Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Maynard Outdoor Store - a History

Click on any photo to enlarge
The facade above the Maynard Outdoor Store features a panel that reads "CASE BLD 28."  Historic records show that the main building, at 24 Nason Street, was once known as the Case Block, and next door, 28-30 Nason Street as the Case Annex. The main building has a 112 year history.

The story starts when William B. Case moved from Maine to Maynard in 1874, age 22, to take a job at the Hayes store. Five years later - 1879 - he started his own store. By 1887 his business was in a larger space in the building at 100 Main Street. And five years after that he had a grand opening in his own new building, at the Nason Street address, as W.B. Case & Sons, dry goods. Newspaper advertisements of the era show the store as selling clothing, shoes, hats, gloves, etc.

Howard and Ralph Case (back row) with staff in front of the store. Date is
prior to 1923 because Ralph still alive. Courtesy Maynard Historical Society.
Case prospered. He had married Lucy Jane Whitney in 1877; she was of a well known and well off family that had been in the area for centuries. Her great-great-great-great-great-grandparents were among the first landowners in Stow, in 1683. Her father, Artemas Whitney, built the dam for the woolen mill. William and Lucy lived in a mansion at 4 Maple Street. Howard and Ralph, their two sons, helped manage the store.

In the collection of the Maynard Historical Society there is an interesting description of how the store operated. When salesclerks made a sale, the sales slip and the customer's money was placed in a small basket. This slid on a downward angled overhead wire to the manager at the back of the store who manned the only register. He would write a receipt and send it, with the customer's change, back on the same wire by raising his end to a higher hook.

Other side has grandson Frank, great-grandson Ralph
and space for great-grandson Frank and his wife, Mary
Town records have no information on when the store closed. The last Maynard newspaper mention was of the 50th anniversary, in 1929. A brief item in the Concord paper mentions a clearance sale in 1935. The mill and the town were in hard times as the Great Depression dragged on, so the store probably closed its doors soon after.

What is known is the next mention of business at 24 Nason Street (not including the Annex) was the grand opening of an A&P "supermarket" on January 8, 1942. The woolen mill was busy providing the U.S. military with uniforms and blankets, and the town was prospering again. A&P (short for The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company) was the Walmart of its era. Its self-service stores, with sections that provided groceries, baked goods, meat, produce and dairy, plus its low prices and preferential selling of its own A&P branded products, put thousands upon thousands of small shops and suppliers out of business.
Symbol on CASE tombstone
combines Freemasons and IOOF
(International Order of Odd Fellows)

From 1915 to 1975, A&P was the largest food retailer in the nation. But it failed to keep pace with new chains that opened larger, modern supermarkets in the suburbs, with their own parking lots. A&P still exists, but with only 300 stores in a handful of eastern states, it is a pale shadow of its 16,000 store peak.

Maynard's A&P closed in 1967. The next tenant was the one we know today. After World War II, three ex-servicemen started a small chain of Army & Navy Surplus stores in Framingham, Natick and Maynard - that last one opening in 1950. The Maynard store was on Nason Street, in one of the storefronts just south of the Peoples' Theatre building. A year after A&P closed, the Army & Navy business moved to that site and about the same time changed its name to the Maynard Outdoor Store, one reason given being that Levi Strauss & Co. would not sell jeans to Army & Navy stores.

Back then, the upstairs was office space, rented out to various tenants. Now, the Outdoor Store uses it for storage of inventory - come spring the parkas, sleds and Patriots clothing will disappear, to be replaced by polo shirts, swimsuits and Red Sox gear.

A clock over the front door dates back to the Army & Navy days; the pressed tin ceiling in the south building in all likelihood dates back to W.B. Case & Sons.

Tin ceiling, painted white
Today, we still have the Maynard Outdoor Store as one of the major retail businesses in downtown Maynard. Family owned, the store offers clothing and shoes for children, women and men, plus a wide range of sports and camping equipment. The Outdoor Store's stated goal is "To be #1 in Service, Savings, Selection." Which is likely the same approach that had kept family-owned Case & Sons in business for more than 60 years, selling much the same type of product.

Same front door as in photo of W.B. Case & Sons (above)

CASE FAMILY GENEALOGY (*buried in Glenwood Cemetery)

*William Bradford Case        1852-1938       Started store 1879
   M. *Lucy Jane Whitney      1854-1922       Her family (Whitney) had moved to Stow ~1683

*Ralph Whitney Case            1881-1923       Father of Frank Whitney Case
   M. *Sadie I. Rand               1881-1958
*Howard Bradford Case        1883-1952       Father of James B. Case 1915-1985; buried in Ohio
   M. *Ester E. Hall                1884-1965         (no known children)

*Frank Whitney Case            1904-1963       Lived in Maynard/Acton; three children
   M. *Hazel G. Reid             1905-1987

GREAT-GRANDCHILDREN
Elinor (Case) Curley             1930-2004       Lived in Stow; four children
*Ralph W. Case                    1931-2009       Lived in Maynard; did not marry; no children
Frank T. Case                       1933-alive        Lived in Melvin Village, NH; six children
  M. Mary E. Lehto               1932-alive       Her family was from Stow

GREAT-GREAT-GRANDCHILDREN
10: 6 with surname Case and 4 with surname Curley

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Winter Moths

Male Winter moth fits inside circle the size of a nickel.
Females are just under a half-inch in length.
In eastern Massachusetts the time to act is late November through early December, and then again late March through early April.

An insect invasion has plagued eastern Massachusetts for the past 10-15 years. Winter moths, native to northern Europe, reached parts of Canada in the 1930s. The introduction was accidental. The problem is monumental. Visual evidence of how bad it is will be upon us shortly, as the male moths, looking much like like tan-to-brown shaded triangles, are strongly attracted to outdoor lights. There will come evenings in late November or early December when upon arriving home, you may see scores of moths gathered round the light over your front door.     

The "winter" part of the name refers to an evolutionary strategy used to avoid predation. Most insect eaters (birds, bats, spiders, wasps and other insects) are active during warmer months. Winter moths shift the active parts of their life cycle into the colder months. Eggs are laid in late November and December and hatch in late March. The tiny hatchlings eat the beginning-to-open flower and leaf buds from the inside out.

Female, note small wings
By May, caterpillars are full sized, and descend to the ground where they transform into pupae, hidden in leaf litter. Pupae stay dormant until after the first frosts of November. The emerging adults, freeze-resistant thanks to anti-freeze compounds such as glycerol, use their short lives to procreate before dying.

Winter moths have an interesting dimorphism. Males have strong flight muscles, with an ability to pre-warm these muscles through shivering before cold weather flight. In contrast, females have only vestigial wings. Sacrificing flight capacity allows more than fifty percent of their adult body weight to be given over to eggs. Mating is achieved after the females climb up tree trunks and then release scent pheromones into the air. Males fly to them.

Winter moth larvae are generalists, but especially like fruit trees, maple, ash and birch trees, and blueberry bushes. Flower bud damage leads to low fruit and berry yield. Leaf loss can be so great that too many years in a row will kill trees, especially if dry conditions prevail during the time the trees are putting out replacement leaves. Treatment involves putting sticky products such as Tree Tanglefoot around tree trunks in November and then spraying a few times in early spring with dormant oil or other insecticides. There are organic treatments for those who do not want to use chemical pesticides.

        11/14/14 update: After a few night frosts, moths are beginning to appear in Maynard.
        11/26/14 update: My big birch tree has more than 500 males and females stuck in goo!
        12/15/14 update: No new sightings, so removed plastic wrap. 

TreeTanglefoot on birch tree. Applied
on plastic wrap, not directly on tree.
See photo below for results.
This is not the first time an invasive moth has had such a massive impact in the Northeast. European Gypsy moths were deliberately brought to the United States - specifically, Medford, MA - by Etienne Leopold Trouvelot, in the 1860s. As an amateur entomologist, Trouvelot was experimenting with Gypsy moths as a means of establishing silk manufacture in the Americas. He failed. Moths escaped.

Gypsy moths occupy a different portion of the calendar than winter moths. Eggs laid in August hatch the following May. The rest of the life cycle is compressed into a few months. Nearly 140 years later, this pest's territory is still expanding westward and southward, although a number of introduced biological controls, including parasitic insects, have blunted severity of the outbreaks.

Moth menage a trois stuck in the goop. Males are attracted
to pheromones released by females.
Click on any photo to enlarge.
"Ecological release" refers to situations in which a species undergoes massive population expansion, due mostly to lack of predators, parasites and diseases. The best known examples are for species introduced from one continent to another, but can also occur when apex predator species are removed from the top of the food chain (think whitetail deer without wolves or mountain lions, and not enough human hunters). For invasives, the resultant population expansion from point of entry is fast for species with high mobility, slow for creepy crawlers.




These two moth species are examples of slow expansion because females are unable to fly. Egg laying occurs on or near the tree they grew up on. Dispersion is achieved be a few methods. Post-hatch caterpillars can release a silk strand from the abdomen, then unclasp from the twig and allow wind to blow them to a new location.

This means of travel is better known for young spiders, and called 'ballooning.' Older caterpillars can descend to the ground and explore, one tiny footstep at a time. Either way, the failure rate is high, but enough succeed that territory continues to enlarge, and areas that are sprayed with pesticides will re-infest over time.

2015, and my birch trees' infestation was even worse. This year I got the goop on the tree by mid-November. Trapped so many that I had to remove it and reapply fresh wrap and goop on Thanksgiving, and then again December 1st. Will see come spring how much this slaughter benefited the trees. Biological control has proved successful in Canada - not clear if this method has yet been introduced to U.S. There are two insect species (a fly and a wasp) that specialize in winter moths. Their larvae consume the winter moth caterpillars from the inside.     

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fleepo the Clown (Philip Bohunicky)

Plaque honoring Phil's contributions to Maynard
(Click on any photo to enlarge)
Ten years gone since Philip W. Bohunicky, aka "Fleepo the Clown" passed away on 11/11/04, a month shy of his 85th birthday. He had been a fixture in Maynard's parades and celebrations for close to 40 years. He, as have others, qualified for the honorary title "Mr. Maynard" in his time.

Phil wrote up part of his life's story for the Maynard Historical Society shortly before he died. As he told it, he began sponsoring and coordinating Maynard's Christmas parade in 1966 because of an event from his youth. His early memories were of growing up in a Catholic orphanage. He described a snowy winter evening when the nuns told the boys that after evening prayers they were to put on their winter outfits. They walked to the center of town, where he heard a small band playing "Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells..." and everyone joined in to sing Christmas carols.

In his own words "All of a sudden a huge red fire engine appeared around the corner with its sirens and horns blasting away. Standing in the back of the fire engine was a huge Santa Claus waving and yelling 'Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, Ho Ho Ho!' As Santa faded slowly in the distance I was mesmerized, and to this day, oh so long, long after, I never forgot when I first saw Santa Claus when I was only six years old and living in the orphanage."
   
Parade float for Happy Toes Square Dancers
In addition to starting the Maynard Christmas Parade tradition, behind the scenes he also personally covered much of the cost of putting on the event, a responsibility since taken on by the Rotary Club. Phil also organized the annual Easter Egg Hunt at Crowe Park and helped provide entertainment at the Fourth of July carnivals - same location. At many events he was joined by his children and others who performed as the Happy Toe Square Dancers.

Phil's main alter ego was "Fleepo the Clown," but he also put in appearances at children's and charity events as Grandpa Fleepo or Harmonica Phil. Many Maynardites remember Fleepo on WAVM's television channel as The Fleepo Show. Or in costume, on roller skates, handing out lollipops. Or seeing him drive by - in costume, on his way to an event - with a very, very large stuffed dog in the car as his sidekick. His license plate read FLEEPO. One story that made local news in April 1990 was that Fleepo was hatjacked of his signature antique top hat at the Easter Egg event. The hat was never recovered.

Fleepo, stuffed animals, perhaps two of his three children?
As to how his clown name came to be: Philip apprenticed for years with Chris Sclarppia, who went by the clown name "Bozo" (not the famous Bozo). Chris took the French pronunciation of Phil's name - think "Fe-leeep" - and from there mutated it to "Fleepo."

Out of costume, Bohunicky put in uncounted hours supporting Little League baseball, T-ball and the water safety swim program conducted at Lake Boon. He had served in the Army Medical Corp in Europe during World War II, and appeared in uniform at Memorial Day and Veterans Day remembrances. His post-war career was as an electronics technician at MIT's Lincoln Labs, in Lexington. He died on Veterans Day, 2004.

This is not to say that Philip Bohunicky was all sweetness and light. In his involvement in various town government activities and volunteer groups around town he was at times strongly opinionated and ornery.

Parade float honoring 25 years of Christmas parades
(photos courtesy of Bohunicky family)
Little is known about Bohunicky's early family history. One source mentions both of his parents dying when he was an infant, and with no other family member to take him, he ended up at St. John's Catholic Orphanage in Utica, New York, until he was eleven, and then with a series of foster families. His good luck was the last family insisting he attend high school, and then the G.I. Bill putting him through Massachusetts Trade School.

The surname Bohunicky is Slovakian, and can be taken to mean  from Bohunice," which turns out to be the name of a small village near the western border of the Slovak Republic. If his parents were immigrants from that region it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire back then. Phil's contributions to town spirit continue to be remembered. Each year, the Philip Bohunicky Humanitarian Award is presented at the WAVM banquet to a member of the town who exemplifies the same type of dedication to his/her community. 

Fifty of David Mark’s 2012-2014 columns were published in book "Hidden History of Maynard" available at The Paper Store, on-line, and as an e-book.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Fluctuating Birth Rate, 1880-2013

A column published earlier this year explored counting the dead in Maynard, or more specifically, counting the dead who were buried in Maynard's cemeteries. This column addresses those born here. Birth and death information in the chart was taken from Town of Maynard Annual Reports, 1880-2012, available at the Maynard Public Library. The population line, scale shown on the right side of the figure, comes from U.S. Census data.

At first glance, deaths look to be fairly constant at 50-100 per year, but in light of the fact that the population was increasing from 2,200 to 10,100 what the chart really shows is far, far fewer deaths per thousand over time. Not a surprise - cleaner water, safer food, modern medicine and a huge decline in tobacco use has dropped the death rate in the U.S. to under 8/1,000/year. Maynard's death rate now falls below the national average, suggesting either that the current population skews younger and/or healthier than the national average Or that older people are moving away to die elsewhere.

A sharp spike in deaths in 1918 was due to the influenza pandemic. Town records show that 35 deaths in the last quarter of 1918 alone were caused by the flu.

Much like deaths, births per thousand population have also decreased dramatically over time. One hundred years ago the national birth rate was on the order of 30/1,000/year, declining to the present day 14/1,000/year. As in many cultures, the desire to have many children decreased as the likelihood of infant and childhood death decreased, while at the same time the cost of raising a child to independent adulthood increased.

Births show three large, sustained peaks. The first two coincide with increases in population. By 1902 the moribund woolen mill (bankrupt in 1898) had been bought by the American Woolen Company, reopened, and started on a major expansion program. Young workers were being hired—mostly immigrant Finns, Poles, Italians and Russians - and the birthrate exploded accordingly. No surprise—there was an uptick in marriages which overlapped the first birth peak. From 1895-1902 the marriages average was 42/year, while from 1903-1917 the average was 100/year.

The second peak in births represents the post-WWII baby boom, and also the transition of Maynard from a factory town to a bedroom suburb for employees of new businesses on Route 128. New houses were being built, especially on the northwest side of town, and population was showing another growth spurt.

One mystery is why the birth rate dropped so dramatically after the 1960 peak. Looking back, this is the period when birth control pills became widely accepted, when birth control sales to unmarried women became legal (1972) and when abortion became legal (1973). Demographics also played a role. Locally, population growth had stalled, new housing had stalled, and what was left was a mature, post-child-birth population aging in place.

The third uptick in births, starting in 1983, is also a mystery. This birth boom was taking place against an unchanging total population and an absence of new home construction. There is a possibility that retired mill workers were either dying or moving away and being replaced by younger employees of Digital Equipment Corporation, as the 1980s were a fast-growth period for Digital.

Statewide, the current birth rate is about eleven births per thousand population per year. Maynard is averaging above that. One possible answer: Maynard's home-owning costs are 30 to 50 percent less than in the neighboring towns of Acton, Concord, Sudbury and Stow, so Maynard may be more attractive to young couples who are becoming first time home owners. Subjectively, this is borne out by all the strollers being pushed about the downtown sidewalks on good-weather weekends. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fire Station Horn as History

One hundred years ago, the Town of Maynard Annual Report mentioned in passing that the fire department was responsible for conducting a daily 12:10 PM test blast of the fire department's steam whistle, located at the woolen mill. That's historic, but the full history of 12:10 is older.

Down the years, the means of sounding an alarm for the Maynard fire department went through several evolutions. Originally, a battery-powered system triggered a striker to hit the school bell at the Nason Street School (current site of the Library). The year 1903 added a steam whistle at the woolen mill. Both systems operated until the school burned to the ground in 1916. Makes you wonder if the school bell was ringing to signal its own demise?  

Two compressed air horns date to 1950
The late 1930s saw installation of a diaphone horn at the fire station on Nason Street, but until the mill closed in 1950 the steam whistle was still used in addition to the horn. Later, the fire station bought a pair of compressed air powered horns for the Nason Street station, transferred to the roof of the current fire house in 1955. Yes, the horns are that old.

Why 12:10? The great majority of towns with a fire horn system conduct daily test blasts. According to "A History of the Maynard Fire Department, 1890-1970" an unpublished manuscript written by Henry T. Hanson, Maynard's 12:10 dates back to the 1890s. W.W. Oliver, a jeweler with a store in the Odd Fellows Hall (next to the Nason Street fire house) was paid $12 per year to conduct the daily test.

Oliver would walk to the train station to set his pocket watch to "Washington time," then walk back to Nason Street. As the walk was about five minutes, the daily test was set to ten minutes after the hour. He had this responsibility because there were no full time fire station employees back in the day.

A differently told story is that because the mill's lunch whistle blew at noon, the town's whistle was offset by ten minutes. Regardless of origin, the 12:10 tradition continued long after any need for either a daily time check or subservience to the mill. It's a tradition, one captured by the fact that the Seal of the Town of Maynard shows the clock at 12:10 on town documents, vehicles and street signs.

All this is prelude to the observation that the fire horn no longer sounds at 12:10. The decision was made by the fire department. According to former fire chief Stephen Kulik, the horn was still operative up through his retirement in June 2011. Anthony Stowers, the current fire chief, stated that the practice had stopped before he came aboard in February 2012. The timing puts the onus on the temporary, non-resident fire chief who filled in between Kulik and Stowers. Apparently, the town's government was not involved.

Truth to tell, the fire horn system is in poor repair and perhaps heading toward obsolescence. According to Kulik, "The horn stopped working now and then, and it was hard to get parts. Every time we triggered the fire signal we had our fingers crossed."

Stowers acknowledged the horn still works but has a tendency to stick. He said, "we have made the decision to restrict the use to actual emergencies in the effort to keep it functional for as long as possible." 

The historic purpose of fire station horns was to alert volunteer firefighters. In an increasing large number of locations this function has been replaced by cell phones and pagers. Same for reaching the salaried firefighters who are off duty. Across the country, many newspapers have run articles on debates about whether to continue, discontinue, or even resurrect the tradition of a working fire horn system. And separately, continue or discontinue a daily test blast.

Some towns are also getting rid of their outdoor
fire alarm call boxes, as most people reach
for a phone to call 9-1-1 rather than think
to run to the nearest alarm box.
Given that Maynard is on the cusp of abandoning its fire horn system, can the 12:10 daily blast be resurrected solely as part of town history?  One means of doing this would be to install a new system on Clock Tower Place property, perhaps near the intersection of Walnut and Main Streets. As a bonus, fire department staff would no longer be subjected to a daily tooth-rattling blast from their own rooftop. A new system of horns and control box from Sentry Sirens would cost between $3,000 and $12,000 depending on whether the town wants a sound heard only in the downtown area or a blast loud enough to wake the dead in Sudbury, Stow and Acton.

Can sounds be history? Three-quarters of a century ago, life in Maynard was punctuated by a chorus of steam whistles on trains, the mill, and the fire alarm. School snow days were broadcast by five blasts at 7:15 AM. None of that is coming back. But in this writer's opinion, Maynard deserves its 12:10.

Fifty of David Mark’s 2012-2014 columns were published in book "Hidden History of Maynard" available at The Paper Store, on-line, and as an e-book.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Maynard, MA: Churches, Closed

Maynard was once host to a dozen church congregations but four have since dissolved or relocated. Nationally, a decline in mainline Protestant churches (Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Congregational, Episcopal) has been going on for decades. Estimates are that over the past fifty years these faiths have lost more than one-third of their membership. Surviving churches often find themselves with an aging congregation and less than excellent financial health, compounded by problems associated with maintaining an aged building.

Against these trends, there is evidence that the decline in total number of places of worship and worshipers has reached a plateau or even reversed this trend over the last decade. However, most of the growth is in new churches rather than increased membership in existing churches, with many of the new congregations identifying themselves as non-denominational and biblically conservative. Those interested in learning more about worship trends should e-visit the Hartford Institute for Religious Research [http://hirr.hartsem.edu/].

Closed churches in Maynard:

Click on photos to enlarge
United Methodist Church (1895-2014): There is often a gestation period between initial interest and steeple - in this instance 30 years. Services began in 1867, but were held in various meeting halls until the congregation completed the existing building in 1895. May 11, 2014 was the last Sunday services at UMC, ending 119 years in the building and 147 years as a congregation. Members are joining other churches. The local Alcoholics Anonymous groups, which had used the church for their meetings, relocated within town. The future of the building has not yet been determined. The Maynard Historical Society has remarkably little information on this church's history, so the hope is that information can be passed on rather than discarded.






St. George's June 2014, quite overgrown
St. George's Episcopal Church (1895-2006): Episcopal services began in 1894. The cornerstone of the church was placed on August 10, 1895; the church consecrated as the Parish of St. George in 1897. The church had an active men's group, the Order of Sir Galahad, a women's group, the Guild of St. Hilda, also a youth summer camp program at Fort Pond. Membership declined after the Church of the Good Shepherd opened in Acton in 1962. After the Maynard church closed, the parking lot and rectory were sold separately. A remodeling project, intended to turn the ex-church into housing, is in limbo, leaving behind a deteriorating building with an uncertain future. August 2014: something going on - the brush and weeds around the building have been cleared.

Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church (1908-1967): The woolen mill attracted many immigrants from Finland. August 1894 saw an outdoor service and picnic on the banks of the mill pond - an event proposed by a traveling Bible salesman. The event served as a catalyst to start a Lutheran church. In 1902 the nascent congregation incorporated and bought land on Glendale Street. Construction started in 1907. The church was dedicated on June 6, 1908. The congregation stayed active, although over years the members and their children and grandchildren assimilated (services switched from Finnish to English). In 1967 the congregation decided to construct a new church in north Sudbury. The Church of the Nazarene took up residence for a while, them moved out around 1995. The building is currently a private residence.

St. Casimir Roman Catholic Church (1928-1999): By 1910, more than 600 immigrants from Poland live in Maynard. Even though the Mass was in Latin, these immigrants wanted to hear sermons and other aspects in their own language. The St Casimir Parish - services in Polish - was established in 1912, meeting at St. Bridget's. Fourteen years passed before the congregation bought the powerhouse building of the defunct Concord, Maynard and Hudson Railway [electric trolley], and two more years before the converted building was blessed as their own church.


Formerly St. Casimir Roman
Catholic Church (1928-1999)
In time, death of first-generation immigrants, assimilation of their descendants and dearth of new immigrants tolled on all of Greater Boston's Polish parishes. In 1995, Cardinal Bernard Law announced that 10 of 14 would stop celebrating Mass in Polish. Four years later the Beacon-Villager ran an article about the pending closure of St. Casimir. A locally circulated petition could not reverse the decision. The parish was merged back into St. Bridget Parish, although the St. Casimir building remained a consecrated space, used by the Polish community for baptisms, weddings and funerals. In 2003 the building was sold to St. Mary's Indian Orthodox Church of Boston.

CODA: Churches still open in Maynard (in color if hyperlink to website)
And once there was a synagogue in Maynard. In the early 1900s, the Maynard Hebrew Society invited a rabbi to conduct Sabbath services in rented meeting halls. September 1921, the congregation established Rodoff Shalom Synagogue in a house on Acton Street (next to where Avis car rentals is now). The congregation was active to 1980, when it merged with the newly formed Congregation Beth Elohim in Acton. In a temple newsletter, Adam Jacoby remembered, “In 1980 we built a new building and marched the Torah from Maynard to Acton under a chuppa with shofars blowing. I was one of the shofrot during the walk.”
 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fine Arts Theatre, Maynard - History

100 years of movie theater history in Maynard, MA. For a few years, 1949-1952, there were three theaters in Maynard: Colonial, Peoples and Fine Arts. Colonial had lowest ticket price. Peoples was largest, and only one with a balcony. Fine Arts had only one screen until 1969.

First showing of a motion picture in Maynard was at the Riverside CO-OP (now site of Knights of Columbus building) in 1902. There is also mention of a 1909 exhibition of Sherman's moving pictures at same place. Newspapers of that era mentioned S.E. Sherman as a have-projector-will-travel impresario. By 1914 there were occasional showing of features, shorts and newsreels at Colonial Hall. These were silent films in black and white, oft accompanied by live music, typically a solo pianist. Intermissions featured performances by local singers. 

Back then, showing movies was a dangerous business. Until around 1950 all film was made of cellulose nitrate, a highly flammable substance with a chemical composition akin to gunpowder. Film exposed to fire or a spark could burst into intense flames, releasing copious, toxic fumes in the process. Once ignited it could not be easily extinguished. There are fire safety movies showing cellulose nitrate film burning underwater! Luckily, Maynard never suffered a theater fire when an audience was present.

During the first half of the 20th century local businesses often
sponsored sports teams for publicity purposes. At Peoples
Theatre, Burton Coughlan (in suit) managed the team.
He was 34 at the time.
 
The first location with regularly scheduled movie showings was the aforementioned Colonial Hall, second story of 65-69 Main Street, in business from 1916 onward. Bartholomew 'BJ' Coughlin was one of the owners. Older residents of Maynard remember that nine cents got you in and one penny bought candy. Riverside Theatre (then the second floor of what is now Gruber Bros. Furniture) started showing movies in 1922, run by Samuel Lerer. Riverside's run ended with a fire in 1934. Colonial was still in business as late as 1952.

The first building specifically designed to serve as a motion picture palace was Peoples Theatre. The building still stands at 14 Nason Street, converted to office space. Initially two groups of local businessmen were scrambling for downtown locations and funding. James A. Coughlan, Hector Hobers and James J. Ledgart organized the Peoples Theatre Company and sold shares for $25. The co-operative movement was very strong in Maynard at the time, so the idea of local people being able to buy into ownership and share the profits was well received. In fact, the decision to go for crowd-sourced funding was instrumental to choosing the theater's name. 

The second group (BJ Coughlin, the Naylor brothers, others) had land at the corner of Nason & Main, but not quite enough money. The two groups merged. Peoples Theatre opened on May 6, 1921 with seating for 700 people (250 in the balcony). A huge chandelier graced the lobby. Tickets were 25 cents. Circa 1951 the price of a ticket was up to 44 cents for adults, 16 cents for children. The theater closed its doors around 1959.

Peoples Theatre Office Building. Click on photo to enlarge.
Although the Coughlans, father James and son Burton, were both involved with Peoples, Burton decided to build his own theater on the family property at 17 and 19 Summer Street. James had started there with a horse stable in 1897, later adding an auto repair shop. Burton’s vision, the luxuriously appointed Fine Arts Theatre, with 400 seats, no balcony, opened on June 29, 1949 with a showing of The Red Shoes. An adjoining second theater, 300 seats, with its own ticket window, was added in 1969. One employee reminisced: "...the projectionist had to scamper across the roof to get to the [projection] booth for the smaller of the theaters." That theater was divided into two parts in 1989.

Fine Arts Theatre, Maynard MA, February 2012
Over decades, Fine Arts lost it lustre (and much of its heat, air conditioning, sound-system and waterproofiness), until by the beginnings of this century it was a threadbare carpets, duct-taped seats and sad bathrooms mess. The Shea family, operating as Deco Entertainment Services, leased the property in late 2002 and started a lengthy rehab process on the interior. Then, in 2013, Burton Coughlan's daughter sold the theater plus the building at 17 Summer Street (originally part of the stables, later Burton's art gallery) to the partnership of Steven Trumble and Melanie Perry.      

Opening night ticket, signed by Steve Trumble
Their extensive rehabilitation process, outside and inside, took far more money and time than initially expected, including twelve months with closed doors and dark screens. Trumble swears that during the remodeling process they excavated and renovated through layers upon layers of movie theater detritus, auto shop, and finally down to the wooden timbers and square-cut nails of the horse stable. So all the more sweet that 65 years after its premiere, the Fine Arts Theatre had its grand (re)opening November 5, 2014 with a showing of the movie Interstellar.

As of March 2015 two theaters are operative, albeit with film rather than digital projectors, and plans to complete renovation of the third room are on hold.

Fifty of David Mark’s 2012-2014 columns were published in book "Hidden History of Maynard" available at The Paper Store, on-line, and as an e-book.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Women at Digital Equipment Corporation

October 10, 1957: A short item on the third page of The Maynard News mentioned that Kenneth H. Olsen and Harlan E. Anderson had formed a new electronics company named Digital Equipment Corporation. Both of them had been employees at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory before striking out on their own. Ken was 31, Harlan 28. They started with 8,680 square feet of space, rented for $3,600/year. 

For the first three years they were producing electronic test modules for engineering laboratories, meantime working on Phase II of their plan: Digital's first computer, to be named the PDP-1. By October 1961 the company had grown to 265 employees. In time, DEC made Maynard "The mini-computer capital of the world."

Olsen was a big believer in numbers. Employees were assigned consecutive numbers based on order of hire, later becoming their badge numbers. Ken was #1 Harlan was #2. The first two women hired were Alma E. Pontz, #5 and Gloria Porrazzo, #6.

Women were not rare at Digital. From perusing a list of the first 100 full-time employees, 36 were women. Years later, the main reasons Olsen gave for locating in Maynard were low rent and a local work force with lots of factory experience. Many of the women were walk-to-work Maynardites who had worked in the same buildings in the woolen mill era, 10 to 20 years back. The newly refurbished work area was clean, quiet and well lit, although hot during the summers, as no air conditioning installed until around 1970. Throughout the buildings, summer weather meant lanolin from the old wool-processing days dripping down the walls or from the ceilings above.    

Alma E. Pontz was the first woman hired. According to her 2013 obituary she had already put in 24 years in the wool business before being hired by Olsen as the first administrative assistant, and thus was more than a decade older than her bosses. She stayed with DEC until she retired 21 years later.

Gloria Porrazzo was the first woman hired to work in assembling Laboratory Modules and Systems Modules. These products allowed Digital to be profitable from its first year onward. According to Peter Koch, plant manager, Porrazzo stayed with the company for 25 years, rising to the level of production manager. The 50 to 60 women who worked for her in Assembly were informally known as "Gloria's Girls." They were responsible for inserting electronic components into circuit boards, welds and quality control. Ken Olsen was known to drop in for coffee and a chat with Gloria to keep abreast of any production problems.

In time, Digital was not averse to hiring women with technical expertise, but some of the customers had a hard time adapting. Barbara Stephenson, MIT graduate, employee #71, was hired the second year. As posted at www.computerhistory.org: "I was the first woman engineer at DEC. Customers would call for an applications engineer. They would say 'I want to speak with an engineer,' and I would reply 'I'm an engineer,' and they would say, 'No, I want to speak with a real engineer.' I developed this patter: 'Well, tell me about the application you have in mind. We have three lines of modules ranging from five to ten megacycles and …' The line would go dead for a moment and then I’d hear, 'Hey Joe, guess what, I’ve got a…woman…engineer on the phone!'"

Women were promoted from within. Maynard resident Angela Cossette was hired as an administrative assistant in 1963 in support for DEC User's Society. DECUS provided a pre-internet forum for computer users to exchange technical information and user-developed software. Cossette moved up to becoming the company's first woman manager, in time with as many as 100 people reporting to her. In her own words "...Digital became very aggressive about giving women the opportunity to grow in their careers and making it possible for them to move into key positions." [Quote from company newsletter Digital This Week.] Cossette retired in 1992.

Her comment reflected Digital's self-realization that it had a problem with its history of male dominated culture. A Core Groups program was started in 1977, evolving into the Valuing Differences philosophy in 1984. The stated goal was for the company and its employees to pay attention to differences of individuals and groups, to be comfortable with those differences, and to utilize those differences as assets to the company's productivity.


Modest monument to Ken Olsen, corner of Main and Walnut Streets.
Digital Equipment Company, for those too young to remember, grew to be the second-largest computer company in the United States, peaking in late 1989 or early 1990 with more than 120,000 employees and ambitions to overtake IBM. Instead, overly-fast growth combined with a series of missteps led to a precipitous decline that finally resulted in a sale to Compaq, which in turn was bought by Hewlett-Packard. All Digital left behind as a name-bearer was the Digital Federal Credit Union, better known as DCU. 


Interesting sources about Digital Equipment Corporation:


Reesa Abrams 1984. http://www.decconnection.org/ReesaAbrams-DIGITAL.pdf

Peter DiLisi 1998  http://www.org-synergies.com/docs/DEC98.pdf

Monday, June 9, 2014

Damariscotta Lake: Nature Observations

Having just spent the first week of June near Damariscotta Lake, Maine, here are a few nature observations and photographs:

Male (note large antennae)
Click on any photo to enlarge.
Luna moths: seen either evenings, fluttering or perched near exterior
lights, or days, immobile until night. The rarity of sightings, pale green color and serene flight of these large moths trigger inquires into symbolic meaning and also inspire poetry. This topic has been written about at length in a May 2013 posting of this blog. Briefly, the moths emerge in late May or early June to a 5-10 day lifespan as winged moths. Males seek females by following the trace of pheromones she has released into the night air. He finds her, they mate, she lays 100-300 eggs over a few nights. There is no male display competition. The first male to get to a female is the winner.

Horse chestnut flowers
Horse chestnuts are of the genus Aesculus, not to be confused with edible chestnuts, which are genus Castenea. Within Aesculus, several species are native to North America, while others were introduced; the one we know as horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) is from eastern Europe. It can exceed 100 feet in height. In May and June is is covered with large clusters of white/red/yellow flowers. These attract bees and especially bumblebees. On quiet mornings the sound of bumblebees can be clearly heard some ten to twenty yards from the tree. Everything worth knowing about bumblebees is found in the book Bumblebee Economics. A key trick to their ability to compete with honeybees is that bumblebees can shiver flight muscles in order to raise body temperature, allowing them to harvest nectar at early morning air temperatures which bees avoid.

The large brown nuts which fall from spiky pods in the fall are informally known as conkers, and if from an American species common in the mid-west, buckeyes. Unlike American Chestnut, the wood from Horse Chestnut has poor decay resistance. It is also of low density compared to hardwoods, and thus not desirable for building nor as firewood. 

Pink Lady's Slipper - flower height
about two inches, atop a stem 6-12".

The Pink Lady's Slipper (or Lady Slipper)  is indigenous to eastern U.S. and Canada. This is the most common of several species found in Maine. This member of the orchid family is not easy to grow as a potted plant, nor away from it's natural habitat, as it requires partial shade plus the very acidic soil one finds in pine/spruce/hemlock forests. Better to admire it in situ. This is New Hampshire's official state wildflower. 

WEATHER: Not easily portrayed by a photo, but weather trends are affecting southeastern Maine which also impact the Damariscotta area. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has weather data for Portland, Maine dating back to 1870. Over this period annual precipitation has increased by 18% (from 40 to 47 inches) while average temperature has warmed two degrees and snowfall decreased by 13% (from 75 to 65 inches).
Fish ladder at south end of lake

As so much of nature's seasonal timing is temperature driven, there are noticeable shifts. Alewives (an ocean-living, fresh-water spawning fish) move into rivers to spawn when the water temperature exceeds 51 degrees Fahrenheit. The photo shows the top end of the fish ladder at Damariscotta Lake. This is the latest in a string of constructions intended to allow alewives to detour around the mill dams. After breeding, the alewives return to the ocean. A check against old records would probably confirm that alewives now return to the lake weeks earlier than in the past. 

Like salmon, the alewife can become a landlocked (100% freshwater) species. Wherever this happens, the freshwater fish breeds to a smaller size - closer to six inches compared to the ocean visitors' 10-12 inch length. These lake-bound fish can succumb to massive die-offs whenever the water warms too much. Lake Michigan's beaches have been the scene of hundreds of tons of rotting fish washing up onto the sand. 



Buckeye Bell Foundry 1910
KieveWavus is a non-profit corporation that runs a boys' camp and a girls' camp on Damariscotta Lake. Kieve has been in operation since 1926. Traditionally, a bell is sounded to mark mealtimes and other camp schedules. In 2010 Kieve purchased and installed a larger bell next to the dining hall. The design is plain - no adornment except for "BUCKEYE BELL FOUNDRY 1910" along the crown. Dates can signify the origin of the company or the manufacture of the item in question; in this case the latter. Buckeye Bell Foundry was started in Cincinnati in 1837, going through several owners before Ezra W. Vanduzen and his heirs ran it from 1865 until closed circa 1950. [Church bell manufacture in the U.S. ceased in 1939 because metal was needed for the war effort. It is not clear if Buckeye produced bells after the war.] Thousands of Buckeye bells can be found in churches and other installations the world over. This one is 30 inches across at the base, weighs approximately 550 pounds (the mount and mechanism weighing another 500-600 pounds), and the bell sounds a "C." 


LOBSTER: Obviously, no lobsters are harvested from Damariscotta Lake, but anyone who visits Maine without dining on lobster at least once is a fool. (Or a vegetarian. Or keeping kosher. There are ongoing debates whether lobster is halal or haram.) Maine's catch per year has been topping 100 million pounds the past few years, with an expectation that 2014 will be similar. Thirty years ago the catch was consistently under 40 million. So far, "off-the-boat" prices are a bit higher than the lows of 2012 and 2013. There is a sense that the increased yield is a consequence of warmer water, far fewer lobster-eating fish, plus a tightly regulated harvest practice that returns egg-bearing females, too small, and too large lobsters to the ocean. These practices promote reproduction.

STONE WALLS: Much of southern Maine and neighboring states are woodlands threaded by stone walls. It helps to know that during the Colonial era stone was the last choice of materials for fencing fields. Farming through the 1600’s consisted of laborious clearing of small fields for vegetables, corn and livestock feed. These plots were bordered by cut brush and branches. The fields were stump-filled and worked by hand. As the brush fences rotted they were replaced by fences made of logs laid horizontally so the ends would overlap as the fence zig-zagged along the edge of a field. The goal, always, was to keep livestock out of the fields.
Bedrock, or 'ledge' in New England parlance, showing evidence of
being scraped by loose stones being dragged along at the
underside of a glacier. Grooves align north to south.

Later still the stumps of trees cut to clear the fields were rotten enough to pull out of the soil and were laid along the edge of a field. As stones emerged through the eroding soil they were added to the fences. Stump fences were functional but not handsome; hence the old-time insult “Ugly as a stump fence.”  When the stumps rotted away, post and rail fences were built over the growing rows of stones.

By the end of the Revolutionary War much of New England was almost denuded of trees. What wood was left was needed for building materials, cooking, and heating buildings. Stone fencing tall and strong enough to contain cattle took a day’s work from two men equipped with an oxcart to gather stone and build 10-20 feet of a fence. Most of what we see crisscrossing New England was a hybrid of wooden post and rail over stone, laid down between 1775 and 1850. Barbed wire, the easier solution, was not perfected until 1874. The stony soil of New England is the result of being worked over by several ice ages.

Post-Colonial northern Maine still had significant treelands, but southern Maine became sheep country. By 1870, Maine had more sheep than people (as did New Hampshire and Vermont). Sheep pasture was also typically post and rail over stone, sometimes augmented by barbed wire.


         

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Sid's Airport, Maynard, MA

July 2016 update: the house at 165 Summer Street was listed for sale at Zillow.com but is currently described as "Off market."  Property described as 0.96 acres, so appears the house and that land are being offered separate from the landing strip. After 68 years, this appears to be the end of Sid's Airport.  

Start with a Google search on Maynard MA. Select the Maps option. Zoom in a couple of clicks. Drag the map so that it is centered on the west side of town, just north of Summer Street. You will see a designation: "Sids Airport." A switch to satellite view will confirm a grassy airstrip. At this point, say to yourself "Really?!?" Next time you are driving west on Summer Street, remember to glance to the right two houses after passing Durant Avenue on the right. Voila! Sid's Airport.  

Sidney H. Mason created his backyard airstrip in 1948 (the same year Orville Wright died). Sid was 28 at the time and an Army veteran. He and three friends bought a used Luscombe 1946 8A in 1947 for $1000. Sid bought out his partners soon after. The plane was a two-seater with an all aluminum body and wings, powered by a 65 horsepower engine. The airstrip was carved out of what had been an extensive Mason family farm that dated back to at least 1875. In fact, back in the farm days, the family had two runways, and many of the pilots in Maynard and nearby towns kept their planes there.     

Sid and his wife Susan with his 1946 Luscombe (courtesy of Jack Mason )
Sid was still flying in the left hand (pilot's) seat as late as 1997, age 79. A few years before he gave up flying he had switched over to a 1955 Cessna that needed a bit more runway than his private airstrip provided, so he started using Stow's Minute Man Air Field. In the meantime, Sid's son - Jack Mason - had taken up his father's hobby while still in his teens, earned his pilot's license, and was flying a Vector Ultralight in and out of the backyard. This meant that their landing strip continued to be an active, FAA-numbered airstrip (MA52). Sid also soloed the ultralight now and then.

By the way, the official U.S. definition of an ultralight is a one-seater that weighs less than 254 pounds empty, carries no more than five gallons of fuel, and has a top speed of 63 mph. The limits are crucial, because going over any one of them redefines the object in question as an aircraft requiring registration, and the user, a pilot's license. Under those limits and it is defined as a vehicle that just happens to be airborne, requiring no registration or license.

Run the timeline forward to 2012 and Jack Mason had just became the proud owner of a 1946 Luscombe 8E (a model with a bit more horsepower than his Dad's old plane). He won the plane in a lottery. By choosing a propeller that maximizes take off and climbing power, he has a vintage but modernized plane that can be flown in and out of the landing strip behind his house. Thus, while the plane lives at Stow's airport, Jack can start a voyage from there, stop home for lunch, then head out again. Or just step out the back door and into an ultralight.

Sid Mason passed on to the big airport in the sky in 2005. His life-long love affair with the air is memorialized by his tombstone, as it portrays his Luscombe in flight, with the plane's registration number N72025 on the side.

One interesting perspective on the history of flight was that early aviators thought it would put an end to war. In Orville Wright's own words, from a 1917 letter: “When my brother and I built and flew the first man-carrying flying machine, we thought we were introducing into the world an invention which would make further wars practically impossible...We thought governments would realize the impossibility of winning by surprise attacks, and that no country would enter into war with another of equal size when it knew that it would have to win by simply wearing out the enemy.”

Orville had a rueful but still optimistic opinion after that war ended: “The aeroplane has made war so terrible that I do not believe any country will again care to start a war.” However, by 1946, having lived long enough to witness a second world war, the invention of jet airplanes, and the dropping of atomic bombs, he was resigned to his invention being just one more tool of war.   

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Luna Moths Inspire Poetry

Male Luna moth in morning sun. Note feathery antennae 
A different version of this article, with more photos, was posted on this blog May 2013. Still there.

Luna moths sightings are rare. The moths themselves are not so much rare as secluded, secretive and short-lived, for these are deep-woods dwelling, night-flying, short-lived moths. In New England, adults emerge from pupa in mid-May to early June. The adults rest all day. The adults do not feed, hence are never seen flitting from flower to flower, and live for only about a week - their sole purpose (besides beauty) being to mate before dying.

In northern states the cycle from egg hatching to egg laying takes a year, with only the last week spent as a winged adult. In central and southern states there may be two or even three generations during the warm months, with only first cycle of adults having overwintered as pupae.

The males use their intricately branched antennae to detect scent pheromones released by females. The detection system is so sensitive that a male in flight can detect the presence of just a few molecules in the air. He will then immediately turn and fly upwind into the mild night wind, traveling miles on her gradually intensifying scent steam until he finds her perched on a tree.

Each male and female mate once (a process that takes several hours). The female deposits several hundred fertilized eggs over the next 2-3 nights. Caterpillars hatch several weeks later, eat and grow until fall, over-winter as a pupa, then burst forth as adults in early summer.

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly feeding at flower
Luna moths have "eyespots" on both pairs of wings. Some related species have eyespots only on the underwings. There is a theory that moving the top pair of wings apart to suddenly reveal what looks like large eyes on the underwings might briefly scare away an attacking bird or other predator, allowing the moth time to escape.

Henry David Thoreau jotted a few notes in his journal, June 1859: "I found a remarkable moth lying flat on the still water as if asleep, they appear to sleep during the day, as large as the smaller birds. Five and a half inches in alar extent and about three inches long...with a remarkably narrow lunar cut tail of a sea green color with four conspicuous spots whitish within then a red line, then yellowish border below or toward the tail, but brown orange and black above toward head. A very robust body covered with a kind of downy plumage an inch and a quarter long by five eighths thick. The sight affected me as tropical and I suppose it is the northern verge of some species. It suggests into what productions Nature would run if all the year were a July."

Similar moths, i.e., night fliers with green coloring, wing eyespots and tailed underwings, live elsewhere in the world. A search on "moon moth" will yield information and pictures on many related species in Asia, Africa, plus one in Spain that as a caterpillar eats pine needles.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds have wingspan and body
weight similar to Luna moths. Painting by Bruce Davidson.
In many cultures, butterflies and moths are thought to represent human souls. From Bulfinch's Mythology "The Greek name for a butterfly is Psyche, and the same word means the soul. There is no illustration of the immortality of the soul so striking and beautiful as the butterfly, bursting on brilliant wings from the tomb [pupa] in which it has lain, after a dull, groveling, caterpillar existence, to flutter in the blaze of day and feed on the most fragrant and delicate productions of the spring. Psyche, then, is the human soul, which is purified by sufferings and misfortunes, and is thus prepared for the enjoyment of true and pure happiness."

Psyche's story is of a young woman who became the lover of Eros (Cupid), who was with her only during the darkness of night. For the forbidden folly of viewing his sleeping body by lamplight, she was tasked by the Goddess Aphrodite (Eros' mother) with four near-impossible challenges. Upon completing these, she was given the drink of immortality by Zeus, and rejoined Eros. In art, Psyche is often portrayed with butterfly wings while Eros is shown with feathered wings.


POETRY AND OTHER HOMAGE TO LUNA MOTHS

Luna moths show up in poems. For reason of copyright, none are reproduced here, but an internet search on Luna moth poetry will turn up at least a dozen - easily enough for a chapbook. Authors, in no particular order: Carl Phillips, Sean Nevin, Robert Crawford, Cicely Parks, Jeff Friedman, Don McKay, David Mark, Jo Pitkin, Aerlynne, Amanda, Christine Kelley, Steve Luxton, Jerry Judge, Kay Goldstein, Sharon Rose Miller, Daniel Tobin, September...

An internet search on 'luna moth tattoo' will yield many interesting images.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Cleaner River - the Assabet Transformed

Moss in early Spring, wetlands near Assabet River
In its natural state the Assabet was a glorious little river, but historically it took awhile to settle on a name. Old maps show Assabeth, Asabet, Elizbeth, Elizabet…all thought to be Anglicized versions of an Algonquin Indian name. One of the alternative names is preserved in Elizabeth Brook, a tributary that flows southwards through Stow before merging into the Assabet River.


Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote: “Rowing our boat against the current, between wide meadows, we turn aside into the Assabeth. A more lovely stream than this, for a mile above its junction with the Concord, has never flowed on earth.”

Given its modest length and modest volume, the Assabet was an extremely 'worked' river, meaning that little remains of its original natural state. From the headwaters, where a dam insures less flow in times of flood and more flow in times of drought, to the conflux 31 miles and 220 feet lower in elevation where it merges with the Sudbury River to become the Concord River, the Assabet had powered eight mills, has its high water rampages hobbled by flood control dams, suffered channeling between restraining walls through the centers of Hudson and Maynard, lost water to our various usages, and gained water back from our numerous waste streams.

From Thoreau's journal entry in 1859: "So completely emasculated and demoralized is our river that it is even made to observe the Christian Sabbath... for then the river runs lowest owing to the factory and mill gates being shut. Not only the operatives make the Sunday a day of rest but the river too, to some extent, so that the very fishes feel the influence...of man's religion." His point here is that natural flow was stopped Sundays so as to back up as much water as possible before work started again Monday morning.

The Assabet was also an extremely polluted river. As Ann Zwinger wrote in A Conscious Stillness (1982) "...the reach above the Powder Mill Dam is closed by joint action of the Maynard and Acton boards of health...the river smell is nauseating, reeking like an unpumped-out campground outhouse times ten."

By then, the issue was no longer industrial pollution left over from the mills that had dotted the Assabet River and its tributaries. Rather, the smells emanated from rotting of bacteria, algae and water plants such as duckweed - the consequence of eutrophic growth promoted by the excesses of phosphorus and nitrogen entering the water from wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). Five of these return cleaned water to the Assabet. Their combined volume is so great that in the low flow months of summer much of the river water is processed water. Surface water run-off of fertilizer from farms, golf courses and lawns also contributes unwanted nutrients, as does untreated stormwater from roads and parking lots.

Assabet River channeled through the center of Maynard, 2010 flood.
Until quite recently the limits on phosphorus content of processed water were not stringent enough to lower the rampant warm weather plant growth. But starting in 2009 and completed in 2014, all of the WWTPs on the Assabet River now meet higher standards.

Furthermore, effective January 1, 2014, lawn fertilizer purchased or used in Massachusetts may no longer contain phosphorus. Mid-summer phosphorus content in the river has decreased from 0.4-0.8 milligrams per liter to about 0.1 mg/L. A target for a healthy river is to get below 0.025 mg/L. Large amounts of sediment trapped behind dams harbors reserves of phosphorus and nitrogen, thus slowing the trend to a healthier river, but over time the water quality will continue to improve.    

All this focus on plant growth is not to say that local rivers had never suffered from industrial insult. Back in the day, wool arrived in Maynard unwashed. Cleaning it at the factory meant all the lanolin, dirt, urine and feces matted into the fleece ended up in the river, along with the chemical dyes and whatever. Children frolicked in the river behind the Main Street School (where Town Hall is now), but not downstream of the mill.  

Spring 2014: Kayaker on Assabet between
Main Street and the footbridge
One saving grace - the Assabet did not suffer the extensive mercury dumping that still haunts the Sudbury River. From 1917 to 1978 the Nyanza Color & Chemical Company operated a textile dye manufacturing factory in Ashland. Wastewater entered the Sudbury River via a tributary named Chemical Brook (how apt). The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 45 to 57 metric tons of mercury were released to the Sudbury River. Other contaminants included chromium, arsenic, lead, and carcinogenic chemicals. The current advisory: "The general public should not consume any fish from this water body."

OARS clean up, Maynard, 2012
Click on any photo to enlarge
Solid waste trash also contributed to the Assabet's lack of ambiance. In Maynard alone, decades of annual river clean-ups organized by the Organization for the Assabet, Sudbury and Concord Rivers (OARS) have removed more than 1,000 car and truck tires, tons of metal scrap and hundreds upon hundreds of pounds of broken glass. Intact glass bottles from 50-60 years ago have come out of the river. Ditto televisions, bicycles, shopping carts, beer cans... Cleaning up the river appears contagious, in that each year less new trash goes into the river. 

Coda: Fishing boating, canoeing or kayaking on the Assabet River all popular pastimes. Site  [http://www.oars3rivers.org/river/recreation] has maps and guides to boat access points. The fishing information includes where on the rivers it is safe or unsafe to eat fish. In addition to the marked boating areas, local kayakers know that at just the right water levels it is possible to enjoy Class I-II rapids through the center of Maynard by putting in below the Ben Smith Dam. If water too low, cannot get past the shallows. If water too high there is not enough clearance under the sewage pipes that run under some of the bridges.
Mill Street Bridge, Assabet River in flood, Spring 2010
Water depth was 7.1 feet at the gauge when this photo was taken.