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, 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  

UPDATE: Rail Trail construction in Maynard in 2017 has made it easy to visit the wild cucumber patch, just north of the 1.50 mile marker.

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: 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       

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, 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 [] or the Centers for Disease Control []. ALDF has a good pictoral of the life cycle and high risk months at

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.