Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Street by Any Other Name...

Of all the street names in town, my personal favorite is Marks Way.   

Route 27 has six names
from Acton to Sudbury  
Depending on who is counting, there are between 220 and 240 streets in Maynard. The people who know best work either for the town, the U.S. Mail or pizza delivery. The count confusion is because some numbered streets are listed under both name and number (First and 1st), while others are imaginary streets or county roads bearing multiple names.  

Names with no streets: Peg Brown, master map maven of Maynard, has been documenting the history of "paper streets" for many years. This definition applies to streets that appear on a city or town listing of streets, per the intent of municipal planners, perhaps even showing up in a commercially produced atlas from Rand McNally or Arrow, but do not exist. Peg's collection of maps of various dates show more than a dozen paper streets. The last published-on-paper atlas for  Middlesex County (2003) winnowed this down to seven: 12th Street, 42nd Street, Bluff Ave, Greenhalge St, Lenox Ave, Lowe Rd and Noble Park. None appear on Google's on-line map. Sad, really, because the idea of being at the intersection of 12th and 42nd feels very, very, very New York City (although, actually, impossible there, too).  

A street with no name... The flipside is standing in the middle of a street, palpably a street, with no signage to tell you where you are. Yes, in this era of GPS, we do not expect to get lost. But for twentieth century techno-peasants, a street with no signposts is an utter mystery. Railroad Street is old, yet currently sans sign. Gabrielle Road and Karlee Drive, Maynard's newest, connect Espie Avenue to Taylor Road. Are signs in their future? Only time and the Department of Public Works know for sure.

Streets with no asphalt: To the north, Rockland Avenue, branching west off of Acton street. Elsewhere, Boeske Avenue, Puffer Road, Tower Road and Silver Hill Road.   

Streets with multiple names: Route 27 is Main Street in Acton, and then as it wends its way south, yclept Brown Street, Haynes Street, Acton Street, Waltham Street and Parker Street before crossing into Sudbury and taking on the moniker Maynard Road. Route 62 transverses Maynard from west to east as Great Road, Main Street and Powder Mill Road. Route 117 enters west as the same Great Road, exits still so-named, but shortly after it enters Sudbury becomes North Road. Summer Street becomes Pompositticut Street at the Stow border. Concord Street becomes Parker Street once it enters Acton.
Streets with sad signs: On a few residential streets it is still possible to find a sign displaying black letters on a white background - obsolete for years. The majority of street signs in Maynard are green with white borders, display the Town Seal, and have the name of the street in six inch high capital letters. Some signs on side streets are green, no border, no Town Seal, four inch high letters. Both formats meet current state requirements, but in the coming years every sign will need to be replaced with signage displaying street names starting with a capital letter followed by lower-case lettering.

Really?!?  Yes, really. Worcester has already made the latest change.

In olden days: Because Maynard Historical Society has a collection of town directories, we know that in 1887 there were only 41 named streets, 47 by 1902, leaping to 110 by 1926. Some of those vanished when the U.S. Government expelled everyone after seizing the southern third of Maynard during WWII. Others were renamed. "Ghost streets" include: Beachmont (became Dartmouth), Canal, Cross, South, Whitney Lane... 

Private Ways: Maynard has no gated communities, but does have condominium or apartment complexes situated on roads which are maintained by owners' associations: Apple Ridge Road, Assabet Place, Deer Path, Hemlock Lane, Oak Ridge Drive and Stonebridge Narrows. There is senior housing at Concord Street Circle, Powder Mill Circle and Summer Hill Glen, and affordable housing at Dawn Road  These complexes appear on maps, may or may not have street signs, but are not public streets.

The last atlas to cover this part of Massachusetts, one town per page, showing all streets and having an index, was published by Arrow in 2003. Simply put, it is not possible to buy a map of Maynard, either as a separate item or part of a book. Fine, if you are a person with a GPS device or internet access for a smart phone, but if not, not. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Skunk Cabbage

Spathe framed by unfurling leaves. Click on photo to enlarge.
Two signs of spring occur in April: the still-furled skunk cabbage leaves are roughly hand-tall, and young men start to drive their convertibles with the top down. Both of these spring-signifiers are pushing the season. Compared to skunk cabbages, all other woodland plants are just beginning to show leaf buds. And women will not yet be driving convertibles. Let’s focus today on the botanical story and leave the human mystery to the social psychologists.

The Latinate nomenclature for skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, makes clear this plant is fetid, i.e., stinks. Tearing or crushing leaves will release a sulfurous smell akin to whiff of skunk, combined with notes of rotten eggs, garlic, and rotting flesh.

Skunk cabbage prefers boggy woodlands. In mid-summer these regions will be dry and in deep shade, but at the front end of spring they are wet from snow-melt and sun-lit. During April the leaves are unfurling, growing, and will in time form plants that will be 2 to 4 feet across. Each stalk ends in one leaf. At full growth the leaves superficially resemble the open leaves surrounding a head of cabbage – hence the name. By mid-July, when the trees are in full-leaf, skunk cabbage leaves are already beginning to decay. By mid-August all that is left are root clusters deep under the soil’s surface, waiting for next year.

The unfurling of green leaves is actually a skunk cabbage’s second act. Weeks earlier, a specialized leaf called a spathe emerged from the ground. Spathes are not green. Instead, their colors are positively Lovecraftian: eggplant-like purples, wine-dark maroons, streaked or mottled with yellowish green. Size-wise, spathes are 3 to 6 inches tall. Shape-wise, think of a somewhat stretched Hershey’s Kiss, two to three inches across at the base, with the top twisted and/or tipped to one side. Inside the spathe, and accessible to the outside by only a narrow opening, a stalk forms with a flower head atop, called a spadix. Carrion-feeding flies enticed by the rotting smell enter the spathe-space, pick up pollen in the process of exploring the spadix, then depart to visit other spathes, completing the fertilization process.

Skunk cabbages have one trick shared with just a few other plant species – heat generation. 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 odor attracts the flies that will be fooled into the task of fertilization.

Patches of skunk cabbage are easily viewed from the Assabet River Walk trail. This marked trail starts from Concord Street, one-third of a mile east of Route 27, on the right. There is a sign. Cars can be parked across Concord, on Hird Street. The trail descends 60 feet over a half-mile length, to the bank of the Assabet River, and would be considered mildly difficult for an experienced mountain biker. The skunk cabbage patches are about a quarter mile in, to the right (downhill) side of the trail. Closer to the center of town, skunk cabbage inhabits the wet area at the back of Carbone Park, across Concord Street from ArtSpace/Acme Theatre.

This column was first published in the Beacon-Villager in April 2010. A recent hike in the woods confirmed that skunk cabbage spathes are again rising up (leaves to follow), so time to go a-walking.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

ArtSpace and Acme Theater

Artists need space and light

Art does not pay. Or to be exact, art does not pay much, which is why artists are often looking at less than ideal studio and/or living space to encamp. In cities, these distressed areas are often semi-abandoned, run-down, industrial spaces. And sadly, history tells us that trailblazing artists are followed by hipsters, who are followed by trendy retail businesses, restaurants... and then the cool money pours in and you have -- Brooklyn.

In sum, life is not fair to visual arts artists - and not so hot for performing arts artists, either. Or writers. But there is hope. ("Hope" is the thing with feathers... - Emily Dickenson; or conversely, Without Feathers - Woody Allen.)

Fifteen years ago the Town of Maynard decided to explore the idea of supporting the presence of artists in its midst. The catalyst was deciding what to do with a surplus school. Construction of Fowler Middle School on the south side of town meant that the old complex on Summer Street, parts dating back to 1916, would stand empty. Maynard already had the bad example of an empty ex-school with the Roosevelt School building, which was progressively decaying since closing in 1956 (finally, phoenix-like, resurrected as Maynard Public Library in 2006).

Ideas for what to do with the old Fowler school had come from two directions. First, the town voted to appoint a Fowler School Building Reuse Committee in 1996. Second, a handful of local artists, self-named Assabet River Artists Association, had begun an effort to create a group identity. Among them were Darthea Cross, Bruce Lucier and Sara Matias. ARAA members and other artists in town, such as photographer Erik Hansen, were sounded out about interest in studio space. The Reuse Committee reached a conclusion in 1999 that the only realistic plan was to lease the space to a non-profit arts/cultural group.         

Main entrance to ArtSpace, facing Summer Street
The official transfer of the building to ArtSpace Inc. took place January 2001. Today, ArtSpace provides 43 studio spaces for 75 artists (some share). Demand remains high, with perhaps one or two studios becoming available each year. Rent for the artists is about $8 per square foot. The money raised suffices to pay for a full-time Executive Director - Jero Nesson - and cover operating costs. The town pays nothing toward operation of ArtSpace, but as it owns the building and charges a nominal rent, does not gain any property tax revenue, either.

Key to getting ArtSpace off the ground was hiring Nesson away from his position at Emerson Umbrella, a school-to-studios complex located in Concord. He had been with Emerson for eleven years. Prior to that he was involved with ArtSpace of Wellesley, and before that Brickbottom in Somerville and the Fort Point Arts Community in Boston. His current role spans a gamut from promoting the existence of ArtSpace to the public to being a pipe whisperer to the ancient steam heat, plumbing and stormwater drain pipes crisscrossing the building and grounds.    

Acme Theater Productions, currently inhabiting basement space at ArtSpace, has a longer history than its host. Acme began in 1992. Prior to 2000 it was a troupe without a home, rehearsing where it could, storing props and scenery wherever it could, and performing at schools and other public spaces. The troupe took on the slogan "Home of the Misfits" to reflect its can-do (with less) attitude. Despite lack of a permanent space, ATP produced award winning plays, traveled nationally, and even internationally.

David Sheppard standing in front of 8x10 photos of
some of the productions put on by Acme Theatre.
David Sheppard, founder and Executive Director of Acme Theater Productions has been with ATP since day one. Per the Acme website, he provides the group with vision, creative energy and a commitment to quality, and has won numerous director awards. In 2001 Acme formally became a non-profit corporation, and as such, became eligible for space at ArtSpace. All hands, including a few hammered thumbs, converted the ex-school's woodshop into a 70-seat theater. Sheppard characterized their space as "Dark, downstairs - and much loved."

Downstairs, behind the
blue door, is the entrance
to Acme Theatre
Typically, ATP puts on four productions per year. May 2014 will see the production of Black Comedy, by Peter Shaffer, as the last play of the 2013-14 season.

And so, the experiment succeeded. ArtSpace continues to be fully occupied with artists, some in place since the start, and has a waiting list of applicants. Priority is given to Maynard residents. Many of the studios are open to the public every second Saturday of every month. The ArtSpace Gallery is a wonderful exhibition space presenting new and important contemporary art by both in-house and nationally known artists. All this offers a wonderful - and free - opportunity to see art, chat with artists and buy their art. Acme Theater offers a place for people to be involved in all aspects of theater production and performance.

Information at and 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Petition to Create Maynard

A document has come to light which for Maynard is the equivalent of discovering a long-lost draft of the Declaration of Independence. It begins, "To the Hon. Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled. We the subscribers residing in the borders of the Towns of Sudbury, Stow, Acton and Concord wishing to unite as a body corporate and form a township...set forth the following reasons."

The petition of record, dated January 26, 1871, was submitted to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts by people in what was informally known as Assabet Village. It proposed MAYNARD as the name of the town-to-be, requesting that the new town be created from parts of Sudbury and Stow. Three supportive petitions followed shortly thereafter, adding 63 more names for a total of 134 signatures. After negotiations with the parent towns (and payments) a smaller Maynard was created on April 19, 1871 with the present-day boundaries. We are creeping up on the 150th anniversary.

David Griffin (L) and Paul Boothroyd (R) of the Maynard
Historical Society hold the framed "lost" petition.
There have always been rumors of an earlier petition from either 1869 or 1870, never submitted. Remarkably, the original recently surfaced. Key differences from the official petition are that the town-to-be was not yet named and there was intent to acquire land from Acton and Concord in addition to Sudbury and Stow. Reasons given:

"Within the limits of said contemplated town are three manufacturing establishments, one cotton and wool factory village containing over one hundred inhabitants situated three miles from the center of its respective town, also one powder manufactory and one paper mill doing business on a large scale situated four miles from the center of their respective towns and many of the other inhabitants are as badly situated. Our schools are not sufficient many having to travel two miles distance. We are not provided with sufficient roads and those now located are in a bad state of repair and many thousand acres of fertile land remain uncultivated for the want of better accommodations. Said towns have been often requested and refused to supply said deficiencies. We therefore pray that this Hon. Court would incorporate said contemplated township with the like privileges of other towns."

This petition has 68 names. There is barely any duplication of names between the unfiled petition and the four subsequent petitions. Best guess here is that men who signed the first thought it had become support for the official document. Minus a few duplicate names, the total number of signers across all five petitions appears to be 200. Some of these men would end living outside what became Maynard.

Many of the last names on the newly unearthed petition are familiar as being early and significant landowners in what became the town: Bent, Brooks, Brown, Conant, Fowler, Haynes, Maynard, Puffer, Smith, Vose and Whitney. Interestingly, Amory Maynard's signature does not appear on any of the petitions. Of his sons, Lorenzo signed but William did not. Signer "Nathan Pratt, Agt." was in all likelihood the manager of the gunpowder mills. Signer "William Parker" was owner of the paper mill.
Streets named after early families

Provenance of the document was circuitous. As a rolled-up scroll it was in possession of Winslow Damon, great-grandson of Calvin Carver Damon, founder of the Damon Woolen Mill, in western Concord. No information on when or how it got to Winslow, but it may have been that some of the signers were members of the Masons in Maynard and he was also a Mason. He passed the document to Frederick S. Johnson in 1960. Johnson, Mason and Maynard resident, had it professionally framed behind UV protective glass, and created a typed transcript of text and signatures.
Hard work, given 19th century penmanship and fading ink!

Johnson passed away in October 2013 before his intended transfer of the document to the Maynard Historical Society, but his nephew John Taylor III completed the process. In time, MHS intends to post both a facsimile and a transcript on its website.     

Thursday, March 13, 2014 moved out

 Monster has left the building

After a sixteen year tenure in Maynard, Monster Worldwide has moved what was left of its local staff to Weston. The arc of the company's presence in Maynard roughly paralleled the company's course from a technology disruptor to a technology can-it-catch-up-again.

When men stand on a corner near a Walmart, and other men drive up in pick-up trucks looking for day labor, that's a job exchange. Ditto a bulletin board covered with business cards next to the door of a diner. Put the jobs offered on paper and disseminate copies, and now it's a newspaper's jobs section. Or contract with a person to find and screen candidates - and that is what a headhunter does (for a hefty fee). Now suppose the match-ups are computerized. Potential employers post and search. Potential employees search and post. Inclusion and exclusion criteria filter the searches.

What happened with Monster was a disruptive transformation from match-up via newspaper want ads to automated match-up anywhere in the country (and later, outside the country). The origin story began with Jeff Taylor, who in 1994 launched The Monster Board. Per Wikipedia, “Monster was the first public job search on the Internet, first public resume database in the world and the first to have job search agents and job alerts.”  

Taylor had the idea, but not enough money. Telephone Marketing Programs (TMP) bought The Monster Board in 1995. Taylor stayed on for ten years. TMP's founder, Andrew McKelvey, had started decades earlier with brokering Yellow Pages advertising, and then in 1993 launched a multi-city jobs recruiting division. Buying Monster was a logical expansion. TMP kept its headquarters in New York and the Monster operations in Framingham.

TMP offered stock to the public in December 1996, then used the influx of cash to expand the company. In June 1998 The Monster Board moved its corporate headquarters to the newly opened Clock Tower Place. A year later all of TMP’s recruiting operations were centralized in Maynard under the name 

Monster started  at Clock Tower with about 50,000 square feet of floor space and 135 employees. Within years that had expanded to 250,000 square feet, or nearly one-fourth of the entire complex. Monster also had a visible presence in town, sponsoring among other things, blood drive events and an annual road race to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Assabet Valley.

Entrance sign from Sudbury Road
Worldwide, the company reached peak visibility with its Superbowl commercials circa 1999-2004. Peak capitalization (total value of all shares of stock) topped $7 billion in early 2006. After that, the decline was swift. Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media offered new paths for job search networking, while Craig's List and direct competitors such as also sliced into Monster's share. Current valuation puts the company at about $750 million. The number of employees is less than half of what it reached in 2001, what with spin-offs and the closing or sale of some operations outside the United States.  

What, exactly, went wrong? From Woody Allen, as Alvy Singer in the 1997 movie Annie Hall: "A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark."

Monster is the dead shark. As of early 2014, LinkedIn, with a similar number of employees, revenues and profits, is capitalized at $24 billion. One point made in a lecture at Harvard Business School in November 2012: "No one ever said monsters were social creatures." Eight years passed from when LinkedIn launched before Monster tried its paw at a social network. Monster also came late and weak to mobile apps. The stock has doubled in value since its worst lows of 2013, but whether this is a reversal, hope for a sale, or just a dead cat bounce is anyone's guess.
What Monster got in Weston was a similar amount of space to what it was leaving here - approximately 175,000 square feet - in a newish building just off the I-95 and Route 20 intersection. The new location makes it more convenient to employees who are commuting from any direction, to visitors arriving via Boston's airport, and closer to hotel accommodations along the interstate corridor. The space came at a bargain price because Biogen, which had move some divisions to Weston in 2010, changed its mind. What Maynard lost was an anchor tenant at Clock Tower Place and the some 600+ Monster employees who worked, and sometimes shopped and dined here.