are years the snow blower goes untouched, the snowmobile trailered to Maine, but not this year. This year we struggle against the white, the ever recurring, ever piling higher snows of the winter of 2014-15. By all that you hold dear on this frozen earth, you must shovel, women and men of Massachusetts.   

WINTER 2015: Fence is six feet tall.   Click on any photo to enlarge
This winter's snow is rapidly closing in on setting a new record for Boston, for Worcester, and for points in between. These cities, each with 125 years of weather data, average 44 and 64 inches, respectively. The snowiest winter on record for both cities was 1995-96, at 107.6 and 132.9 inches. As of March 1st, Boston is at 103.9 inches and Worcester 110.0 inches. This winter already ranks second for Boston, with every expectation that it will finish as the snowiest winter in recorded history. Worcester's winter is currently fifth snowiest. Interestingly, [2011-12 was the 2nd least snowiest for Boston, with 9.3 inches.] 

Snowfall measurement methods are described in great detail in a 14 page document from the National Weather Service. Briefly, if snow is falling continuously, depth in the measuring device is measured every six hours, the device emptied and set out again. This maximizes measurement for large storms because it reduces the compression effect of late snow piling up on early snow.

One reason for the records being set this winter is that all snow is not created equal. Wet snow means 6-8 inches convert to one inch of water, but the northeasters that have been repeatedly sweeping through our area have been cold enough to generate powdery snow that is averaging 17-18 inches per inch of water. Telling here is that the thirty days of storms that put so much snow on the ground will in time melt to only five inches of water - above average for this time of year but in no way record setting.  

Other reasons are meteorological. Weather forecasting professionals toss about terms such as North Atlantic Oscillation, the "Ridiculously Resilient Ridge" and Polar Vortex.  The net result was that over a short period of time the storms were colder, larger, and every storm dumped on eastern Massachusetts, with little melting between storms. February 2015 was Boston's second coldest on record. For the entire month, an average of 18.8 (F) and only three days had a high temperature above freezing.       

ICICLE: Estimated at ten feet and 100-150 pounds
Whatever happened to global warming? The short answer is that New England is getting wetter faster than it is getting warmer. For Boston, over a 120 year period the average temperature has gotten one degree (F) warmer, but 10 percent wetter. As a result, winter is two weeks shorter, but six of the top ten snowiest winters have occurred in the last 22 years. As storms track up the east coast the warmer (and thus wetter) air over the ocean blows inland over/atop cold air, resulting in more snow.

At some point in the future this will mean more winters of wet snow, sleet, ice storms and rain. Portland, Maine has already experienced the crossover: weather records dating back to 1870 show two degrees of warming, a 15 percent increase in total precipitation, but a decrease in annual snowfall from 75 to 65 inches. When it comes, the crossover will affect Boston before it impacts the inland cities and towns.

The first paragraph of this column was a riff on the "But it is not this day" pre-battle speech in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Other fictional pre-battle speeches to outnumbered, underdog troops include those from movies Braveheart and Independence Day, and the progenitor of them all, the St. Crispin's Day speech from Shakespeare's play, Henry V. That speech gave us five repeats of "...this day..." and also the line "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers..."

The Lord of the Rings/The Return of the King (Lord Aragorn speaking)
Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers!
I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me.
A day may come when the courage of Men fails,
When we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship,
But it is not this day.
An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the Age of Man comes crashing down,
But it is not this day!
This day we fight!
By all that you hold dear on this good earth,
I bid you stand, Men of the West!

Henry V (King Henry V speaking)

    What's he that wishes so? 
    My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin; 
    If we are mark'd to die, we are enow 
    To do our country loss; and if to live, 
    The fewer men, the greater share of honour. 
    God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more. 
    By Jove, I am not covetous for gold, 
    Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost; 
    It yearns me not if men my garments wear; 
    Such outward things dwell not in my desires. 
    But if it be a sin to covet honour, 
    I am the most offending soul alive. 
    No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England. 
    God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour 
    As one man more methinks would share from me 
    For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more! 
    Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host, 
    That he which hath no stomach to this fight, 
    Let him depart; his passport shall be made, 
    And crowns for convoy put into his purse; 
    We would not die in that man's company 
    That fears his fellowship to die with us. 
    This day is call'd the feast of Crispian. 
    He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, 
    Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd, 
    And rouse him at the name of Crispian. 
    He that shall live this day, and see old age, 
    Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours, 
    And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.' 
    Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars, 
    And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.' 
    Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot, 
    But he'll remember, with advantages, 
    What feats he did that day. Then shall our names, 
    Familiar in his mouth as household words- 
    Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter, 
    Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester- 
    Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red. 
    This story shall the good man teach his son; 
    And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by, 
    From this day to the ending of the world, 
    But we in it shall be remembered- 
    We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; 
    For he to-day that sheds his blood with me 
    Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile, 
    This day shall gentle his condition; 
    And gentlemen in England now-a-bed 
    Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here, 
    And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks 
    That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Winter snow records posted at 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Snowshoeing - Hard Work and Slow

Start with the classic nightmare of running from danger in slow motion. Add winter cold and lots of snow and – Voila! You are snowshoeing. The conundrum of snowshoe ownership in this part of Massachusetts is that most winters it does not snow enough to justify owning snowshoes. When it does, as in this winter's storm after storm after storm, snowshoeing is slow work.

On dry land very good runners can maintain 10-12 mph for long distances. Cross-country ski racers are even faster. In contrast, snowshoe racing at 5-6 mph is considered a good speed. For the plodder who trailwalks at three miles per hour on a dry trail, a speed of half that is realistic for snowshoes. And it will require far more calories per hour than walking, especially if punching through deep snow with each step and thus needing to lift out before stepping forward.

Assabet River Rail Trail, Maynard, Winter
So, why snowshoe? First, because it is engaging in a way that a gym’s treadmill is not. Nature is pared to the essentials. On the morning after a night storm the snow is a painter’s palette of whites. Plant life is all dark limbs draped in white. The sky is shades of gray. The only sound is your footsteps, and when you stop – silence, or perhaps the distant honking of a flock of geese out looking for breakfast.

Subsequent morning walks will find many signs of life. Deer, coyote, rabbit, squirrel and all the other non-hibernating mammals will be about, for food and water. One benefit of snowshoes is the ease of going off-trail to follow tracks or look for signs. In the evergreens, squirrels and birds feeding on buds and pine cone seeds will produce a shower of detritus under the trees. Berry-feeding birds with leave colorful markers under their roost trees. Field mice leave a trail of jump marks 4-8” apart with the faint mark of a dragging tail behind each hop.

Snowshoes are designed for different types of intended use: recreational, hiking, back country, or racing. The science of snow dictates a burden of roughly three-quarter pounds per square inch of shoe surface for powdery snow, less for dense or packed snow. This translates to snowshoes 20’ to 36” long and 8” to 10” wide, depending on user weight and intended use.

Brands available locally include Tubbs, Atlas, MSR, and TSL. Prices for adult shoes will range from $100 to $300. Variables include ease of getting the snowshoes on/off, types of boots they will accommodate, grip, weight, and so on. Tubbs alone has ten adult models! So unless you are already an expert, shopping at a store with knowledgeable sales staff is a plus. Necessary accessories are adjustable length walking poles for $50 to $100. Assortments of layered and vented clothing will keep you warm when not moving but will not retain sweat moisture when you are trekking.   

Rail trails such as ARRT, Bruce Freedman, Nashua River or Minuteman offer wide paths, no steep climbs and no motorized vehicles mucking up the snow. Maps for these and more can be found by using the “find a trail” function at Towns may get around to snowplowing trail parking lots but will not plow the trails. Most town forests have miles of woodland trails, as does the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge. Do stay off golf courses and farm fields. As appealing as they look, trespassing is trespassing.

Keep in mind that if you come across a level area with no plant growth visible above the snow it is probably a pond, not a field. Yes, now you can walk on snow. No, you cannot walk on water. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Smith Family in Sudbury, MA

The inheritance laws of Great Britain, source of the majority of immigrants to the northern colonies during the "Great Migration" of 1620-1640, were based on primogeniture - inheritance of land by the oldest son. (In the absence of sons, daughters would inherit, but the practice of the day was to keep plugging away until a male heir and a spare were produced.) Younger sons joined the military, the Church, took up a trade, or sought their fortune elsewhere.

In Massachusetts Bay Colony and the other northern colonies the practice of multigeniture - dividing the family property among several children, took hold. Early landowners in expansion towns, such as Sudbury (established 1639) were granted more land than they could manage. As time passed, the land could be divvied amongst several sons, the oldest oft times getting the largest share. Economically, 30 acres was about as small as possible for a functional farmstead, so land was rarely divided into smaller bits unless a site also encompassed a trade - for example, a mill, smithy or tavern.

The colonies also saw the practice of ultimogeniture - whence the youngest child (son or married daughter) stayed to inherit the household, including care of the aging parents, while allowing older sons opportunity to succeed elsewhere. This practice thrived when there was a surplus of land and a system of official expansion. John Maynard, for example, was one of the early landowners in Sudbury, in the 1640s; his oldest son was one of the early settlers of the new town of Marlborough in 1660. Five generations later, Amory Maynard left Marlborough for Assabet Village, and was buying land from the Smiths.

THE MEN OF THE SMITH FAMILY (see below for wives' maiden names)

John Smith (1622-1687), another early settler in Sudbury, was a contemporary of John Maynard. [John was a very common first name - 21 of the 76 men who settled originally Sudbury went by it.] Smith came over in 1638. Sudbury History Society records have him swearing the Oath of Loyalty in 1645 and marrying Sarah Hunt in 1647. When Sudbury was extended north to the Assabet River, he was among the men getting a 130 acre lot.

There is an interesting note in A.S. Hudson's History of Sudbury 1638-1889 wherein Smith and four other men were granted the right to operate a saw mill on Hop Brook, with the caveat that they not retain water behind a dam or operate the mill between the middle of April and the first of September. The intent here was that whatever water was entering the brook should pass through for the use by downstream farmers.

Asa Smith, one of Haman's sons,
sold this house on Summer Hill Road
 to Amory Maynard in 1846
John Smith's land went to youngest son, Thomas, and in turn to his youngest son, Amos, and in turn to his two youngest sons, Benjamin and Jonathan. Benjamin left a farmstead to his youngest son, Haman. Haman broke the pattern by deeding farms to each of his four sons, but by then (circa 1850) all the nearby new land had been settled. 

As noted in last week's column on the oldest houses in Maynard, by the late 1700s, when this area was still part of Sudbury and Stow, the Smiths were buying more land and building substantial houses along Great Road (now Route 117). Two generations later the Smiths were still a major presence in what was becoming the fast growing Assabet Village, selling land to Amory Maynard and his partner William Knight, and signing one of the petitions to create the new town that came to be named Maynard in 1871. Glenwood cemetery holds graves of at least 60 Smiths, and there are dozens of people with last name Smith living in Maynard today. It's a good bet that some of them are direct descendants of the John Smith who crossed the Atlantic 377 years ago.

Trying to trace immigrant John Smith's genealogy upstream gets very murky very quickly. It appears that in Watertown, the parent town for Sudbury, there were two John Smiths, one at times going by the name John Bland. Both are mentioned as being the father of the John Smith who moved to Sudbury.

Using the Smith (not-Bland) genealogy, the ancestors are another John, another John, then William Smith, a resident of Stratford-on-Avon at about William Shakespeare's time, but apparently not the William Smith who was godfather to Shakespeare. ( I said it was murky.)


All the genealogy to this point is about men named Smith, as the bulk of records (and inheritances) are patrilineal. Here is what is available for the women they married:

John Smith (1599-1669) married Sarah Homan (1595-1629)

John Smith (1622-1687) married Sarah Hunt (1627-????)
   Thomas Smith (1658-1718) married to Abigail Rice (1657-1735)
   Amos Smith (1699-1786) married Susanna Holman (1702-1778)
      Benjamin Smith (1741-1819) married Lucy Maynard (1741-1816) 
          Haman Smith married to Nancy Noyes
              Four sons: George, William, Dexter, Asa
      Jonathan Smith
          Two sons: Levi, Noah

The Lucy Maynard who married Benjamin Smith was not a known relative of Amory Maynard. One of the puzzlements here is there are better birth and death dates for the 1600s and 1700s than for those who were alive in the 1800s. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Hidden History of Maynard


Cover photo from 1910

128 pages. 54 illustrations 
Publisher: The History Press
ISBN: 978.1.62619.541.7
Price: $19.99 (e-book $9.99)

The book is available in Maynard at The Paper Store, as e-book at various venues, or directly from the author, who will be at the ArtSpace Holiday Sale, December 5-7, 2014.

Maynard resident David A. Mark brings his years of experience as a writer to create this fact-populated collection of fifty short essays gathered into seven theme-linked chapters. The contents were originally published 2012-14 as Mark’s column in Maynard’s newspaper, the Beacon-Villager.

I continue to write for the newspaper.
My more recent columns are posted at

In this, his second book, the content is 100% history. Chapters again cover the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, plus a focus on the unusual people and unusual businesses that prospered here. So, from the question as to why there was a mink ranch in Maynard, to whether Babe Ruth came a-drinking here when he lived in Sudbury, here is David Mark with his well-researched and entertaining answers to those questions.  

Only in Maynard
Meet the Maynard Family
19th Century
20th Century
Unusual Businesses
Unusual People
21st Century
Click on photo to enlarge


MAYNARD: History and Life Outdoors (2011)
128 pages. 53 illustrations 
Publisher: The History Press
ISBN: 978.1.60949.303.5
Price: $19.99

Maynard: History and LifeOutdoors mixes 2/3 local history with 1/3 observations on nature and local recreational activities as a means of exploring what Maynard, Massachusetts offers to anyone willing to get away from too much time looking at screens and not enough time spent seeing, hearing, touching and smelling the life going on outside. History starts with eighteenth century stone walls, then carries forward to twenty-first century river clean-ups and farmers’ markets. Nature spans skunks to skunk cabbage, deer to deer ticks, and birds to bird food. Recreational sports essays range from describing the slow-motion, nightmarish feel of snow shoeing to how to avoid overhydration – the potentially deadly opposite of dehydration.

Author selfie, one fine cold morning (5ยบ F)
Maynard – Why “Outdoors”
Eighteenth Century
Birds and Bugs
Nineteenth Century
Assabet River 
Twentieth Century
Marble/Whitney/Parmenter Farm
Twenty-first Century

Oldest Houses in Maynard

Maynard's oldest buildings still standing were not the oldest built. Modest farmsteads located along the roads connecting the older towns of Concord, Sudbury, Stow and Marlborough were torn down and replaced with larger homes as the original settlers prospered. Later, with the advent of the paper, gunpowder and wool mills, houses close to the center of Assabet Village (not yet officially Maynard) were replaced by mill worker housing. More old farmsteads were lost when the government seized most of southern Maynard for Army use as a munitions depot during World War II.

What remains is a scattering of upper middle-class homes, some once owned by descendants of John Smith (1622-1687). John came from England to the colonies in 1638. Nine years later he was married and living in Sudbury. Our lineage of interest is John to Thomas to Amos, then to two of Amos' six children - Benjamin and Jonathan - and their children and grandchildren. Note that 'named' houses are not always named after the original owners.

Georgian style with two chimneys, High Street, Acton
Descriptions of houses built in the late 1700s can wax eloquent about Georgian or the subsequent, more decorative, Federalist style of architecture, but the core of both designs is a rectangular 2.5 story house, five windows wide, two windows deep, centered front door, and either a large central chimney or twin chimneys. Each chimney has more than one fireplace in service of different rooms, including upstairs rooms. Windows are small and multi-pane. Additions are common, sometimes extending so as to link the house to what had been a separate barn or carriage house. (A style known as New England Connected Farm.)

William Smith House, 206-208 Great Road (1780): First owner not known, but William Smith (Benjamin's son) lived there a long time. In 1892 the Town of Maynard purchased it for an almshouse. According to one history, "Here, Maynard's indigents and transients were fed and housed. Those who were able-bodied labored on the 20 acre town farm to produce food for themselves and other needy townspeople. They also chopped wood to heat the schools and other public buildings." The farmland is now the Maynard High School athletic field.

Levi Smith House, 178 Great Road (1770): Central chimney and later additions. It was built for Jonathan Smith and then sold to his son Levi in 1810. After the Great Road bridge over the Assabet River was built in 1816, Levi operated his house as a tavern - the Red Fox Inn - until his death in 1848. 

The dark brown house two houses to the west, sporting a sign, "The Orchard," dates to 1810, its ownership going from Jonathan to another son, Noah. Ownership of the land the house is on dates back to Thomas Smith, Jonathan's grandfather.  

George Smith House, 38 Great Road (1785):  First owner not known, but George lived here next door to his father Haman, who was at 36 Great Road (built 1835). That house went from Haman to another son - Benjamin - who was named after Haman's father. Both houses started as Federal style, with five windows across the front over a centered door, plus many subsequent additions and outbuildings. The Ben Smith Bridge (1816) was named after the first Benjamin while the nearby Ben Smith Dam (1846), built for the wool mill, was named after the second Benjamin, his grandson.  

Click on photos to enlarge
Asa Smith House, 84 Summer Hill Road (1780): There is a dispute here, as there are claims for 1780, but the plaque on the house reads circa 1820. Asa lived in this house and owned the dam and mill, which was used for grinding grain, pressing cider and sawing lumber. This house was the first place Amory Maynard lived when he moved to Assabet Village. Along with the house, Maynard bought the water usage rights, then had much of the river's volume diverted via a canal to the mill pond for his new wool mill. Before Asa Smith, the mill, if not the house, had been owned by Joseph Jewell and then his son John, and was known as "Jewell's Mill" from 1694 to 1815. 

And the oldest: Silas P. Brooks House, 88-90 Summer Street (1764): Georgian style architecture, with a large central chimney and many subsequent additions. It was built for Luke and Lucy (Wheeler) Brooks. Luke was in the Stow militia company that marched to Concord the morning of April 19, 1775; he later served as a Private in the Revolutionary War. His son Silas Brooks and Silas' son Silas Potter Brooks (1815-1888), inherited the house. Silas P. was one of the signers of the 1871 petition to form the Town of Maynard (as were two other Brooks and seven Smiths). 

The Brooks family owned lots of land on the north side of Maynard, including what became Brooks Street. Charles Brooks was the first resident of my house. A deed in the county courthouse shows A&L Maynard Company selling the property to Charles Brooks in 1870 for $2,430. The 1870 U.S. Census described him as a 56 year old widower working at a saw mill, with four teenage daughters. While digging a garden bed we found a small glass bottle that had held "Bachelor's No. 1 Liquid Hair Dye." Perhaps Mr. Brooks was darkening his grey hair in the hopes of finding a second wife.

Honorable mention: the house at 101 Summer Street is part brick construction. The one story brick portion, painted white and close to the road, was District #5 school house for Stow, completed prior to 1789 (possibly as early as 1766?) and in operation as a school until 1872. Many of the town's founding families sent their children there, including Amory Maynard.