Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Thoreau's Walk to Boon's Pond

Henry David Thoreau's writings contain mention of this area in 1851, documented in publication of the journals after his death as an entry "A Walk to Boon's Pond in Stow."

It begins "Sept. 4. 8 A. M.  A clear and pleasant day after the rain. Start for Boon's Pond in Stow with C." By "C" he meant William Ellery Channing, who had been a classmate at Harvard, a neighbor in Concord, and the author of the first biography of Thoreau, published in 1873. Also a walker and wanderer. From mentions of landmarks along the way it is possible to recreate a map of their path. The round-trip distance was a tad over 20 miles, some of it on roads or along the railroad, some through farmers' fields and woods.

Outward bound, Thoreau notes that odors from the gunpowder mills made them cough. Their walk continued westward on what is now Route 62. They skirted the paper mill (site of Tedeschi's/Dunkin Donuts), but did not cross the river on the newish (1840) bridge, nor walk down Main Street. Instead, they continued south on what is now Route 27, then west on Old Marlborough Road, and so into what is now the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge, back then farms and woodlands.

Monument to Matthew Boon, erected 1883,
about 75 yards west of Barton Road. There is a
smaller stone roadside to indicate where to
walk into the woods. His body was not found.  
Boon's Pond, their goal, was a much smaller body of water back then, described by Thoreau as shallow and muddy looking. The pond was the namesake of Matthew Boon, who had started a farmstead in 1660. He was killed in 1676 during the Indian attacks on colonists known as King Philip's War.

Thoreau's journal entry does not state if they walked south of the pond and then north on the west side, or skirted the east side. A guess is the latter, because if on the west side they would have had to cross the outlet creek to start their return journey. 

The pond drains via a short (600 foot) creek to the Assabet River. About two hundred years after Boon's death, Amory Maynard bought land and water rights around Boon's Pond, then built an earthen dam to raise the water level. His goal was to have additional water reserved to release to the Assabet, so as to keep his mill in operation during summer months. The dam caused flooding of what are now referred to as the second and third basins. Decades later the wool mill converted to steam power, so less water needed. The water level no longer dropped every summer. Campsites, rented cabins, second homes, clubhouses and resorts proliferated on the now stable shoreline of the renamed Lake Boon, popular because it could be reached by train from Boston.

On the way back, Thoreau and Channing walked along the railroad tracks, beside the Assabet River. Construction of this railroad spur off the Boston to Fitchburg line had begun in 1849, and by 1850 extended through Stow to Hudson. Thoreau complained in his journal that there was no good place to bathe for three miles because Knight’s new dam (the Ben Smith dam, constructed 1846-47) had raised the river. His description “The fluviatile [meaning found near or in rivers] trees standing dead for fish hawk [osprey] perches and the water stagnant for weeds to grow in.”

They crossed what is now the White Pond Road bridge, climbed Summer Hill, then headed east on Summer Street to Concord Street, and so homeward. At the time of their visit the gunpowder, paper and wool mills of Assabet Village were the business center of a population of about 800 people, still citizens of Stow or Sudbury depending on which side of the river they lived.

From the top of Summer Hill - then pasture, now a mature forest - they had looking down on what he described as a new brick ice house. This was most likely N.J. Wyeth’s ice house, built 1849, next to the mill pond. At this location Wyeth's Irish work crew could load ice from the pond on one side and unload it to the railroad on the other side. Wyeth also owned a brickworks - New England Brick Company (nebco or NEBCo on each brick) - in Cambridge; the wool mill's bricks likely came from there.

Barton Road is on top of the earthen dam. This view is from the south,
looking north. The water outlet is to the Assabet River, on the left, about
200 yards away. People could arrive by train from Boston, or by a steamboat
that provided service from Maynard. After walking the short distance to Lake
Boon they could then avail themselves of a steamboat that stopped
at various points around the shores of Lake Boon. 
 For the adventurous, a ten mile hike can trace much of their path in Acton, Maynard and Stow. Start from the Stop & Shop Plaza on Route 62, then turn south onto Route 27. A right onto Old Marlborough Road becomes Winterberry Way as it traverses the Wildlife Refuge. Exit the Refuge, do a short stint on Hudson Road, then right onto Sudbury Road.

Just before the bridge over the Assabet, detour south on Barton Road to where it tops the dam. Double back, and this time, just before the bridge, turn right onto the unpaved Assabet River Rail Trail (look for yellow gate) and stay on that to the White Pond Road bridge. Cross, then wend your way to and across Route 117 to Summer Hill Road. A short distance in, turn left onto a footpath that will cross the top of Summer Hill and descend to Summer Street. From here, east on Summer to Concord to Adams to High returns you to your starting place.    

Marlborough Road connected Marlborough to Concord through north Sudbury (at the Marlborough end it was known as Concord Road). There was also a road that connected Sudbury to Lancaster, crossing the Assabet River at the site of White Pond Road Bridge and going through the old center of Stow (where Shaw's Plaza is) as it went north. There has been a bridge at this site since 1716.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Maynard Cricket Club 1901-1925

Maynard Cricket Club members posing with 1906 trophy
"That's not cricket" descends to us in the U.S. as a somewhat twee saying about a foreign game, but once upon a time the Maynard Cricket and Athletic Club was an active and integral part of town life, with over 150 members and busy sports and social programs.

As to why cricket is thought of as a genteel sport, that probably begins with the lack of body contact. Runners sprint between bases, but an out is made by touching the ball to the wicket (more on this) rather than the runner. So, no spikes-high slides into second base or trying to run over the catcher at home. Season Three of Downton Abbey featured a game between the Manor and the villagers that was very much men in white and breaks for tea. Still, at the professional level, when the pitched ball comes in on a bounce at speeds that can approach 100 miles per hour, an umpire is required to ensure that the game abides by the 42 Laws of Cricket and does not descend into a melee (angry men with bats).

The game, in brief (condensed from someone else's "short" explanation that ran to ten pages): two wickets, 66 feet apart, with a wicket described as two horizontal sticks laid across the top of three vertical sticks, the whole thing a bit over two feet tall and nine inches wide. The bowler (think pitcher) tries to hit the wicket. The batter stands a bit in front and to the side, and uses a bat to knock the ball away. Unlike baseball, no called strikes, no fouling out, and the batter can hit the ball but chose to not run. The batter is out if the wicket is hit, or a fly ball is caught, or a ground ball is fielded and then touched/thrown to a wicket while the batter is running. Runs are attempted whenever the ball is hit far enough so that the runner decides to run to the other wicket - and continues back and forth until the ball is gotten to a wicket. And the same batter continues to be up until out.     

Why Maynard?  At the beginning of the 1900s the American Woolen Company had just bought the bankrupt mill in Maynard, built new buildings, and was hiring. Skilled mill workers were recruited from England. They brought their village games with them. The same happened in other mill towns. Locally, cricket and that American game with a bat and a ball competed for playing space at Crowe Park until in 1901, men organized a cricket club, bought their own land to the south of Crowe and built a clubhouse. While the driving interest was cricket, there was also soccer, rugby, trap shooting and track & field competitions. 

A high point for the Maynard team occurred at the end of the 1906 season. The twelve game schedule of the Central Massachusetts League ended in a tie between Maynard and Fitchburg. A one-game playoff took place in Clinton on September 29th. The Maynard team hired a fancy trolley car - wicker seats, curtains on the windows, electric lights! - from the Concord, Maynard & Hudson Street Railway (1901-1923) to ride to the end of the line, in Hudson, there transfer the car to the next trolley line's tracks, and so to Clinton.

On a glorious Saturday afternoon, Maynard prevailed over Fitchburg by a score of 46 to 27. Fred Shaw was high scorer with 15 runs. News reached Maynard by telegraph. Club members hastily hired the town band, and converged at the trolley barn (now an office building where Routes 117 and 62 converge) to great the returning heroes, followed by a parade down Main Street.

In time assimilation lead to disinterest, until the club no longer fielded a cricket team. There was some embarrassment in 1924, when the Club was raided for illegal sale of liquor. The clubhouse burned in 1925. That appears to have been the catalyst to disbanding and selling the land. The space is now occupied by Green Meadow Elementary School.    

If you are interesting in seeing a live cricket match, the Massachusetts State Cricket League season will run from May through September. Traditionally games can take a day or even days (really!), but there is a sped-up version called Twenty20 with games that finish in 2-3 hours.  

Thursday, April 9, 2015

IIII for four o'clock

Clocktower clock, Maynard, MA
Admire the clock faces on the Clocktower clock. On each, four o'clock is designated by a Roman numeral "IIII." Which begs the question, why not "IV?"

The best-supported answer is that Romans did not always use Roman numerals the way we do. We use a subtractive mode (IV instead of IIII, IX instead of VIIII), which became the standard in Europe long after the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. IIII was used on Roman era sundials, and appears to have been carried forward in time to Renaissance era clocks.

Another theory is that IIII provides more visual symmetry for the clock face, with clock makers conforming to this practice by design. With IIII for four and VIII for eight, the two numbers opposing each other are of similar width. Jibing with this concept is the fact that the same clocks that do not use subtractive mode for four do use it for nine (IX), creating a closer visual match for III on the other side. Finally, using IIII means that the first third of the clock face has I's, the next third has V's and the final third has X's. Internet searching yields a few other explanations, but these two - tradition and symmetry - make the most sense.

Clock faces incorporate other traditions. When the Hindu-Arabic numbering system (1,2,3,4,5...) is used, all numbers are oriented to be top end up when the face is viewed vertically, but Roman numerals (I,II,III,IIII,V...) are oriented to be top end up from the viewpoint of the center of the face, facing outward. Was this to be radially symmetric or functional? Likely the latter, carried forward in time by tradition. Think of walking up to a sundial; with your back to the sun the shadow cast by the upright will be opposite you and the number it points to will be right side up.

Clock hands proceed clockwise. In the Northern hemisphere a horizontal sundial will have twelve o'clock oriented due north. As the sun's position in the sky shifts from east to south to west the shadow will move around the top arc of the face left to right. When mechanical clocks were perfected in Europe the sundial's movement was mimicked for its familiarity. Hence, the worldwide convention is clockwise. (It is possible to buy novelty clocks that run counterclockwise.)

If sundials had spread to the rest of the world from the southern hemisphere then the sun's shadow would have proceeded across the top arc from right to left and mechanical clocks might well have followed that tradition to end up going the opposite direction of what we know accept. (Of course, this manner of movement would have been called "clockwise.")

The earliest mechanical clocks did not have hands or faces. In Catholic Europe, these devices were installed in church towers to automate ringing of bells meant to signify daily calls to prayer. Hours were signified by bells. Time was audible rather than visual.

Clocktower clock face from inside the clock
External clock faces and hands were added once clock mechanisms became more accurate. Standards of design now call for a short, stout hour hand, a longer, thinner minute hand and a very thin second hand, often a different color. Days have 24 hours but clock faces have only 12, mostly because a clock face with 24 numbers would be too crowded. Smart watches keep digital time (either 12- or 24-hour) but can display analog faces. The French Revolution brought the world the metric system of measuring distance and weight, but the metric clock (10 hours, 100 minutes per hour, 100 seconds per minute) was an epic fail.

Time used to be local. Starting in the 1800s, problems were caused by railroads traveling so far in a day as to be servicing cities each maintaining its own local time. The solution, reached in 1883, was to agree on dividing the U.S. into four time zones, with concord on accurate time within and between zones made possible by telegraph.  

Close-up of gears at the clock face
In print advertising for watches and clocks it is traditional to show the time as 10:10. Maynard's Town Seal shows the Clocktower clock at 12:10 to indicate the more than century long tradition - abandoned in 2011 - of the fire department conducting a daily test of the fire horn at ten minutes after noon.
I am really sad that the fire station's fire horn no longer sounds at 12:10. I found that 125 dB electric horns and a control box could be purchased from SENTRY SIREN and installed at the mill complex, perhaps on the Clocktower or chimney.   

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Erikson's Ice Cream - Opening Day 2015

Erikson's Ice Cream: April 4, 2015  Opening day for 78th year
Family records have Hans Eriksen starting a dairy farm and milk delivery business in Stow, along White Pond Road. Home delivery was by horse and wagon. His son, Hans Eriksen, Jr., returned from serving in the U.S. Army in France during World War I, and took up the family business, which by this time had shifted to buying milk from local farmers rather than milking their own cows. 

1937 marks the year when Hans Eriksen, Jr., moved the dairy to its present site, just inside Maynard’s border, and started the ice cream operation next door. Cream came from Buttericks Farm in Arlington. Flavoring ingredients were purchased from H.A. Johnson Co.

Maynard Historical Commission plaque
Hans Eriksen, Sr. passed away in 1949. After the war ended but before his death, his son changed the family name and business name to “Erikson.” Hans (junior) continued the dairy bottling, delivery and ice cream businesses until he retired in 1961, with increasing help over time from his daughter Arlene and her husband, Joe Fraser. Once Arlene and Joe took over they reorganized the business as Erikson Dairy, Inc. Within a few years they sold the milk delivery routes to the United Cooperative Society of Maynard, and then got out of milk processing entirely, retaining only the ice cream related operations. About the same time Hans’ first cousin Henry Erikson was turning part of his farm property off Boxboro Road into an airstrip originally known as Erikson Field but now as Minute Man Air Field. 

Erikson's Ice Cream: "Moove" to next window
The next generation of Frasers now manage the business and their children – the fifth generation – have put in time scooping ice cream. Over the years, Erikson’s has provided employment to literally thousands of high school students from Maynard, Stow, and surrounding towns. Many of the alumni make a point of stopping in at Erikson’s when visiting family or old friends still living in the area. The older alum might be surprised to learn that Erikson’s now offers hot dogs, soft-serve ice cream, non-dairy options plus souvenir T-shirts identical to staff wear.

Green Monsta, with rainbow jimmies
Each season introduces unique flavors in addition to the large list of standards. Recent years’ offerings included Pink Mint and Green Monsta. The seven month long season begins in April. Erikson’s location is on Route 117, on the west edge of Maynard, just before the Stow border. No credit cards. Parking on the gravel/dirt is chaotic. Most visitors stand or retreat to their cars, but there are a few tables behind the building. Remember to look at the historic photos above the order windows.  

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Snow Melt - The Great Uncovering

Salt crystal causing snow to melt
Seventeen years ago, in another snowy city (Chicago), our neighbor's son secretly smoked cigarettes and flipped the butts out his bedroom window onto our snow-covered yard. Of course, come spring's snow melt I confronted our neighbor with the evidence. His son spent some time on his hands and knees, sprucing up our lawn.

This spring, across eastern Massachusetts, many surprising things are becoming uncovered by snow melt. Morning dog walkers have reported a bonus of found silver - all the coins dropped into the snow as people tried to reach snow-bound parking meters. Dogs also left evidence in the snow - ____ that dropped out of sight at the time, but now reappears, first frozen, then softening. Smells less than expected, yes, because all the bacteria were killed by the cold, but still visibly offensive.

Garbage has surfaced, too. Soda cans, scraps of paper waste, plus various and diverse car parts left behind from winter's accidents. Those with spring clean-up in their hearts are advised to set out on street, path and trail with plastic bags and glove clad hands.  

Dirty snow is closer to road
Since fresh snow was sparse after the spate of big storms, what remains has taken on a darker hue. The blackest snow starts at road's edge, then fades in intensity by six or seven feet out. The source of all this darkness is an aerosol of shredded tire particles, residue of oil leaks, asphalt dust, road sand and exhaust condensate. And this is why cities now refrain from slinging street snow into rivers and lakes and the ocean. It's better when snow melts in place to convey its residue into the storm sewers and thence to the waste water treatment facility before discharge to the Assabet River.   

Copied from
Speaking of black snow, the groundskeepers at Fenway Park came up with an ingenious means of removing snow from the subnivean field. Rather than shoveling, which could have damaged the grass, they scattered two plus tons of black sand atop the snow. The boost to absorbed heat sped the melting process. Boston's baseball season opens April 13th.  

Bicyclists are suffering. This winter most towns never bothered to spread sand or salt, but the grit generated from uncounted potholes clogs the margins of streets, there to abrade bicycle chains and sprockets until street sweeping cleans and/or spring rains washes it all away. And yes, streets suffered. When water seeps into crevices the subsequent freezing into ice under asphalt splits and shatters the pavement, leaving potholes aplenty.  

Bowl of deer vertabrae (click on photos to enlarge)
This winter was seriously severe on the non-hibernating mammals of Massachusetts. Opossums, raccoons, skunks and deer all suffered. Last spring's fawns, not quite yearlings, were at greatest risk of starvation, but this spring's fawns will be at risk if their mothers cannot find enough green browse to nurse successfully. Woods walking with an eye out for scavenging crows and vultures may lead you to a decomposing winter-killed deer carcass, perhaps in time to salvage a few bones. Advice here - repeated days-long soaks in water followed by soaks in hydrogen peroxide leaves bones smooth to the touch.  

Lastly, the seasonality of flowers has been condensed, so that rather than having snowdrop, crocus, daffodil and tulip blooms spread out over six to ten weeks, all will be in flower almost all at once. Think if it as a symphony of saturated color, blessed by spring rains.

 Yes, all the sibilant "s" sounds of this column were deliberate. Because it's s-s-s-s-spring.  

Skunk cabbage spathe melting snow
Bonus photo - skunk cabbage is an extremely early blooming plant in the wetlands of New England. What is visible in this photo is the spathe - special leaves that enclose the flower, called the spadix. The plant generates heat (hence the melted snow). The air space inside the spathe will be 15 to 30 degrees higher than the outside temperatures. Heat protects the flower from freezing at night. Furthermore, the combination of warmth and rotting-flesh odor attracts the flies that will be fooled into the task of fertilization. This photo taken April 3, 2015 at the wet area at the back of Carbone Park, across Concord Street from ArtSpace/Acme Theatre, Maynard, MA.