Monday, November 25, 2013

Babe Ruth: Sudbury, Massachusetts

Inside the Smoke Shop (courtesy Maynard Historical Society)
The space is currently two stores. Click on photos to enlarge.
Sudbury in the early 20th century was a quiet rural community twenty-five miles west of Boston. Babe Ruth and his wife spent at least two winters there: 1917-18 (while with Red Sox) and 1922-23 (while with Yankees). 

From a book "Babe Ruth and the 1918 Red Sox" by Allan Wood: "Babe and Helen Ruth spent the winter of 1917-18 at their farmhouse in Sudbury, MA. They often took a horse and buggy into the nearby town of Maynard, where Helen would shop for groceries or clothes, while Babe would buy cigars and play pool at the Maynard Smoke Shop, which was owned by Frank and Joe Sheridan. The owners' younger brother, 19-year old Ralph Sheridan, had followed the Red Sox since 1908, and he recognized Ruth the first time he walked into the store."

It makes sense that the Ruths shopped in Maynard. Sudbury was a quiet farming town of 1,100 people, whereas the population of Maynard was close to 7,000. Maynard had grocery stores, band concerts, dance halls, pool halls, bowling alleys, bars, a Woolworth's and daily trains to and from Boston. Sudbury had vegetable farms (including greenhouse farms serving the Boston market) and chickens.

Outside the Smoke Shop (courtesy Maynard Historical Society)

To the end of his days, Sheridan was known to greet people with "Shake the hand of a man who shook the hand of Babe Ruth." For those familiar with the sweet science, it's a take on "Shake the hand of a man who shook the hand of John L. Sullivan."



The Maynard Historical Society has a tape of an interview with Sheridan, made in 1994 when he was 96 years old. The interview can be listened to online from the MHS website as Podcasts. The last one mentions Ruth at 22 and 30 minutes. The Smoke Shop was the east end of the 100 Main Street building, where Classic Hair Design and Legends Comix and Games are now.

Why was the young Red Sox pitcher living in Sudbury? Firstly, this was not the Dutton Road farmhouse that Babe bought in 1922, when he was already a star for the Yankees. Rather, the story goes that a couple of his teammates with the Red Sox had invited him to visit Sudbury, where they would rent cabins near Willis Pond to fish and hunt. For the winter of 1917-1918, Ruth (22 years old at the time) rented a modest waterfront cabin (since burned down) near the end of Butler Road. Maynard was the closest place to go shopping and also to drink, play pool and otherwise carouse.

This story is not complete without a connection to the legend of Babe Ruth's piano. Again, Ralph Sheridan's reminisces, as recounted by Allan Wood: "Several times that winter, Ruth invited young men and kids from the area out to his house. Ralph Sheridan worked in a nearby woolen mill and on the weekends, he and some friends, all teenagers, would walk from Maynard, about one mile, across Willis Pond to Ruth's farm. Babe and Helen were often out playing in the snow when Sheridan and his friends came by."

In a letter, Sheridan recalled that he and his friends and Ruth would play outside. When they got cold, Helen invited everyone into the cottage and served them hot cocoa and cookies. "Mrs. Ruth would play the old battered piano and we would all sing along, including the Babe. He loved kids and always liked to have them around. And, always when we would leave, he would say, 'Come over again and bring the gang.' We were thrilled to be with him."

So how did that upright piano supposedly end up in Willis Pond? As one version of the story goes, a daytime gathering at the house got overcrowded - the cottage being only 20x50 feet - so Ruth and others pushed the piano down the hill and out onto the ice. There, they continued the party complete with singing and dancing while Helen played the piano. When it was time to move the piano back it was too heavy to push up the hill. So, the Babe simply left the instrument on the ice, where it eventually sank to the bottom.

Kevin Kennedy, a resident of Sudbury, has been searching for the piano for many years. Teams of expert divers have been in the pond more than once. In 2010, a group of divers pulled out pieces of wood, possibly white oak, that piano expert David Sanderson of Sanderson Piano in Littleton believed could be the veneer of an old upright piano. The divers also believed they had located the piano's harp beneath the murky waters. But as of November 2013 there is no additional news.

Where Babe lived off-season
1914-15     Baltimore, with his father, after Babe and Helen married in October 1914
1915-16     Baltimore
1916-17     ??
1917-18     Sudbury, in cabin on Butler Road, waterfront on Willis Pond
1918-19     Sudbury?? No mention in various biographies
1919-20     Sudbury?? No mention in various biographies. Traded to Yankees 1/5/1020
1920-21     The Ansonia Hotel, Manhattan, New York
1921-22     The Ansonia Hotel, Manhattan, New York
1922-23     Sudbury, 558 Dutton Road = "Home Plate Farm"
1923+        The Ruths owned the Sudbury house until 1926, but Babe may have been spending
                   most of his time in NY, only occasionally visiting his wife and daughter
                   in Massachusetts.

Babe (center) and his father (right) at his Dad's saloon in Baltimore, taken
 December 1915. His father died August 1918 (Internet photo download)

What Babe was paid by the Red Sox
 [http://www.baseball-almanac.com/tsn/babe_ruth_salary.shtml]
The amounts below are base salary and equivalents in 2013 dollars. Players who had a good season were sometimes paid bonuses. Play-off teams got play-off income. And players or all-star teams sometimes did post-season exhibition games for money. All told, a star could perhaps double base salary. One reason salaries were modest is that there was no television or radio advertising income for the owners. Today's top-paid baseball players make on the order of $20,000,000 plus $1,000,000 from endorsements.   

YEAR     DOLLARS      IN 2013 DOLLARS
1914         1,300                  30,000
1915         3,500                  80,000
1916         3,500                  75,000
1917         5,000                  91,000
1918         7,000                108,000
1919       10,000                135,000
1920       20,000 (Yankees)

BABE RUTH DRANK HERE?

Lore of Babe Ruth drinking and/or otherwise carousing in Maynard is just that [see newer info at end]. A few neighboring town waterholes - such as the Dudley Chateau in Wayland - claim to have been speakeasies frequented by Ruth back in the day. The timing would have been in the early 1920s - after national Prohibition was in effect. What is missing from this story is confirmation of sites within Maynard that were serving booze back then. The two oldest bars extant - The Pleasant Cafe and Stretch's Tavern (now Morey's) - both postdate the end of Prohibition.

Babe Ruth could have been buying in Maynard and drinking at his Sudbury estate just two miles away. When he bought the farmhouse in 1922 it included a simple cabin on Willis Pond, about half a mile from the house. Babe and his friends could head out there for an evening of drinking, cardplaying and whatnot without disturbing his wife and daughter at the farmhouse. His name for the cabin was "Ihatetoquitit."
     
A quote often attributed to Babe Ruth, but in fact the work of current-day comic writer Jack Handey: "Sometimes when I reflect on all the beer I drink, I feel ashamed. Then I look into the glass and think about the workers in the brewery and all of their hopes and dreams. If I didn't drink this beer, they might be out of work and their dreams would be shattered. I think, 'It is better to drink this beer and let their dreams come true than be selfish and worry about my liver.'" 

On the other hand, this one appears to be true Ruth: "I learned early to drink beer, wine and whiskey. And I think I was about five when I first chewed tobacco."

Babe may or may not have been drinking heavily during his Red Sox years; a time when the sale of alcohol was still legal in Massachusetts, albeit banned in many individual towns. In Ralph Sheridan's reminisces about visiting Ruth's cabin on Willis Pond he said he never saw Ruth drink, nor saw any alcohol in the house. Babe Ruth spent mid-1914 through 1919 with the Red Sox, initially as a pitcher, but by the end pitching less and putting in more time as an outfielder. He was sold to the Yankees before the start of the 1920 season. He was 25 years old.

Contract Morals Clause
After two years of Ruth's successes and shenanigans in New York, Colonel Jacob Ruppert, the owner of the Yankees, attempted to curtail Babe's drinking and partying. Thus an addendum to the contract signed in late 1922:  "It is understood and agreed by and between the parties hereto that the regulation set forth shall be construed to mean among other things, that the player shall at all times during the term of this contract [$52,000/year] and throughout the years 1922, 1923 and 1924, and the years 1925 and 1926 if this contract is renewed for such years, refrain and abstain entirely from the use of intoxicating liquors and that he shall not during the training and playing season in each year stay up later than 1 o'clock a.m. on any day without the permission and consent of the Club's manager..."

Babe Ruth and admirers (Internet download)
This appears to have been the first morals clause for a professional athlete. Ruppert may have hoped that the Sultan of Swat would also curtail his compulsive womanizing, but did not try to get that into the contract. Supposedly, at the time of that meeting the Babe told Ruppert: "I'll promise to go easier on drinking and to get to bed earlier, but not for you, fifty thousand dollars or two-hundred and fifty thousand dollars will I give up women. They're too much fun."

While a Yankee, Ruth and his wife made one more stab at reconciling. He bought the farmhouse at 558 Dutton Road, in Sudbury, after the 1922 season, and Babe took up the public image of a gentleman farmer living the good, clean life in the country with his wife and their adopted daughter. He called the estate "Home Plate Farm"

Babe was in residence the winter of 1922-23. After that, his wife continued to reside in Sudbury or elsewhere in the Boston area, but Babe was mostly in New York. They formalized their separation (not a divorce) in 1925 and she sold the house in 1926.  

As a postscript, the Dutton Road house and barn, situated on two acres, recently sold for a bit under $1.3 million, while in 2012 a Yankees baseball jersey worn by The Bambino in 1920 sold for $4.4 million.

Evidence for drinking in Maynard
After the articles appeared in the Beacon-Villager I had a phone conversation with Bob Merriam, Maynard High School Class of 1962. Bob told stories about how his grandparents, Niilo and Saimi Hirvonen, knew firsthand about Babe Ruth drinking in Maynard. 

According to Bob, during the time when Ruth was still with the Red Sox (and liquor was still legal), Babe would show up at Bughouse Corner* with a big roll of cash in his pocket, slap it on the bar, and tell the bartender "Everyone drinks on Babe Ruth." Not only was he buying, but he insisted that everyone stay until the bar closed, because he liked being around lots of people. 
Ruth in 1918 (photo from Library of Congress collection)

This would have been circa 1917-1918, and Ruth would have been in his early 20's at the time. He and his wife were living off-season in a modest rented house in Sudbury - not to be confused with the large house and farm he bought in Sudbury in 1922, when already a Yankee.  

Bughouse Corner* was a small bar on the corner of Waltham and Parker, in front of Parker Street Hall (the Finnish Workingmen's Socialist Society), where the brick apartment building is now. It was a popular but low-key drinking haunt for workers coming off shift at the woolen mill.

More than one night, Babe Ruth was too drunk to drive the two miles back to Sudbury, where his wife was home alone in the remote cabin on Willis Pond. Instead, Niilo - himself being a drinking man -  saw no problem in bringing Babe back to his place, where Ruth would sleep it off on the living room floor. 

As Bob Merriam told it, "When I was growing up, my grandfather was proud that he had known Babe Ruth, but my grandmother had nothing kind to say. The way she told it, 'That man would wake up in the night and go outside and pee off the porch instead of using the bathroom.'"

When Bob asked his grandfather if this was true, the diplomatic answer was "Your grandmother has a good memory."      

Another story about the Babe and urination is not as well documented, but as the story goes, he was an avid golfer, at times played the Stowaway Golf Course (in neighboring Stow), and when he did, had on occasion stepped into the woods to relieve himself. Players joke that they may be wetting the same spot honored by Ruth 90 years ago.

*"Bughouse" was turn-of-the-century slang for an insane asylum. Likewise, "Bughouse Corner" was a slang term for street corner locations in cities were orators and prophets of doom would stand on overturned soap boxes and lecture whoever was walking by on their pet topic. How the bar came by its name is anyone's guess.


ANOTHER MAYNARD CONNECTION

In 1914, the same year Babe Ruth was traded to the Red Sox, Fred "Brick" Wilder, former Maynard High School baseball star, was signed by the Red Sox as a catcher and assigned to a minor league team in Buffalo. He was called to The Show at the tail end of the 1915 season, but did not play, and was in Providence for 1916. Wilder was in spring training with the Sox in 1917 - which would have had him catching for Babe Ruth and the other pitchers - but injured his throwing arm. Wilder never made it into a Red Sox game. He was among the many players in the Red Sox organization who were either drafted or volunteered for military service during World War I, in his case into the U.S. Army. After the war he had an eight year career in the minors out west (first base/outfield), retired from the sport, married, and returned to Maynard, where he lived until his death in 1967. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Geocaching in Maynard, MA

Logbook and cache contents at It Ain't Everest (Maynard)
It's pronounced "geo-cashing." And the word cache, for the singular of what is being sought by people engaged in geocaching is pronounced "cash." Late fall is a perfect season to take up this pastime because hard frosts have reduced the risks of deer ticks and poison ivy, but the caches will not yet be hidden by snow.

Geocaching is a modern outdoor hobby with historic roots. First the modern: in May of 2000 the worldwide Global Positioning System (GPS) was accuracy-upgraded to within 10-20 meters. Within days, people were experimenting with the idea of hiding a marker or container, then posting GPS coordinates on the internet and seeing if searchers could find it. In September 2000 the website www.geocaching.com was created to provide a system of hiding caches and logging finds. Massive publicity followed.

As of October 2013 there are over two million caches and six million Geocache members worldwide. According to one on-line listing, Maynard is host to 10 (11?) caches and Stow to 30. All of Massachusetts has a tally a tad under 12,500. Some members have taken it upon themselves to find one cache in every city and town - the Massachusetts 351 Challenge. Maynard's oldest, "Grave Calculations" - near Glenwood cemetery - was created in the first year of geocaching.  

The rules are simple. Any member (basic membership is free) can use a computer to find existing caches. Next step is to home in on the site with a GPS device - either a dedicated GPS device such as Garmin, or a smart phone with a geocaching app. Premium membership provides on-line tools for cache selection and access to a set of members-only caches.  

August 2013 geocachers at the Summer Hill site logged
 that they were unable to complete their visit because
as they approached the tree near the cache they were
viciously attached by hornets, ending up with ten stings
amongst them. A November (post-frosts) visit found
this remnant of the hornets' nest.

There are no valuable treasures in this treasure hunt. The containers at these cache sites range in size from a marshmallow to a gallon milk bottle. Caches will have a logbook to write an "I found it" entry. Most will contain trinkets of nominal value - small toys, foreign coins, etc. The idea is to take something out and add something you brought. Once home, geocachers log in to enter that they found (or failed to find) the cache. Geocachers can also add notes and photos to be viewed by those considering visiting the site. 

Members can also create caches. Geocache.com provides extensive guidelines, as do various books on the hobby, such as The Complete Idiot's Guide to Geocaching. Once a reviewer has approved a proposed cache it is posted on the website.

All caches are rated on a one- to five-star scale for difficulty and terrain. The former applies to both the difficulty of puzzling out the GPS coordinates, if encoded in some way rather than just given, or in actually finding the cache once on location. Small caches can be disguised as a rock, or perhaps a hollowed out golf ball in the woods near a golf course. Terrain ranges from child- and handicap-accessible to extreme. If instructions suggest rappelling equipment, spelunking expertise or the existence of a waterproof cache, a cache chaser might assume cliffs, caves and SCUBA gear will be involved!

Pastimes generate their own lexicon and geocaching is no exception. TFTC is Thanks For The Cache. YAC stand for Yet Another Cemetery (common cache sites). CITO refers to the practice of going in to place or find a cache and taking trash out on the way out. Non-cachers are referred to as muggles (borrowed from the Harry Potter books' term for non-wizards) and a cache that has been taken or vandalized has been muggled. The cache creator can either restore the cache or delist it if expectations are high that it will be damaged again. 

As with any hobby, participation can be recreational and/or competitive. Once a Geocache Reviewer officially publishes the existence of a new cache there is a mad rush to be FTF (First To Find). Some people specialize in extreme geocaching, meaning they focus on caches in the most difficult terrain. Others prefer night searches. The latter require flashlights to detect nail head sized reflectors attached to trees. Or even a UV flashlight.    

Historically, there were systems of hiding and seeking caches that predate GPS-aided geocaching. "Letterboxing" refers to boxes hidden in outdoor public places. Finders follow clues which involve deciphering puzzles, map reading and orienteering. This all began in Dartmoor, England, circa 1854.

THE MAYNARD LIST

YEAR     LAST        D/T*         NAME
2001       8/13        3.0/1.0       Grave Calculations
2006       12/13      3.0/3.0       Mom's River Cache
2008       11/13      1.0/3.0       Summer Hill
2010       10/13      2.0/2.0       2009 Red Sox Roster - Wakefield
2010       10/13      1.5/2.5       Oogity Boogity Buggity
2012       11/13      2.0/2.5       It Ain't Everest
2012       11/13      2.0/1.5       Tour of Maynard
2012       7/13        2.0/2.0       Togo's Trail
2012       10/13      1.5/2.5       Tripletree (starts Acton but may end in Maynard)
2013       10/13      1.5/1.5       HeatWave & Jayden
????        ????        1.5/2.0       Beetles Bracelet Exchange (Premium members only)

* Difficulty and Terrain on a 1.0 to 5.0 scale; 5.0 = hardest

MASSACHUSETTS WEBSITES OF INTEREST
http://www.massgeocachers.org/
http://www.geocaching-capecod.com/index.htm

   

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wild turkeys in Massachusetts

Turkeys in early morning light (Internet photo)
These impressive birds were hunted to local extinction by 1850 and not reintroduced to eastern Massachusetts until 1980-2000. Current estimates are that 20,000 wild turkeys reside in our state. Nuisance flocks have established themselves in Boston suburbs. Locally, several flocks live in Maynard and Stow, including one often sighted crossing Acton Street in Maynard, a bit south of the State Police Forensic Laboratory building. 

Adult males can easily exceed 20 pounds; females reach 10-15 pounds. Early mortality is high, but poults (hatchlings) that make it through the first winter can expect to live 5 to 8 years.

In Massachusetts the fall hunting season (last half of October) is already over, so no hunting until the spring season, which overlaps with the mating season. Spring hunters often use calls to mimic sounds made by toms and hens (adult males and females). An internet search on turkey calling tips will bring up audio recordings of fifteen different turkey sounds you might hear when out in the woods, especially shortly after dawn. Hunters are cautioned against using a gobble call, as a responding gobble call may not be a challenging male turkey, but rather another hunter.

Hunters use calls because no one is going to sneak up on a turkey - their eyesight and hearing are excellent. Instead, strategies include deliberately startling/scattering a flock and then moving to a place amidst them, mimicking their call as they vocalize to regather. Or else setting up at a spot that a feeding flock might walk through.         

Turkeys run. By preference, these are cursorial birds, meaning that they have evolved to be effective runners. Other species that trended this way include road runners and ostriches. Credible sources claim that turkeys can reach top speeds on the order of 25 mile per hour. Even if an exaggeration, clearly turkeys can outrun humans.

Wild turkey in flight (Internet photo)
Turkeys fly. Even large males can burst into vertical flight when startled, easily reaching the safety of a tree branch. A running turkey can take to the air and quickly reach speeds of up to 55 miles per hour for a low-to-the-ground flight of distances of a quarter mile or more.     

Nests of 8-12 eggs are made on the ground. Poults can walk and feed within 24 hours after hatching, but are not able to fly for 8-10 weeks. This is the period of predator attrition on the order of 50-70%. Once they can fly, nights are spent roosted in trees. Flocks roost together, often in the same place for several nights. With dawn's light the flock wakens and passes some time quietly chatting before moving out.

Morning calls can be thought of as in the line of: "Anyone else awake? Well, I'm awake NOW. How about her, is she awake? Are the kids awake? Hey - everybody - wake up! Anyone ready to fly down to the ground? You go first. No, you go first. Mom - I'm hungry." Finally, the entire flock flies down and begins it morning feeding rounds, continuing to chat as they stroll.

Like us, turkeys are omnivores. Their diet includes fruit, berries, seeds, nuts (acorns and such), plus insects, slugs, snails and salamanders.

How these birds native to the Americas came to be called "turkeys" is a circuitous story. Spanish explorers brought turkeys from Mexico to Spain. From there, trade brought the birds eastward across the Mediterranean to the Turkish Empire, and trade again brought the birds to England - wherein they became "Turkey birds" and finally, turkeys. By 1600, Shakespeare was able to portray a Twelfth Night character's outrageous self-esteem by comparing him to a feather-fluffing turkey-cock. Although the Pilgrims did not bring turkeys with them on the Mayflower, they were already familiar with the animal.  

A male Broad Breasted White - the most common
breed of domestic turkey (Internet photo)

The domestic turkey is a different bird entirely from a wild turkey. Hundreds of years of domestic breeding have resulted in these becoming beasts of the not-wild, which cannot fly, nor reach running speeds much more than a lumbering stagger, nor mate on their own - the males being too clumsy and over-sized. Hence, artificial insemination. 

Farm-raised turkeys are killed at 16 weeks of age (hens) or 20 weeks (toms). Lifespan, for those kept as pets or zoo animals or pardoned by the President of the United States in an annual Thanksgiving ceremony*, is in the range of two to five years. For Thanksgiving 2013 the two turkeys pardoned by President Obama were named Popcorn and Caramel.


Turkey (not pardoned)
*Only since 1989 have turkeys officially received a Presidential pardon. Prior to that, starting with President Truman in 1947, each President ceremoniously receives a turkey (recently, two turkeys) from the National Turkey Federation - which used to be eaten.

While "flock" is the generic term for groups of birds, each of these species has its own unique group name. A group of turkeys is a rafter. Geese are gaggles on the ground and skeins when flying. Vultures make up a kettle while flying, but a wake or committee when on the ground. Crow, a murder; owls, a parliament.

Monday, September 23, 2013

OARS: Assabet River Clean-up, 2013

Volunteers enjoying pizza after the clean-up
Click on photos to enlarge

The annual river clean-up, which has been expanded to the Assabet, Sudbury and Concord Rivers - to reflect the morphing of the organization from OAR to OARS [website www.oars3rivers.org] - took place on September 21, 2013. The event was followed by free pizza and soda. As in past years, volunteers for the Maynard clean-up met at the Elks Lodge parking lot before going to locations scouted by OARS organizers.

The Assabet River was low and slow, which made for a good clean-up. There have been years in which the event was cancelled due to heavy September rains and thus dangerously fast-moving water.

Photos from this year's clean-up will be posted at the OARS website. Even though this was the 27th annual clean-up for the Assabet there still appears to be an almost infinite number of discarded tires.

Sixty year old bottle recovered from Assabet River
One of the interesting finds from this year's effort was an amber glass bottle embossed with the words CALDWELL'S RUM and the image of a three-masted sailing ship alongside a dock. On the dock, in the foreground, are barrels of rum. The bottle is seven inches tall, four wide, and two inches from front to back. The back is marked "ONE PINT."

Caldwell's Rum had a glorious history. The company was started by Alexander Caldwell in 1790, in Newburyport, MA. It was in the rum business until closed by Prohibition in 1919. After Prohibition was repealed, in 1933, the company was restarted by Alexander's descendants, but closed it's Newburyport operation in 1961. The company name (A. & G.J. Caldwell Company) still exists, but the only product - discount-priced vodka - is made by M.S. Walker, a Somerville, MA company.

Dating this year's river find was aided by markings on the bottom. "D-376" identified the distiller, in this instance, Caldwell's.  The numbers 9 and 53 signify the bottle-making factory and the year, making the bottle 60 years old. Between the two numbers is the letter H superimposed over an image of an anchor. This is one of the maker's marks used by the Anchor Hocking Glass company. From posts at Ebay and other sites the bottle's value is on the order of $10-20.

From my write-up just before the 2010 clean-up:

Corporate sponsors for the OARS clean-up efforts
"Clean-up tasks roughly divide into muckersheavers and drylanders. Muckers work in the river, either wearing waterproof waders or old pants, shirts and shoes that they are willing to get very, very, very, wet. Trash found in the river is loaded into canoes which serve as shallow draft barges to transport trash to the haul-out sites. Heavers work at the edge of the river. They remove trash from the canoes and either drag or heave it to the top of the riverbank. There, drylanders drag everything to the piles that will later be collected by Department of Public Works trucks. Drylanders also collect and bag trash that can be reached along the riverbanks without getting wet.

Part of the haul for 2013
"Tires are a perennial find. Ditto broken glass, beer cans and mysterious pieces of rusted steel. More unusual and harder to remove finds have included bus seats, a TV/stereo console, a dishwasher, a queen-size mattress and box spring set, and a three foot tall safe from the York Safe and Lock Company, with the door partially torn off. York made safes in YorkPA, starting in 1883, until it was bought by Diebold in 1946. How this safe ended up in the river is anyone’s imaginative guess.

"Independent from the OARS cleanup there is a National River Cleanup effort which was started around 1991 and involves the National Organization for Rivers and American Outdoors (www.americanrivers.org). Over 300,000 volunteers participated nationally."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

History books about Stow or Maynard

Anyone with curiosity about the history of their home town begins by asking themselves the question "Is there a book?" For both Stow and Maynard, the answer is resoundingly, "Yes."

Stow's count is seven books. Maynard's count is fourteen books, plus four more about Digital Equipment Corporation (Digital/DEC), which was headquartered in Maynard 1957-1998. That combined total of twenty-five books is very impressive for two towns with a combined population of under 17,000 people.

1921 history (50th anniversary)
The high count is primarily due to seven paperbacks published by Arcadia Publishing (Images of America and Postcard History series) and three by The History Press, each of which turn out hundreds of local history books every year. All ten of these came out within the past 15 years. AP's format is long on photos and short on words, while THP's is the opposite. In both their business models, any book that sells more than 1,000 copies in the first few years is a rousing success.

Many of the older books were written to coincide with a significant anniversary: 100th for St. Bridget's Church; 50th, 100th and 125th for Maynard; 250th and 300th for Stow. The Maynard Historical Society has in mind a new book to celebrate the town's 150th anniversary, April 2021.

In addition to all these history books (copies at town libraries), both towns boast active historic societies, historical commissions, official websites and Wikipedia entries with history sections. Given all this content, either archived or on line, is there any grist for future historians?

Six of the books currently in print




Always. Because history is always happening. Historic buildings are demolished or repurposed. Companies rise and fall. The meteoric rise and subsequent cratering of 38 Studios (née Green Monster Games) may have been too fast to be book-worthy. The Monster Board, later Monster.com, and now Monster Worldwide is clearly a book-worthy story. The company, which helped spell the end of newspaper job ads, was famous for its chimpanzee-starring Superbowl advertisements, but missed the social networking aspect of job search, and thus finds itself with a corporate valuation of less than five percent of LinkedIn.        


LIST OF BOOKS (Maynard, Stow and Digital)
Aaltonen, Frank. (1941). Maynard Weavers - the story of the United Co-operative Society of Maynard.
Boothroyd, Joseph and Elizabeth Schnair and Ralph Sheridan. (1981). St. Bridget's of Maynard 1881-1891.
Boothroyd, Paul and Lewis Halprin. (1999). Maynard Massachusetts, Images of America.
Boothroyd, Paul and Lewis Halprin. (1999) Assabet Mills, Images of America.
Boothroyd, Paul and Lewis Halprin. (2005) Maynard, Postcard History Series.
Brown, Peggy Jo. (2005). Hometown Soldiers: Civil War Veterans of Assabet Village and Maynard Massachusetts.
Childs, Ethel. (1983). History of Stow: Tercentenary.
Crowell, Preston and Olivia Crowell. (1933). Stow, Massachusetts 1683-1933.
Cummings, OR. (1967). Concord, Maynard and Hudson Street Railway.
Earls, Alan R. (2004). Digital Equipment Corporation, Images of America.
Fuller, Ralph N. (2009). Stow Things: A New England Town Primer
Gutteridge, William H. (1921). A Brief History of the Town of Maynard, Massachusetts.
Halprin, Lewis and Alan Kattelle. (1998). Lake Boon, Images of America.
Halprin, Lewis and Barbara Sipler. (1999). Stow, Images of America.
Halprin, Lewis and Alan Kattelle. (2005). Lake Boon, Postcard History Series.
Hudson, Alfred. (1891). The annals of Sudbury, Wayland, and Maynard, Middlesex County, Massachusetts.
Mark, David. (2011). Maynard, Massachusetts, History and Life Outdoors.
Mark, David (2014). Hidden History of Maynard.
Maynard Historical Society. (1996). Maynard Sampler 1871-1996. (booklet)
Pearson J.P. (Editor). (1992) Digital at Work - Snapshots from the First 35 Years.
Rifkin, Glenn and George Garrar. (1988). The Ultimate Entrepreneur: The Story of Ken Olsen and Digital Equipment Corporation.
Schein, Edgar H. (2004). DEC Is Dead, Long Live DEC: The Lasting Legacy of Digital Equipment Corporation.
Sheridan, Ralph. (1971). A History of Maynard 1871-1971.
Voogd, Jan. (2007). Maynard Massachusetts, A House in the Village.
Warren, Frances W. (1990). Recollections of Stow.

The newest (August 2014)

And then there are two books that go beyond the history of just Maynard or Stow, but worth a mention:

McAdow, Ron (2000). The Concord, Sudbury and Assabet Rivers: a guide to Canoeing, Wildlife and History (2nd edition).

Zwinger, Ann and Edwin Way Teale (1982). A Conscious Stillness: Two Naturalists on Thoreau's Rivers.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Wild Cucumber - Annoying Native Plant

Key identifiers: fast-growing green vine with tendrils, large leaves, white flowers, green pods/fruit covered in spikes. After fall frosts the vines and pods turn brown, the pods open at the bottom, and large brown seeds fall out. Pods stay attached to vines. Click on photos to enlarge. 

See September 2012 for column on four invasive plant species.

Immature seed pod next to male flowers
Wild cucumber, also known as prickly cucumber and balsam apple, is a plant species native to North America but with the annoying habits of some invasive plants. Key identifiers: green vine, large leaves, white flowers, green pods/fruit covered in spikes.

The species name is Echinocystis lobata. It is a fast-growing annual propagated by seeds. This vine can blanket low plants or tendril its way 15-20 feet up trees. During July and August the slender vines display white flowers, followed by the development of seed pods that superficially resemble a small, spiky cucumber. Once the seed pods mature they dry out and disperse from the bottom several large black seeds the size of pumpkin seeds. Echinocystis dies with the first frosts of fall.

Swathe of wild cucumber next to Assabet River Rail Trail
Lobate leaves, tendrils, and vertical spikes of male flowers, Echinocystis
In Maynard, there is currently a large swathe of wild cucumber growing next to the Rail Trail section that is bound at the south end by MapleBrook Park and at the north end by the Cumberland Farms gas station. The growth occupies a space on the west side where there was an intense brush fire in 2011. The fire opened the area to more sunlight, and also provided fertilizer in the form of ash. The result is a riotous growth of a mix of weedy annuals some four to eight feet tall, draped with the green leaves and white flowers of Echinocystis.

The name comes from Echino for spiny and cystis for bladder-like in appearance. Lobata refers to the shape of the leaves.


Echinocystis is native to the central, eastern and northern states, up into Canada. It is not found in southern California, but confusingly, there are related plants in California and Baja California (Mexico) that also go by the common name wild cucumber.


The latter are in the family Marah. These are also fast-growing vines with tendrils and seed pods that superficially resemble a spiky cucumber, but Marah are perennials, each year's new growth sprouting from a huge tuberous root that can weigh more than 100 pounds.


Maturing wild cucumber seed pods
Although native to North America, Echinocystis lobata is in fact an invasive species in Europe, where it was first introduced as an ornamental garden plant (always the same sad story). This serves as a reminder that not all invasive species move from the Old World (Europe, Asia and Africa) toward the New World (the Americas). Poison ivy plagues England and parts of mainland Europe because back in the 1600s, people thought it was pretty!

Spiked seed pods dry from the bottom up, then peel
apart. The mature seeds (dark color) fall to the ground.
The dry, brown pods remain attached to the vine.


And not all invasive species are plants. Some of the most damaging to have made the crossing from North America to Europe are grey squirrels, raccoon, mink, and lobster. The mammal introductions were deliberate - either as pets or an attempt to develop locally grown animals for the fur trade. American lobsters may have been escapees from seawater holding pens for the food trade or deliberate releases by people who bought live lobsters air-shipped to Europe, and then found themselves unwilling to immerse their purchases in boiling water.  



Dead wild cucumber vines, with seed pods
January 2015: This last photo is a mid-winter view of the same patch of green seen in the second photo. What remains are the dead vines and the brown, emptied seed pods, sort of like nature's string of Christmas lights gone to rot and ruin.

These photos taken along a 1200 foot long section of rail trail in Maynard, MA. What's noteworthy is how fast the wild cucumber went from not present at all to overwhelming other growth. Within five years it went from a plant or two to a major nuisance in the areas of partial to full sunlight. It does not do well in deep shade.

By spring, last year's vines will have rotted under winter's snow. First plants to appear on this part of the trailside include pokeweed and Japanese knotweed. The wild cucumber vines don't really take over until July  

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Anaplasmosis - the Other Tick Disease

There is a new kid in town - Anaplasma phagocytophilium. This bacterium is carried by the same deer ticks that bring us Lyme disease. Prime time for tick diseases is May through August. The symptoms are different but the course of action is the same - get diagnosed, get treated.

Lyme disease signs and symptoms start subtly. If the stricken person missed the actual bite, then the first sign is often (but not always) the signature rash. Fever, chills, fatigue, muscle ache and a headache may (or may not) accompany the rash. Only after weeks to months after the rash (which does not always occur) and the initial set of symptoms (ditto) are gone is there a possibility that the really bad consequences set in: arthritis, partial facial paralysis, meningitis, limb weakness, and so forth (or not).

In stark contrast, the symptoms of anaplasmosis are more akin to being run over by a car, having it circle around to hit you again, and then one more time to park on your head. Or in gamers' terms, "All your base." [Look it up.]

Some 7 to 10 days after the bite the anaplasmosis symptoms arrive all at once: extreme fatigue, high fever, uncontrollable shivering alternating with profuse sweating, night sweats, headache, nausea, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, muscle pain, cough, mental confusion, and extreme fatigue. Really extreme. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) uses the term "malaise," but this does not convey the soul-crushing lethargy of a full-speed Anaplasma assault.

Not everyone exhibits all the symptoms, and many of these symptoms overlap with the flu and other diseases, either causing many people to delay seeking a medical evaluation, or doing so and getting a misdiagnosis.

Actually, these days a diagnosis is straightforward. Do you have some or all of that litany of symptoms, especially fever and fatigue? Were you in any place a week or two ago where there might have been ticks? Do you have any symptoms which hint you may have something else? If not the last, that's it. A blood sample will be taken, but early in the course of the infection the test results can be falsely negative (results say you don't, but you do). Standard medical practice is to start antibiotic treatment immediately. Treatment should never be delayed until the lab results are back. Standard treatment is the same as for Lyme - two weeks of doxycycline.

Not treating an Anaplasma infection in a timely fashion can have serious consequences. Especially in older or immuno-compromised people there are risks of compromised breathing, kidney failure, nerve damage... Treatment may require hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics. Deaths are rare (less than one percent).   

Anaplasmosis does not appear to be casually contagious. As a blood-borne disease it could in theory have the same vector as HIV/AIDS, but there is no mention in the science literature of transmission via sexual contact. There are confirmed reports of infection from blood donations, and in theory the same risk would apply to organ transplant recipients. Currently there are no good blood or organ donor screening tests.

As noted, Anaplasma is carried by the same tick as Lyme disease. Reported cases of Lyme number about 30,000 per year. This is accepted as an undercount, as many people do not seek medical assistance, and so were never diagnosed. Others sought medical help and were misdiagnosed (keep in mind the false negative problem with blood tests also applies to Lyme). And finally, some were correctly diagnosed but not reported to the appropriate health agency. With the same caveats in mind, the anaplasmosis report for 2010 (the latest year with national data) was 1,761 cases. Hotspots for both diseases are the Northeast and the upper Midwest.

 NEWS FLASH: On August 18, 2013, the Centers for Disease Control revised its estimates of numbers of new Lyme disease cases per year from 30,000 to 300,000. This 10X increase was the result of survey blood testing laboratories for numbers of positive blood tests, versus the old method of depending solely on reports from physicians. All physicians are supposed to report all confirmed or suspected Lyme disease to the CDC, but obviously, this has not been true. It is likely that other tick borne diseases are under reported.

More information on tick-vector diseases can be seen as the CDC website: http://www.cdc.gov/ticks/. The CDC has great information on the tick diseases, and also on practical matters such as how to avoid getting bitten by a tick, and what to do once you have been bitten. You can even download a 21-page handbook: Tickborne Diseases of the United States. Another site with a good pictoral of the life cycle and high risk months is www.aldf.com/DeerTickEcology.shtml.       

One small, small benefit from having survived an anaplasmosis infection is that if someone asks how you are, and you answer "I've been worse," you are telling the truth.

In addition to Lyme and Anaplasma, deer ticks may also transmit babesiosis (a parasite disease) and Powassan virus. Babesiosis is rarer than Anaplasma, and Powassan is extremely rare. Other diseases are transmitted by other tick species in other regions of the country. Visit the CDC website for details.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Maynard High School (1964-2013)


Click on photos to enlarge

Rest in pieces is the current status of the building which served as Maynard's High School from 1964 to 2013, after having seen 49 graduating classes pass through its doors. [Destruction actually took place over 8/28-9/16.]

The high school before that one (on Summer Street - now ArtSpace) had served for 48 years; hopes are that the newly constructed Maynard High School, set to open for the start of the 2013 school year, will out-last the previous incarnations.

If not, we need be aware of a mathematical oddity. The Summer Street high school cost $61,000 in 1915; roughly 50 years later the replacement school cost 25 times as much, and 50 years later our new school is costing 25 times as much as that one. This suggests that in 2063 Maynard's next high school will cost more than one billion dollars?!?

The school which served from 1964 to 2013 had had a troubled gestation. In 1961 the town vote was against building a new high school. This was short-sighted, as the existing school had a official maximum capacity of 350 students (already exceeded), no library and a too-small gym.

One year later the vote went the other way - by 379 to 175 - in favor of spending up to $1.7 million dollars to go forward. The project was overdue. Projections based on the Baby Boom were that the high school population would swell to 600 in ten years. And in truth, it hit 644 in 1971. Junior high school students were already on split sessions due to overcrowding and the elementary schools were averaging 30 to 35 students per classroom. The new school relieved overcrowding across the entire school system.  

The Class of 1965 was the first class to graduate from the school building which just met its demise. Joseph
Mullin was the class president of 124 graduating students. The class motto was "Non est vivere est valere vita," which translates as "Not merely to exist, but to amount to something in life."

As for the newest iteration of Maynard High School, construction of the two-story building began in 2011. There are four wings: Wing A contains the gym and locker rooms; Wing B the administrative offices; Wing C contains the auditorium with seating space for 350 and the cafeteria; and Wing D contains the various mechanical functions (Heat! Air conditioning!!). Classrooms are in A, B and C. The entire project adheres to standards for environmentally sustainable design. Charles Caragianes, M.Ed., is excited about starting his second year as Maynard High School Principal in a brand new school.

Enrollment at Maynard High School ebbed from that 1970s peak to numbers in the low three hundreds for the last ten years, resulting in graduating classes of about 70 students. There has been a recent uptick in enrollment, but still small compared to our neighbors. Acton-Boxborough graduates 450-500 each year. Nashoba (serving Stow, Bolton and Lancaster) graduates about half that number. To the south, Lincoln-Sudbury sees off about 400 each year, while eastward, Concord-Carlisle says good-by to approximately 325 seniors. What all ten towns share in common is that the great majority of their graduates go on to further education.    

One bit of history many current residents are unaware of is that Alumni Field became the school's sports site some 36 years before the just-demolished school was built close by. In 1928, while Maynard High School was still at the Summer Street location, the town transferred the land that had been the Town (Poor) Farm meadow to the School department. The football team started using the new playing field for the 1928 season. Within a handful of years Alumni Field gained a cinder track around the playing field, bleachers, a field house, and tennis courts.    


Much of the information for this article came from the "Our Schools" history compiled by Ralph L. Sheridan, available at http://web.maynard.ma.us/history/schools/our-schools.htm, or from town annual reports in the library's historical documents collection and the High School website.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Deer Ticks and Lyme Disease

This is a reposting of a 2011 article, revised, because we are once again in Lyme disease season. See also the anaplasmosis article posted in August 2013 (another tick borne bacteria).

NEWS FLASH: On August 18, 2013, the Centers for Disease Control revised its estimates of numbers of new cases per year from 30,000 to 300,000. This 10X increase was the result of survey blood testing laboratories for numbers of positive blood tests, versus the old method of depending on reports from physicians. All physicians are supposed to report all confirmed or suspected Lyme disease to the CDC, but obviously, this has not been true.

Why “Lyme?” Names can be for symptoms, the discovering doctor’s name, a defining population or a place. The villages of Old Lyme and Lyme, in Connecticut, combined population under 10,000, were the epicenter of an unknown disease in 1975. The story starts with a mother. Polly Murray had two children diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. As she commiserated with other parents of children with JRA, she was struck by how common this supposedly rare condition had become in their small community. Murray complained to the state health department, thinking perhaps there was an unknown pollution problem. 

Her efforts and her list of 39 children with similar symptoms brought in Dr. Snydman of the health department, who brought in rheumatology expert Dr. Allen Steere from Yale University. Dr. Steere made the connection to the possibility of tick-borne bacterial disease. The bacteria responsible for Lyme disease is Borrelia burgdorferi.  Lyme Arthritis, later renamed Lyme disease, could have as easily been Murray’s disease or Steere’s disease.

A tick’s life has three stages played out over two years. Confusingly, people describe deer ticks as the size of a typed dot, a poppy seed, or an apple seed. All descriptions are true. Uninfected larvae hatch from eggs in late spring, hoping to latch on to a field mouse. One blood meal is all they are after, but if the mouse host is infected, so becomes the tick. The larval tick morphs into the nymph stage and forgoes feeding off animals through fall, winter, and early spring. Come May, these poppy seed sized, possibly infected nymphs are hanging out on ground level vegetation, hoping for a mouse or bird to brush by. 

Ground level gardening work puts humans at risk. Most human infections are from nymphs, contracted May through August. The nymph stage is also after only one modest-sized blood meal, so it does not stay attached for long. Gorged, the ticks drop off the host to the ground and morph into adults. Come fall, these adults climb tall grasses and shrubbery to pose there legs outstretched, hoping to latch onto a passing deer. Once on board, females adult settle in for their third and last blood meal, getting the protein they need to make eggs, while males wander around to find and mate with the females. It helps to visualize each deer as a singles cruise ship. 

Females overwinter at ground level, then in the spring lay 1,000 to 3,000 eggs to start the cycle over again. Some adults miss latching onto a deer in the fall, overwinter as adults, and are then out in spring for a last chance at mating and a blood meal (and an infection). More information is available from the American Lyme Disease Foundation [www.aldf.com] or the Centers for Disease Control [http://www.cdc.gov/ticks/]. ALDF has a good pictoral of the life cycle and high risk months at www.aldf.com/DeerTickEcology.shtml.

Trans-species diseases are evolution’s biggest wild card. In theory, diseases are not supposed to eliminate their hosts. Or rather, those that do disappear from the global gene pool along with their hosts – game over. The norm is more like disease, resistance, mutating disease, mutating resistance, ad infinitum. Both survive. More rarely, a disease jumps species.  American chestnut trees, elms and dogwoods all succumbed to non-native diseases. Sheep scabies passed through cows to give us the gift of mad cow disease. The influenza virus drifts across humans, pigs and ducks, wreaking havoc as it mutates. Natural hosts for Lyme disease bacteria are field mice and whitetail deer. Humans are just collateral damage.

No deer means no deer ticks, means no Lyme disease. Extensive land clearing, farming and hunting forced the U.S. whitetail deer population to under half a million a century ago. Subsequent establishment of controlled hunting seasons, loss of natural predators, plus abandonment of many eastern farms to reforestation has resulted in an out-of-control population exceeding twenty million deer. 

While wildlife biologists consider 10 deer per square mile a sustainable population, many northeastern states are seeing 40 to 60 or higher per square mile in rural and suburban areas. Lyme disease cases in the U.S. increased from 10,000 in 1992 to 30,000 in 2012. Of that last total, more than two-thirds were in the New England and mid-Atlantic states. One could argue that not going into the woods is an answer, but as any gardener, landscaper or farmer knows, the deer have come to us.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Assabet River Rail Trail Update

This article covers construction plans, timing, problem spots and current status of the unpaved parts, followed by a walking guide to the Acton, Maynard and Stow sections. See February 2016 column for more detail on recent news.


2014: Next to High Street (Maynard). Disconnected rails dragged by red
tractor, then lifted by green crane to roadside pile. Each rail weighs 1100 lbs.
2016 NEWS: Construction began July 2016, with all paving (3.4 miles) to be completed by late 2017. Fencing and landscaping to be done by May 2018.

2015 NEWS: As of Sept 21, 2015 the section at the north side of Maynard (north of Concord Street) cannot easily or safely be walked, as there is ongoing storm sewer pipe installation construction. 


2014 NEWS: All rails were removed from the Acton and Maynard sections in March/April.. The company paid the towns for the rails, to be sold as scrap steel.

On June 13, 2013 there was a public hearing on the planned design of the parts of the Assabet River Rail Trail to be built in Maynard and Acton. The meeting was at Clock Tower Place, Maynard. About 80 people attended. After a 30 minute presentation, primarily slides of sections of the proposed design, there were 90 minutes of questions and answers. Here is a link to a pdf of the planned design: http://www.arrtinc.org/design/ARRT%2025percent.pdf.

As it is in winter, north Maynard
The next construction project, scheduled to start in late summer 2016, is to build the trail from the north terminus, near the Acton train station, southward across all of Maynard to the Maynard/Stow border. When this section is completed it means there will be two finished sections of the 12.5 mile long trail with a gap in the middle. The south section, completed in 2006, extends 5.8 miles from Hudson to downtown Marlborough. The north section will extend 3.4 miles, leaving a 3.3 mile gap. Existing roads connect the south and north sections, so with on-road detours it will be possible to ride the entire trail. Currently, it is possible to hike all of the north section (and mountain bike most of it).

The purpose of the June 2013 meeting was to become familiar with and comment on the proposed design, referred to as the 25% design. Questions and comments can be clumped into several categories:

A) UNPAVED: Can parts be left unpaved (perhaps covered with crushed stone) and/or not so wide, so to be wilder? The answer to this is "No," primarily because the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that federally funded transportation facilities, including trails, be handicap accessible. Emergency vehicles need to be able to travel on rail trails in case there are injuries.Unpaved trails also require more frequent maintenance.

B) PARKING: People living near where there are proposed parking lots were concerned about the traffic that parking will generate. That includes a 20 space parking lot near Ice House Landing, Maynard. Earlier plans had indicated parking on High Street (Maynard) but that does not appear to be in the current plan. This lot revised to be 12 spaces.

On the other hand, planned parking at the Acton end - only eight spaces - was thought by many to be woefully inadequate. Using the train station parking for weekend recreational access to the Trail will be a poor alternative, as it would require detouring around on roads or using the soon-to-be-built elevator crossing from the north side of the tracks (the parking) to the south side (the Trail).

Sylvia Street, Acton, is a narrow dead end street with informal (small footbridge) access to the Trail now. The proposed design shows paved access to the Trail, but no planned parking area. The homeowners on Sylvia could find themselves faced with an increase in vehicle traffic and non-resident parking.  A small parking lot later added to plans.

C) SAFETY: Three sections got many comments about safety problems. The Trail has to cross Route 117 at or near Winter Street, Maynard. If there was a new bridge over the canal (not in the current plan) then the crossing would be farther west, providing more time for crossers to see what traffic is approaching from the east on Route 117. An alternative is to have the Trail border Winter Street and install an actual traffic light on Route 117, so crossers could trigger a red light by pressing a button.

The second section of concern was how to get from the footbridge behind the Maynard Post Office to the far side of Summer Street, as this covers the very busy parking lot behind CVS, Subway, the Outdoor Store and the Paper Store. Suggestions ranged from creating a wide sidewalk on the south or north side of the parking lot to just saying "to hell with it" and letting people wend their way up the middle of the parking lot. Trail will border west side, and some parking spaces lost.

The third section of concern is where the Trail emerges from behind Cumberland Farms gas station to cross that small grassy area and then cross Concord Street, as lots of vehicle traffic turns onto or off from Route 27 and Acton Street to Concord Street. This is already the second-most traffic accident prone intersection in Maynard; adding non-vehicle traffic will only make it worse.

Railroad spikes recovered from the 2014 removal of rails
were cleaned and then painted with Rustoleum paints.
D) NIMBY: There were some mild "not-in-my-back-yard" comments, mostly along the lines of with so many trees being cut down, homeowners next to the Trail will lose visual privacy. One solution might be to plant a hedge now, so that it will be mature by the time the Trail is built. No one at the meeting was against the Trail itself, only concerned about minimizing impact on their privacy. A representative of Clock Tower Place was concerned about the loss of existing parking lot space for CTP tenants. Although no one from Railroad Street showed up to comment, there will loss of greenspace fronting Railroad Street which is now used by the tenants as a recreational area, and much more non-vehicle traffic than currently passes by this area.

E) GETTING AROUND BUILDINGS ON ROUTE 27: In Acton, the Paper Store office complex on Route 27 in Acton sits athwart the old railroad right of way. Two ways around were proposed – behind the building on a long boardwalk elevated above the swamp, or in front of the building. The latter option is in the latest proposal as it is far less expensive.

WHEN???

Construction will begin in summer of 2016. When completed, hopefully within a year, or latest by early 2018, this section will be 3.4 miles long, from the South Acton train station in the north to the Maynard/Stow border in the southwest. At the southwest end it will connect to the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge, which offers miles of bike-allowed trails. The majority of the pavement will be 12 feet wide, bordered by 2 foot shoulders. Due to space constraints, several short sections will be 8 or 10 feet wide, some bordered by railings in lieu of shoulders. As part of the project, Maynard's footbridge over the Assabet River will be replaced. with a 16 foot wide steel bridge. Estimated cost for the project is 7.0 million dollars. (Really.) Accepted bid was $6.7 million.

This project is only part of the proposed Assabet River Rail Trail. A 5.8 mile section in Hudson and Marlborough has been open since 2005. The east end of that is a Trail parking lot next to Route 62, in Hudson. Adding the proposed 3.4 miles brings the total to 9.2 miles, but leaves a 3.3 mile section in Stow and Hudson missing. That section has problems: it will need two bridges over the Assabet River, and significant portions of the old railroad right-of-way are currently privately owned.

Maps of the Maynard and Acton sections are at the website www.ARRTRinc.org along with updates on the status of the entire trail, locations of monthly meetings, and plans for volunteer efforts to keep the unbuilt portions of the Trail walkable.
Please consider joining ARRT and participating in various volunteer efforts.

WALKING THE ACTON, MAYNARD AND STOW SECTIONS NOW (JUNE 2013)

Trail under water behind Artisan Automotive
From downtown Maynard going north, start at MapleBrook Park, at the corner of Summer and Maple. Roundtrip distance will be 3.6 miles. The first section was cleared and woodchipped between the rails by ARRT volunteers in 2002. It used to get a new layer of woodchips every 2-3 years; practice stopped 2012..

Past Cumberland Farms gas station the Trail crosses Concord Road and continues behind Artisan Automotive. Look for a green and white ARRT sign. The south end of this section does not drain well after heavy rains (see photo), so you may have to backtrack and detour up Route 27 past Duncan's Beamers (motorcycle shop). Rails were removed in 2014 but the ties are still in place. Not walkable as of Feb 2016 due to construction debris blocking the trail.

There is another access point at the northern end of Maynard, where Acton Street meets Route 27. The trail continues north into Acton, and can be managed on an off-road bicycle by someone with modest off-road skills (it starts easy and gets harder). Take the trail north, detour around the front of the Paper Store office complex, reconnect with the trail by going over a berm, and then continue north all the way to Maple Street, Acton. There is also trail access in Acton from the end of Sylvia Road.

North of the trestle bridge there are two options. Go straight, and the access to Maple Street requires climbing up a steep embankment which can be precarious, especially when wet from rain, ice or snow. Or cut left and skirt the edges of a farm field to access Maple Street farther west.

Trestle bridge over Fort Pond Brook, facing north
Getting to or from the northern end requires crossing an old trestle bridge. There are no railings, and the gaps between the rotting wooden railroad ties that you will be walking on are large enough for a misstep to plunge between. Ouch! The waterway being crossed over here is Fort Pond Brook, which is part of the Assabet River watershed.

By mid-summer all of the Acton section is partially overgrown with grasses and poison ivy, especially north of the trestle bridge. Deer ticks are a problem.



SOUTH FROM MAYNARD CENTER

To go south, again start at MapleBrook Park, Maynard. Head down the parking lot behind the Outdoor Store and CVS, cross the footbridge, and continue on Railroad Street. Cross Main Street, continue west to Sudbury Street, left on Sudbury, then an immediate right onto High Street. Partway down High Street on the right is an ARRT sign marking the beginning of another section where the rails were removed in 2014 but the ties left in place.

At the far end, turn left on Mill, left again on Route 117, cross Route 117 to continue west on Winter Street, then take a right fork onto a dirt road. This is the beginning of Track Road.
Trail passes Ice House Landing, Maynard
The 2016 paving project will end at the Maynard/Stow border (White Pond Road), but Track Road continues for miles beyond that. Years from now, this too will be paved as part of the Trail.


Turning left (south) on White Pond Road enters the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge, with 15 miles of trails - half open to bicycling, none open to dogs. Turning right (north) on White Pond Road will lead to Routes 62/117. Going straight is two miles of dirt road that deteriorates into an often muddy dirt trail before reaching Sudbury Road in Stow (near Lake Boon). Adventuresome bushwackers will find that the railroad right-of-way continues for about 1/3 mile past Sudbury Road before ending at the unbridged Assabet River.

EXISTING PAVED TRAILS (ARRT AND OTHER)

For those who cannot wait, the completed south end of ARRT and the 6.8 mile completed piece of the Bruce Freedman Trail running from Westford to Lowell and the 11.0 mile long Nashua River Rail Trail running from Ayer to Dunstable currently offer paved riding opportunities – at least until snow accumulates. And then snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. All have trailside parking.

ARRT offers a blue caboose, two river crossings, passage between stone abutments, a tunnel under I-290, and an overlook providing a view of the Fort Meadow Reservoir. Amory Maynard’s sale of the Fort Meadow water rights to the City of Boston in 1845 as a water supply was the making of his fortune. Amory pooled his money with William Knight, who had also sold water rights to Boston, so together they could start up a carpet mill on the Assabet River, in what came to be the town of Maynard in 1871.