Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Most Popular Columns of 2016

First, a look back at the most popular columns of 2016 - as determined by numbers of visits to columns posted at maynardlifeoutdoors.com. All of these can still be visited. Last, a recommendation for a New Year’s resolution and some column ideas for 2017.

A history of the effort to create the Assabet River Rail Trail was posted in June, followed by three related columns in July and August on start-up of construction, the massive tree removal, and the aerial departure of the old footbridge over the Assabet (via crane, not helicopter). Photo montage updates were posted in October, November and December Construction is scheduled through late 2017, with the final landscaping planned for early 2018. This section runs from the Stow/Maynard border to the South Acton train station, and is 3.4 miles long.

A MUELLER and THE COREY hydrants side by side on Forest Street.
Yellow means so-so water volume, red means meh. Click on photo to enlarge.
Two columns on fire hydrants were published in May. Through the paint, and sometimes through the rust, most of the fire hydrants in Maynard read MUELLER, ALBERTVILLE, and either ALA or AL (for Alabama), plus a year for when the hydrant was made. Mueller Company was started in 1857, but did not get into the hydrant business until 1933, when it acquired Columbian Iron Works. Any Mueller older than 1975 is identified as being made in CHATTA TENN (meaning Chattanooga). Oldest Mueller in town is from 1958, newest 2016. Forest Street and O’Moore Avenue host a hydrant model with “THE COREY” across the top. These, from the Rensselaer Manufacturing Company, were named after the inventor William W. Corey, and date to 1900-1930. The winner for oldest is a Chapman Valve hydrant, dated to 1890-1900. It is on Winter Avenue, which was not created until 1921, so it may be one of Maynard’s original hydrants – circa 1890 – later relocated. 

The image on the Town Seal is the clock tower
showing the time as 12:10, not 1:00.
April saw the publication of a column on Founders’ Day. Maynard's creation dates to April 19, 1871. The town celebrated its 145th anniversary as the First Annual Founders' Day via various events, including a lecture at the Library on how Maynard came to be created and named. Briefly, Stow and Sudbury were paid to give up their claims to the land, and Mr. Amory Maynard decided he liked his own name for the town. Much of the 2016 organizing was accomplished by Maynard High School senior Haley Fritz as part of her Girl Scout Gold Award project, in collaboration with the Board of Selectmen, Maynard Business Alliance, and Maynard Historical Commission. Hopes are that the town can repeat the event in 2017 without her help. Looking into the future, the Maynard Historical Commission is also beginning to make plans for the sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary celebration, April 2021.

Edward A. Mason, Jr., showing the Coast Guard Silver
Life-Saving Medal he was awarded in 1952. In case you did
not see the movie "The Finest Hours," two  oil tankers broke
in half in a winter storm off Cape Cod. Mason was involved in
the less dramatic rescue (4 men saved versus 32).
A February column that drew a lot of traffic to the website was about our local connection to the Coast Guard rescue events of February 1952, parts portrayed in the movie The Finest Hours. A Silver Life-Saving Medal was awarded to Edward A. Mason, Jr., Apprentice Seaman, age 23, for his part in the USS Fort Mercer rescue. The citation read in part: "Mason's exceptional courage, professional skill, and unwavering devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Coast Guard." He had lived in Stow and Maynard before enlisting, and returned to Stow to raise a family after leaving the Coast Guard. On the afternoon of February 7th he sat down in the Fine Arts Theatre in Maynard with his daughter to see the movie.

As for the new year - plan to spend more time outdoors!  Stow and Maynard have miles of trails perfect for winter hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Many of these are marked with blazes painted on trees. Keep an eye out for animal tracks.

LIFE OUTDOORS began November 2009, and is closing in on its 250th column. Topics have been mostly history-related, with the others divided across observations on nature, outdoor recreational ideas and a smattering of health-related topics. On the docket for 2017 are a history of our towns' newspapers, Rodoff Shalom Synagogue (1921-1980), what this region was like before the Europeans arrived, and more. Suggestions welcome!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Assabet River Rail Trail - Dec 2016

New photos on status of Assabet River Rail Trail, Maynard and ActonMassachusetts, as of late December. There has been a tremendous amount of work done in Maynard, much less in Acton. In Maynard, all parts widened (resulting in removal of >600 trees) and all railroad ties removed. Two-thirds of the Trail has received preliminary paving (there will be another layer added later). Curb cuts and street-crossing lights are being installed. The old footbridge was removed and abutments are in place for the new bridge. In Acton, the focus has been on the boardwalks over wetlands in front of and to the north side of The Paper Store building, on Route 27. There is also work on the north end, from Maple Street.  Other sets of photos posted in November and October.

 Click on any photo to enlarge.

Assabet River Rail Trail looking north from Summer Street, Maynard.
Apartment building (right) lost much of its tree shade and Maplebrook
Park (left) lost about one third of its area.

East abutment for the new footbridge over the Assabet River. The abutments
on both sides are bridge-ready. Installation of bridge set for Spring 2017.

Frozen canal (center) from river to mill is flanked on left by a retaining wall
for the Trail, which for this stretch parallels Winter Street, south of Rt 117.
Paving and railings not yet in place. Work continues.

January 2017 update: The bridge in Acton has been removed. A new bridge will be installed later this year. Original schedule calls for June/July.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Lafayette's 1824 Visit to Stow

Lafayette, we are here.” Thus ended a speech by Charles E. Stanton, Lieutenant Colonel on the staff of General John J. Pershing. The event was a visit to Lafayette’s tomb, on July 4, 1917, just three months after the United States has joined the war against Germany and its allies. The speech acknowledged France’s support for the American Revolutionary War. In context: “America has joined forces with the allied powers, and what we have of blood and treasure are yours. Therefore it is that with loving pride we drape the colors in tribute of respect to this citizen of your great republic. And here and now, in the presence of the illustrious dead, we pledge our hearts and our honor in carrying this war to a successful issue. Lafayette, we are here!”

Stanton could say "Lafayette" in the same way other political and military stars need only one name: Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, Mao. By his full name and title, Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier (Marquis de Lafayette) was born in 1757 into a noble French family with a LONG history of military service. Nearly 350 years before his arrival in the at-war Colonies his ancestor Gilbert de Lafayette III had been a companion-at-arms with Joan of Arc's army, fighting against English invaders. And nearly 50 years after Lafayette first arrived on our shores to fight in the Revolutionary War, he returned to the United States and visited, briefly, Stow, MA.

Portrait of Marquis de Lafayette, Lieutenant General,
French Army, 1791 (age 34 years)
Lafayette first arrived in 1777, age 19, as a volunteer, a French Army officer, but without official approval from the French government. He swiftly became an aide to General Washington, endured the winter at Valley Forge, and was given command positions in the Continental Army. He was also an essential liaison between the warring Americans and his home country, traveling back to France in 1779 and again in 1781 to beg for aid. The arrival of the French navy at Yorktown, Virginia, coinciding with land attacks by the Continental Army, in part led by Lafayette and Alexander Hamilton, led to the surrender of the British Army and the end of the War. Lafayette returned to France where he had a life-long involvement in French governments under the King, the revolution, Bonaparte and the restoration of the monarchy.

President James Monroe and Congress invited Lafayette to visit the United States in 1824-25 celebrate the nation's upcoming 50th anniversary. Lafayette was 66 at the time. His intended four month tour of the original 13 states became a thirteen month, 6,000 mile tour of 24 states, traveling by horseback, carriage, canal barge and steamboat. And this brings us to the point of our local interest. On September 2, 1824, Lafayette and his entourage left Boston via carriage to events scheduled in Lexington and Concord. Lexington claimed it was where the war started. A banner read “The birthplace of American liberty.” Concord counter-claimed it was where the colonists first fired at the British. When Lafayette visited North Bridge in Concord, Judge Samuel Hoar told him that he was looking at the spot where “the first forcible resistance was made.”

1824 portrait by Ary Scheffer
Interestingly, echoes of the Lexington/Concord feud sounded down through the years. In 1894 the Lexington Historical Society petitioned the Massachusetts State Legislature to proclaim April 19 as "Lexington Day." Concord countered with “Concord Day.” Governor Frederic Greenhalge opted for a compromise: "Patriots' Day." The Boston Marathon, started to honor the holiday, dates to 1897 - one year after the modern-era Olympics, including a marathon, was started, in Greece.

If Lafayette's coach traveled west from Concord, stopping at Stow along the way, there is only one logical route for him to have taken - Laws Brook Road to School Street to Parker Road to Concord Street to Summer Street - and hence to Stow Lower Village.

From the written records it does not appear that Stow was a planned stop, perhaps only a place to rest the horses and let the travelers stretch their legs, but there ended up being a reception of sorts. According to Crowell’s history of Stow (1933), Lafayette and his entourage reached the Stow common [next to Route 117 east of Shaw’s shopping plaza] after sunset and stayed for almost an hour. They were met by a military company led by Captain Pliny Wetherbee and feted at the Gardner Inn. The Honorable Rufus Hosmer coordinated the event. There were refreshments, the Marquis received a bouquet of flowers, and then departed into the darkness, miles to go before reaching the residence of Sampson V.S. Wilder, in Bolton, for a sumptuous feast and overnight stay. The house still stands, on Wilder Road.  

Stow Minutemen Company, 2011 (Click on photo to enlarge)
The above-described route across Stow (parts which did not become Maynard until 1871), would have been the reverse of much of the line of march of the Stow Minutemen on the morning of April 19, 1775, on their way to Concord. The Stow Minutemen Company re-enacts the march every Patriot's Day. New recruits welcome!

Lafayette had become a Freemason early in his life. There is dispute whether this had occurred before he left France, or at Valley Forge, in December 1777, with General George Washington present and acting as Master of the Lodge at the time of initiation. Regardless, he remained an active Mason, and as such, was asked to place the cornerstone of many monuments, including Bunker Hill, on the 50th anniversary of that 1775 battle. From one description, "Lafayette became so emotionally connected to the United States that he took dirt from the excavation of the Bunker Hill Monument in Massachusetts and shipped it to France so he could be buried in American soil."


Stanton speech:  http://sites.lafayette.edu/lafayettewwi/pershing-at-picpus/gilmer/

The Schiller Institute: http://www.schillerinstitute.org/educ/hist/lafayette.html

Cornell University:  http://rmc.library.cornell.edu/lafayette/exhibition/english/tour/


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Density of Stone, Wood, Water and Ice

Stone wall, corner of Maple and Brooks Streets. Estimated
weight six tons. Click on photos to enlarge.
This website has density of >300 materials as kg/cubic meter and pounds per cubic foot: http://www.simetric.co.uk/si_materials.htm

Stone is heavy. Every stone mason who has ever blackened a fingernail knows this to be true. Granite weighs 165-170 pounds per cubic foot. One 2x3 foot piece of bluestone for a walkway, two inches thick, weighs 150 pounds. Filling a wheelbarrow with gravel will exceed the safe load capacity of the wheelbarrow. Tons of stone are needed for a not particularly long or tall stone wall. 

Steel is heavier. Steel weighs 490 pounds per cubic foot. Pieces of rail on old and abandoned railroads across New England are 13 yards long and weigh half a ton or more. Going price for scrap steel is roughly ten cents per pound. Silver, surprisingly, is not much less dense than lead. The two metals come in at 655 and 709 pounds per cubic foot, respectively.  In movies where silver is being cast into bullets (perhaps to shoot a werewolf?) the silver-colored molten metal is actually lead, which becomes liquid at 621 degrees Fahrenheit. Real silver melts at 1,763 degrees and glows red hot.

Twenty-four carat gold is 1,206 pounds per cubic foot. Standard-sized gold bars are a tad under 2x4x8 inches and weigh 27.4 pounds. A regulation baseball is 12.8 cubic inches – give or take a bit – and weighs 0.3 pounds. Granite carved to the same dimensions would be 1.3 pounds; steel 3.7 pounds; lead 5.3 pounds and gold 9.0 pounds. At a late November 2016 price of $38.80 per gram, that solid gold baseball would be worth about $160,000.

Wood floats, except when it does not. Water density is 62.4 pounds per cubic foot. Many dense-wood species of trees from around the world are called “ironwood.” In Spanish-speaking regions of South America, these trees are “quebracho,” derived from “quebrar hacha,” which translates as “axe-breaker.” Wood from quebracho, ebony, lignum vitae and other species can weigh as much as 80 pounds per cubic foot.

In Massachusetts, the tree species American Hornbeam is also called ironwood, but its density is approximately 48 pounds per cubic foot, so it floats. Density of wood in part determines how much heat is produced when burned. After sufficient air drying, softwood trees such as poplar, aspen and willow weigh 20 to 25 pounds per cubic foot. Ash, birch and elm are intermediate woods with weights of 35 to 40 pounds. The common hardwoods, which include apple, beech and oak, all exceed 40 pounds.

Cord for cord, the net heating value of oak or sugar maple will be nearly double that of poplar or aspen. An equal weight of coal will deliver nearly twice the heat of hardwoods. For all wood, the higher moisture content of green wood means less heat generated compared to wood properly air dried, the reason being that heat is lost vaporizing the water content. Splitting speeds the drying process.

Pure water weighs 1,000 kilograms per cubic meter. Converted to English units, that becomes 62.4 pounds per cubic foot. A gallon of water weighs 8.33 pounds; thus, the mnemonic "a pint weighs a pound," is close, but not spot-on. Sea water, because of the dissolved minerals, has a higher density of 1,026 kg per cubic meter. Ice from fresh water has a density of 919 kg per cubic meter. Dividing by 16.02 to get to pounds per cubic foot yields 57.3 pounds.  

Salt crystal melts surrounding snow.
Because of the salt content, ocean
water freezes at 28F. Water with a
higher salt content would have an
even lower freezing temperature.
As ice is only eight percent lighter than water, it would take an ice floe with the dimensions eight inches thick and 7x7 feet square to (barely) support a 160 pound person. Obviously, when walking on a frozen lake, it is the tensile strength of ice spreading the weight burden over a wide area rather than the floatation capacity of the ice directly underfoot that keeps you from plunging through. On fresh water, four inches of clear ice is considered the safe minimum for skating, walking or ice fishing.

Locally, winters average 40 to 50 inches of snow per year. The loose rule of thumb is ten inches of snow equates to one inch of rain. That puts snow at 100 kg per cubic meter, or 6.2 pounds per cubic foot. Wetter snow will be denser. Powdery snow will be much lighter. Roof melt that ends up on an unheated porch or garage roof can refreeze. In this way a flattish roof with an area of 20x20 feet could easily end up supporting two to three tons of dense snow and ice.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Stow's (MA) Cemetery - Headstone Art

Stow's Lower Village Cemetery, burials 1700 to present.
Slate headstones meant to be read while standing opposite
the grave. Click on photos to enlarge.
In the early Stow years, when people died, they were buried in the Lower Village Cemetery with their graves oriented east-west, feet pointing east, so that on Resurrection Day, when “…the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised…” they would arise facing the new day. Headstones were inscribed on the far side of the deceased. This way, a person reading the inscription would be standing on the other side from the body.

The Lower Village Cemetery was located near the original meeting house. A kiosk on the south side of the cemetery has a map on one side with numbers for the graves and a numerically ordered list of the 500-odd burials on the other side, showing names, dates of death, ages and dates of birth. The list is not up to date, as there are at least a half-dozen 21st century burials not shown. The earliest interment on record dates to 1711. Given Stow was settled in the 1680s, either everyone was preternaturally healthy or else earlier burials were not properly recorded. 

UMK for graves without headstones
Colonial era graveyards were not as tidy as now. Families did not own plots, graves were dug between graves, and over long periods of time stones were lost and burial spaces reused. Bones of the previously deceased were dumped in a common pit, burned, or left under where the new coffin would go. Stow's oldest cemetery is not quite that ancient, but there are many spaces where gravestones had once been, the only evidence now being a circular metal marker flush with the ground, lettered "UMK" for unmarked.

One of the few skull motif headstones in Lower Village Cemetery

The great majority of the headstones in Lower Village are made of slate, many obscured by over-growing lichen. Fewer are marble. Fewer still, granite. Familiar names include Brooks, Brown, Conant, Gates, Goodnow, Hale, Randall, Taylor and Whitney. Among the Whitneys, one stone is for Richard Whitney (1692-1775), next to it Hannah, his wife, and next to her Hannah, his wife. Richard and Hannah-1 had eight children before she died at the age of 50. Two years later he married Hannah-2, a widow who had five children from her first marriage. Richard and Hannah-2 had no additional children. They both passed away in 1775, after 30 years together.

Eastern Massachusetts headstone art changed through the centuries, the changes usually beginning in Boston and the neighboring cities, then radiating outward. The 1600s were characterized by a death's head - a toothy stylized skull flanked by wings. By the 1700s another iconographic motif took over. Called a winged cherub or a soul effigy, this motif was characterized by a fleshy face and life-like eyes, again flanked by wings. Many of the headstones in the Lower Village Cemetery display this image. By the late 1700s and early 1800s headstones featured a willow tree, an urn, or often the combination of the two. The willow was an ancient symbol of mourning. Urns were symbols of Roman-era items used to contain the deceased's ashes.

Headstone art in the Hartshorn/Mullicken style
A small subset of stones in Stow present an entirely different direction - a simplified, mask-like face, no wings, with much of the rest of the stone showing circles filled with spirals or stylized flower outlines. These look very modern, but date to 1700-1760. Massachusetts stone carvers associated with this style were John Hartshorn, Robert Mullicken and Mullicken's three sons.

To visit this cemetery, park at Shaw's Plaza and walk over. Its layout predates the Rural Cemetery Movement, which made its first appearance in the United States with Mount Auburn Cemetery, in Cambridge (1831). That innovation called for a site distant from the immediate neighborhood of meeting houses or churches, either town owned or privately owned, often on a hillside near the outer edges of town, with winding paths and extensive landscaping. Cemeteries became not what you passed on your way to Sunday service, but rather a place you might visit to honor the departed, take a meditative walk, or even have a picnic. Stow's newest cemetery - Brookside (1864) - is more aligned with the latter concept while Hillside (1849) - Stow's second cemetery - is more of the old style.

Cupid design for headstone; popular in the 1700s
Tombstone art has become common again. Headstones now tend to be long-lasting granite. Rather than being hand-carved, these very hard stones are etched with a computer-guided laser. Images can range from simple information to portraits of the departed, or perhaps something important from their life. In Matinicus Cemetery, Matinicus Island, Maine, some of the stones include an image of the lobster boat that belonged to the deceased.  

Maynard's Glenwood Cemetery was dedicated in 1871, so it contains none of these old-style slate stones or headstone art. There are 20-30 stones dated earlier than 1871; either these were buried in anticipation that the town would purchase the land for a town cemetery or else they were relocated from family plots on family land after the cemetery was open for business. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Hidden History of Maynard


Cover photo from 1910

128 pages. 54 illustrations 
Publisher: The History Press
ISBN: 978.1.62619.541.7
Price: $19.99 (e-book $9.99)

The book is available in Maynard at The Paper Store, as e-book at various venues, or directly from the author.

Maynard resident David A. Mark brings his years of experience as a writer to create this fact-populated collection of fifty short essays gathered into seven theme-linked chapters. The contents were originally published 2012-14 as Mark’s column in Maynard’s newspaper, the Beacon-Villager.

I continue to write for the newspaper.
My more recent columns are posted at

In this, his second book, the content is 100% history. Chapters again cover the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, plus a focus on the unusual people and unusual businesses that prospered here. So, from the question as to why there was a mink ranch in Maynard, to whether Babe Ruth came a-drinking here when he lived in Sudbury, here is David Mark with his well-researched and entertaining answers to those questions.  

Only in Maynard
Meet the Maynard Family
19th Century
20th Century
Unusual Businesses
Unusual People
21st Century
Click on photo to enlarge


MAYNARD: History and Life Outdoors (2011)
128 pages. 53 illustrations 
Publisher: The History Press
ISBN: 978.1.60949.303.5
Price: $19.99

Maynard: History and LifeOutdoors mixes 2/3 local history with 1/3 observations on nature and local recreational activities as a means of exploring what Maynard, Massachusetts offers to anyone willing to get away from too much time looking at screens and not enough time spent seeing, hearing, touching and smelling the life going on outside. History starts with eighteenth century stone walls, then carries forward to twenty-first century river clean-ups and farmers’ markets. Nature spans skunks to skunk cabbage, deer to deer ticks, and birds to bird food. Recreational sports essays range from describing the slow-motion, nightmarish feel of snow shoeing to how to avoid overhydration – the potentially deadly opposite of dehydration.

Author selfie, one fine cold morning (5ยบ F)
Maynard – Why “Outdoors”
Eighteenth Century
Birds and Bugs
Nineteenth Century
Assabet River 
Twentieth Century
Marble/Whitney/Parmenter Farm
Twenty-first Century

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Acacia Communications, Maynard, MA

A Billion Dollar Company in Maynard (again)

Acacia Communications is one of the tenants in Mill & Main, and until May of this year has been a 'stealth' company, meaning privately owned by founders, employees and venture capitalists and thus below the news radar nationally and locally. All that ended when Acacia (hard C and long A, accent on second syllable: a-KAY-sha) conducted an initial public offering (IPO) of stock.

Suddenly, Acacia had become a technology unicorn, defined as a newly listed company with a valuation in excess of one billion dollars. Acacia is rare among tech unicorns with recent IPOs in that it is already profitable. Which begs the question - what, exactly, does Acacia Communications do?

From a non-technical interpretation of the company's website, Acacia appears to make really, really, really fast devices that send and receive bits of information. A more technical description: signal processing devices that utilize silicon photonics - integrating light signals and electronics using semiconductor technology - to simultaneously lower power consumption and increase speed over fiber optic cable. From the company's website: "Connecting at the speed of light."

Speed is of paramount importance as more and more information is in the cloud, meaning in remote storage, rather than on individual computers. The current product line includes devices operating at up to 400 Gbps (gigabits per second). 

It is traditional for the U.S. stock markets (Dow Jones, NASDAQ...) to
invite staff from the company that is having its initial public offering (IPO)
of stock to be at the stock exchange and ring the opening bell. This internet
downloaded photo is from May 13, 2016. Acacia's stock symbol is ACIA. 
Acacia started at Clocktower Place, now Mill & Main, in 2009 with 8,000 square feet of office and laboratory space. Product sales began in 2011. As of this fall the company has grown to 257 employees - the majority in Maynard - and is actively hiring. The company occupies 58,000 square feet with expansion plans that will almost double that.  

Mehrdad Givehchi, co-founder, and Vice President of Hardware and Software, was asked how the company got started, and why it is in Maynard. He and his co-founders had been with Mintera, in Acton, doing much the same type of research and development. They left around the time it was acquired by Oclaro, a California based company.

According to Givehchi, "We were attracted to Maynard for its location in the greater Boston area and the potential for expanding office, R&D and manufacturing within the mill complex." He added, "In Maynard we support research, development, initial manufacturing, new product introduction, sales and financial operations. We believe that having these functions under one roof has helped to improve our efficiency."  

As for involvement in the local community, Acacia indicated that it intends to be more active now that it is a publicly help company. Acacia is one of the sponsors for the 2017 Maynard High School Band and Chorus trip to Disney World, which includes performing in a Disney park.

Other one-time billion dollar tenants in the mill complex were DEC and Monster. Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) started in the mill in 1957 with an initial rental of 8,680 square feet and rose to be the second-largest computer company after IBM, with annual sales in excess of $10 billion and 130,000 employees worldwide. It owned all of the mill complex plus other facilities in Maynard, including a helicopter landing pad. Downsizing and spin-offs began in 1992 and continued until the last core of DEC was purchased by Compaq in 1998. Many local residents were once Digital employees. Most still remember their badge number.

Monster Worldwide, known for its jobsearch website Monster.com and its entertaining commercials premiering during Superbowl games, moved to Maynard in 1998 and remained headquartered at Clocktower Place until March 2014, when it relocated to Weston. As recently as ten years ago it was valued in excess of $5 billion and occupied 250,000 square feet of office space in the mill complex, but this significantly downsized company was purchased in August 2016 for only $429 million. Monster continues to exist as a profitable international jobsearch company.

Stratus Technologies moved into the mill complex in 2016 with the rental of 100,000 square feet, so not quite the same origins story line as DEC and Monster. Stratus began as Stratus Computers in 1980 in Natick. A part spun off as Stratus Technologies in 1999. The core of ST's business is fault tolerant computers and operating systems that are "Always-on," with extremely rare down time. Stratus is not a publicly held company, so harder to get a grip on the history of its financial arc, but the company was acquired in 2014 for $350 million.

I wish I had bought Acacia stock back in June. I also wish we had kept the 200 shares of Apple we bought in 1983 rather than selling for a modest profit in 1984. With all stock splits that 200 shares has become 5,600 shares, and...  well, you figure it out.  

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Assabet River Rail Trail - Nov 2016

Photos on status of Assabet River Rail Trail, Maynard and Acton, Massachusetts, as of mid-November. There has been a tremendous amount of work done in Maynard, much less in Acton. In Maynard, all parts widened (resulting in removal of >600 trees) and all railroad ties removed. Two-thirds of the Trail has received preliminary paving (there will be another layer added later). Curb cuts and street-crossing lights are being installed. The old footbridge was removed and abutments are in place for the new bridge. In Acton, the focus has been on the boardwalks over wetlands in front of and to the north side of The Paper Store building, on Route 27. There is also work on the north end, from Maple Street. Click on any photo to enlarge:

This is the Stow end, at the Maynard/Stow border. In the opposite direction the future path of the Rail Trail continues as unpaved 'Track Road.' Access to this end is via White Pond Road. No parking allowed at the Trail end, but there is a lot a short distance south in the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge. Dogs (leashed) allowed on Trail but not in Refuge. 
This sand, soil and gravel site near the DPW garage, at the end of Winter Street, is a future ARRT parking lot. From this location it is a short portage to the Ice House Landing canoe and kayak launch site on the Assabet River.
Complicated construction at the 117 end of Winter Street, with the road on one side and the canal on the other. The canal connects the Assabet River to the Mill Pond. Water from that pond was used to power waterwheels and wash wool. The complex of mill buildings was a woolen mill from 1847 to 1952 (starting small, enlarged as years passed). The existing brick buildings of the mill complex date from 1859 to 1918. 

Road crossings will have flashing lights activated when someone wants to cross. This one is next to the former Knights of Columbus building. That building is on the site of  the Riverside CO-OP, which burned January 30, 1936.

Bike crossings will be indicated on the pavement approaching the crossing. The view is from the Nason Street intersection with Summer Street, looking west (uphill) on Summer Street. The brick building on the right is apartments, occupied 2004.
Acton, parallel to Route 27. The light-colored material on both sides of the trial is an erosion barrier, temporary until after the paving and landscaping are completed. This section is bordered on both sides by wetlands. 
Pilings will support a boardwalk over a stormwater retention pond next to The Paper Store building on Route 27, then continue along the north side over 150 yards of wetlands before reaching dry land again.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Mallard Ducks in Mating Season

Male Mallard duck in mating season. Males are called drakes, females hens.
Ducks molt (shed feathers) twice a year. Males sport these bright colors from
October to March, otherwise the same drab, mottled browns of females.
Only females quack. Only males have the curled tail feathers. 
Mating and reproduction is a prolonged process for Mallard ducks. Males sport their mating feathers - most obviously the bright green head and neck feathers - starting in fall and all winter long. This is the time when ducks pair up. Ducks do not carry over the same pairing from year to year (unlike swans), but during the course of one mating and egg laying season, attempt to be a monogamous couple.

The key word is "attempt." Males do not contribute to nest-sitting time nor care for offspring. Due to higher predator risks to females from their nesting on land and during weeks of care of ducklings, adult males outnumber females by 10 to 25 percent. Unpaired males will pursue paired females and attempt to forcibly mate with them. Paired males will defend their mates, but also briefly leave to force mating on other females. Females try to escape non-pair mating. Despite the best efforts of paired couples, genetic analysis has shown that many broods  - typically 8 to 12 ducklings hatching from eggs laid at one to two day intervals - contain ducklings sired by multiple male parents.

Eggs hatch in a month. The newly hatched ducklings are precocial, meaning hatching with downy feathers, eyes open, and capable of moving about on land and on water within hours after hatching. From birth to fledging - the completion of growth of adult feathers that allow the young birds to fly - takes two months. During this period the ducklings stay close to their mother. From her, they learn where to feed and how to hide from predators. Predation is high. In addition to predator birds such as hawks, ducklings are at risk from herons, snapping turtles and even large fish. Those that survive reach adult weight of two to three pounds in three to four months and will be able to breed next year. In the wild, Mallards may live five to ten years; in captivity can exceed twenty years.

Mallards - like geese and swans - are "dabblers," meaning that they bottom feed in shallow water by dipping head downward, tilting tail up. Other duck species and distant relatives such as loons are by contrast "divers," spending 10 to 40 seconds at a time completely submerged. What Mallards are eating when head down is everything: water plants (greens and roots), insect larvae, tadpoles, snails, small fish... Like Canada geese, Mallards will also land-feed on seeds and farmers' crops such as wheat and barley. Prior to and during egg-laying season females will shift to a higher percentage of animal matter because of the need for a higher protein diet. Keep in mind that a clutch of eggs - laid over two weeks - can be as much as half the mother's body weight.

As everyone who has ever visited Maynard's Farmers Market knows, ducks are happy to eat any bread people are willing to cast on the waters of the mill pond. Yes, they are happy to eat bread. No, they don't need it. Bread does not provide all the vitamins and minerals they require, and feeding birds teaches them bad habits. (When ducks learn to fly toward people it does not always end well.) Junk food once a week will not put the ducks in harm's way. Daily feeding will. Keep in mind that the mill pond and neighboring waters contain far more to eat than the birds can ever consume.

Internet download. Click on photos to enlarge.
Do people shoot ducks? Yes, but not so much in Massachusetts. According to flyways.us, the Mallard population in North America - migrating between the US and Canada - is estimated at 11.8 million. During the 2015 hunting season 3.4 million were reported killed by licensed hunters. The count for our state was around 5,000. Back in the day, our own American Powder Mill, located on the Maynard/Acton border, sold smokeless gunpowder under the brand "Dead Shot." The brand's image was a male Mallard duck falling from the sky.

By the way, lead shotgun pellets have been banned in the U.S. for more than twenty years, reducing by millions the numbers of waterfowl suffering from lead poisoning, either from surviving being wounded, or from fallen pellets being swallowed by bottom-feeding birds.  

In late spring adults molt (shed their feathers). Males forego their mating coloration for the summer, adopting the same drab browns as females until the fall molt, when they get gaudy again.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Myths of Stow and Maynard


Oliver Cromwell's head
The historical setting: To understand how intent Charles II, the British king, was on punishing the 59 men who eleven years earlier had signed the death warrant for his father, King Charles I, on his orders Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) was subjected to posthumous execution. Cromwell was disinterred in 1660, his corpse hanged, then beheaded. His head placed on a spike on the roof of Westminster Hall, London. It remained there until a storm brought it down 25 years later. Found by a passer-by and hidden, it appears to have ended up in private ownership through the centuries, until finally buried in 1960. 

Of the other 58 regicides, five had died before the regency was restored, 13 were executed (hanged, drawn and quartered), 19 were imprisoned and 21 fled the country. Three of the last escaped to the English colonies. One of them ended up in Stow (or not).

Hanged, drawn and quartered: In Britain, the proper order of events for a man convicted of high treason back in that era was that he be dragged behind a horse, on a simple wooded frame ("drawn"), then hanged but not to death ("hanged"), emasculated, disemboweled - the entrails and organs cast on a fire, beheaded, and finally, the body divided into four pieces ("quartered"), to be displayed at different places about the country. Quartering could be by cutting or by tying ropes from the limbs of the headless body to four horses. Heads of the executed were put on public display. The dispersal and display of body parts prevented a proper burial. All this is what happened to William Wallace in 1305, as portrayed by Mel Gibson in the movie Braveheart.

William Goffe (1605-?) and his father-in-law Edward Whalley arrived in Boston in 1660. Within the year it became clear that the Royalist government was vigorously pursing their capture. Sympathizers to the anti-Royalist cause aided their escape, first to New Haven, then Milford, and then onward to Hadley, just west of Amherst, in 1664. There they lived a reclusive life until 1676, their true identities known only by a few. Goffe was able to maintain a letter correspondence with his wife, who had remained in England. He was using the name Walter Goldsmith, and in the letters they referred to each other as mother and son rather than wife and husband. He would never see his wife or children again.

There is a perhaps apocryphal story referred to as "The Angel of Hadley," in which an elderly man with a sword and military expertise appears a sudden in Hadley in 1676, where he rallies the townsmen to fend off an Indian attack, then departs. The story identifies the hero as William Goffe.   

Regicide grave? Stow, MA
At this point the story bifurcates. One history has Goffe living in Hartford under an assumed name Duffell or Cooke, where he died circa 1680 and was buried in an unmarked grave. The other has him living in Stow near Pompositticut Hill (now Summer Hill, Maynard) under the name John Green/Greene, where he died in 1688. In this version of history he came to Stow because his sister lived here.

According to the 2009 book Stow Things, Goffe's sister was married to Thomas Stevens. Stevens was one of the original settler's of Stow, circa 1684. The big problem for this version is that a biographical note about Thomas Stevens, buried in the Stow cemetery 1704, has him married to Mary Green, the daughter of Church Elder John Green, of Charleston. Mary had a brother, Captain John Green (1620-1688). More likely his was the body under the stone than William Goffe.

In Stow's Lower Village cemetery there is a ground-flush granite slab some 9 x 4.5 feet in size, with no inscription, supposedly Goffe's final resting place. In 1930 the grave was exhumed, revealing a man's bones but no skull. The enduring belief is that Goffe's grave was dug up shortly after his death, his head removed and brought to England for the reward.


Maynard's best-known myth is much more mundane. As the story goes, circa 1720, a group of men showed up at the Thomas Smith family homestead asking for shelter from a storm, and were allowed to stay in the barn for several days. An account of the story: "The men were friendly and liberal with their money, paying generously for everything they obtained from the Smith family. The strangers were noted amusing themselves by throwing pieces-of-eight at the swallows around the barn. Before leaving, they procured some old clothing from the Smiths and made the clothing into sacks. They also asked to borrow some digging tools. Carrying the sacks, now observed to be loaded with something heavy, the men entered the woods in a northerly direction from the Smith house. When they returned, they were empty-handed. The men thanked Smith for his hospitality and left. They were never seen again."

In time, Smith received a letter from a man claiming to have been one of the visitors. The letter stated that the writer and his companions had been pirates, now captured, convicted, and about to be hanged. The writer asked that Smith come to Boston to see them, promising information of great value. Per the story, Smith ignored the request. There is no mention of Thomas Smith or his family members searching for (or finding) buried treasure. The story begs the question of what might have brought pirates so far inland or how they had been carrying the treasure if they needed to make sacks.

As for links to known history, John Smith came from England and settled in north Sudbury. Thomas Smith (1658-1718) was one of his sons, with a homestead on Great Road (Route 117). As for the treasure - who knows? Clearly it was not buried anywhere close to the Smith house or barn. The "northerly direction" the men purportedly walked in could mean anywhere between Route 117 and the Assabet River - far too vague a description to entice anyone with a shovel or metal detector to go treasure hunting.

I mean it. The people who own the Smith properties on Route 117 are tired of strangers knocking at the door asking permission to wander around with a metal detector - or worse - not bothering to ask. If there is ANY truth to this story, either the Smiths located the treasure (they were a well-off, land owning family going forward), or the site was north of the property, toward the Assabet River.  


The primary source for this story is the 1891 book Annals of Sudbury, Wayland and Maynard, by Alfred S. Hudson. Page 70 has the core of the story: Smith family homestead, strangers appear during spring storm, stay in barn, borrow digging tools, depart, letter received later from the men, Smith did not go to see what it was about. Does not mention a year and unsure whether it was about Thomas Smith or another of the family. In 1991 the Maynard Beacon recounted the story, as told to the reporter by Ralph Sheridan, town historian. The homeowners at that time said that trespassers show up with metal detectors. Lastly, a 2005 book Buried Treasures of New England, W.C. Jameson, dedicated four pages to "The Maynard Treasure." The core story is identical to Hudson's: strangers visit, borrow shovels for a mysterious errand, depart, later a letter from prison. The tale is heavily added to with details I believe Jameson made up: it specifies six men garbed in sailors' clothes pushing three handcarts who paid a gold coin for privilege of staying in barn, stayed a week and left ten pieces-of-eight when they departed. In Jameson's version the letter is described as coming 18 months later. Then, after a few days delay to complete farmwork, Smith travels to Boston by horse and wagon to get directions for locating the treasure, only to learn that the men had been hanged the previous day.  

Monday, October 10, 2016

Assabet River Rail Trail - Oct 2016

Photos on status of Assabet River Rail Trail, Maynard and Acton, Massachusetts, as of mid-October. Click on any photo to enlarge:

Between Summer and Concord Streets the old railroad ties have been
removed and clean fill brought in and compacted eighteen feet wide (for
what in the end will be twelve foot wide paved with two foot wide stone
dust shoulders). Additional clearing on sides. This was paved with base layer
on October 18th. Final paving and landscaping scheduled for 2017.

The town parking lot behind the Paper Store and Outdoor Store and Subway
lost end-on parking on the north side to make room for the Trail. When
completed, there will be parallel parking. One result is that the driving
lanes become narrow compared to what was there before.

This is one side of the abutments being constructed to anchor the new bridge
over the Assabet River. Original schedule was completion by March 2017,
but now looks more like January. The new bridge will be longer and much 
wider than the wooden bridge it replaces.
Binder (base) paving started the week of October 10-14. Base asphalt has larger stones
and less tar than surface paving, which will be done either later this fall or
early 2017. Most of the Trail from High Street (photo) all the way to the
Stow border is now paved. Work will move to next to Main and Railroad Streets.
The binder paving is 12 feet wide, which will be the Trail width when completed.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

ArtSpace Building Centennial

Maynard High School 1940 (Courtesy Maynard Historical Society)
Life-long Maynard residents 70 and older would have graduated high school from the building that now hosts ArtSpace. When viewed from Summer Street, the wing on the right side was Maynard's fourth high school. It opened on October 2, 1916, making the class of 1917 the first graduating class. Construction cost $61,600. The town's voters had approved the idea of a new high school in 1913, then more specifically a school on this site in 1915. This is the part of the structure that is 100 years old. The rest was built ten years later.

In 1916 Maynard had a population of 6,770, with town water (but no town sewer system), electric street lights, houses lit by gas lamps or electric lights, more horses than cars, a train station, and a trolley line servicing Hudson, Stow, Maynard, Acton and Concord. There were five hotels. Silent movies were shown at Colonial Hall, above what is now Roasted Peppers restaurant.

Maynard High School graduating class of 1917 (Courtesy MHS)
High school classes were at this site from 1916 to 1964, then relocated to a new building on the south side of town. The vacated building became Emerson Junior High School (1964-1980), later renamed Fowler Middle School (1980-2000). The left wing - initially housing Fowler Elementary school - opened in 1926, as did the center building, containing George Washington Auditorium.

Back in 1916-17 the school year was Labor Day to the end of June. Morning classes were 8:30 to 11:45. Afternoons 1:15 to 3:45. Half-days Wednesdays. There was no school lunch, nor any school bus transportation. The school had eight classrooms and 165 students – 78 boys and 87 girls. In that era school was mandatory through age 16, so the two lower grades had about 60 students each, whereas there were only 30 in the junior class and 16 in the graduating class.

The Principal was Horace F. Bates, graduate of Harvard. His salary was $1,480. Teachers included graduates from Wellesley College, Brown College and Boston University. Curriculum was basic – divided into Academic and Commercial tracks. Music and art were each taught once a week. No foreign languages. No AP courses.

Maynard High School baseball team, spring of 1917
The school was actually nameless until 1932, when "Maynard High School" was approved at a Town Meeting vote. The year after the new school opened football was re-started as a school team, after twelve years without. The team lost the first game by a score of 59-0.

As noted above, the high school relocated to the south side of town in 1964. The elementary school was next, followed last by Fowler Middle School in 2000. Four years earlier the town had voted to appoint a Fowler School Building Reuse Committee. The conclusion, reached in 1999, was that the only realistic plan was to lease the space to a non-profit arts/cultural group.   

The official transfer of the building to ArtSpace Inc. took place January 2001. Today, ArtSpace provides 43 studio spaces for 80 artists. Demand remains high, with perhaps two or three studios becoming available each year. Rent for the artists is about nine dollars per square foot. The money raised suffices to pay for staff and operating costs. The town owns the building and property but pays nothing toward maintenance or operating costs.

ArtSpace main entrance, in the 90 year old part of the building.
Click on any photo to enlarge.
ArtSpace continues to be fully occupied by artists, some in place since the start, and has a waiting list of applicants. Priority is given to Maynard residents. Many of the studios are open to the public every second Saturday of every month. The ArtSpace Gallery is a wonderful exhibition space presenting new and important contemporary art by both in-house and nationally known artists. All this offers a wonderful - and free - opportunity to see art, chat with artists and buy their art. Acme Theater offers a place for people to collaborate in all aspects of theater production and performance. Together, these organizations are an essential part of Maynard's cultural variety and strength. More information at www.artspacemaynard.com and www.acmetheater.com.

Disclosure: Mark is a member of the ArtSpace Board of Directors.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Whatever Happened to Maynard's Stone Walls?

Wall behind 60 Nason Street, built to provide a firm base for the railroad tracks
circa 1850. Site of current ARRT construction.  Click on photo to enlarge.
New England’s famed stonework is a reminder of a period 150-250 years ago when dry-laid stone was part of every household: fences, walls, foundations, root cellars and more.  But anyone who has passed through Maynard and neighboring towns will notice Maynard’s relative dearth of stone fences and stone walls. Where did the stones go?  

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.

In time, the stumps of trees left in fields were rotten enough to pull out of the soil and were laid along the border. 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. The goal, always, was to keep horses, cattle, sheep and pigs out of the fields.

By the end of the Revolutionary War most of eastern Massachusetts was almost denuded of trees. What wood was left was used for building materials, heat and cooking fires. 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 just 10 to 20 feet of stone fence. Most of what we see crisscrossing New England was originally post and rail over a low stone fence, and laid down between 1775 and 1850. Barbed wire, the easy solution, was not perfected until 1874.

Compared to the surrounding towns of Stow, Acton, Concord, and Sudbury, Maynard has very few remaining stone fences. As farms were divided into lots for houses and stone-bordered roads widened, many of the stones were hauled away to build the foundations of new houses. For example, the houses on Maple Street were built in the 1870’s with fieldstone foundations capped by brick above ground. But some remnants of stone fences can be found in Maynard. The hiking trail from Summer Street to the top of Summer Hill crosses a stone fence about half-way up, confirming that the top of Summer Hill was once a near-treeless cow pasture.  

Extensive stone fences can also be seen along the south side of ‘Track Road’ (the old railroad right-of-way and future Assabet River Rail Trail) as one walks from Maynard into Stow.  The woods south of one of these fences is all pine trees approximately 70 years old, suggesting that this pasture was abandoned when the land was seized by the U.S. Army during WW II.

Copestone-topped wall near church on Walnut Street
Stone walls are rarer than stone fences. Stone walls are what we see around churchyards, cemeteries and facing the road in front of the well-off homesteads.  In Maynard there are examples of these as mill races, river walls, and walls keeping private yards from washing away onto the sidewalks or streets. A very large retaining wall holds up the railroad right-of-way behind the apartment building at Nason and Summer Streets. A hope here is that it will remain undisturbed as the rail trail is built. Flat-topped ‘capstones’ line the tops of low stone retaining walls throughout town. In contrast, ‘copestones’ were set on edge on tops of walls to discourage wall sitters. Look for copestones near Maynard’s older churches.

Dry stonework, meaning constructed without binding mortar, is always at risk of theft of stone - a big problem throughout New England. Thieves have been known to back up a truck to a homeowner's border wall, or even a cemetery (!) and take the best stones off the top.
Stone on town property is not up for grabs, either. Tumble-down stone walls crisscrossing woodland are part of our collective heritage, a reminder of farmland gone wild again, and should never be moved or removed.

Poet Robert Frost famously wrote "Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,...” He meant winter freezes. Bad enough, but repairable. Once a wall is gone, it's gone.

The above is a slightly revised repeat of my first column, published November 2009. Below, a column fragment, never published.

 Density of Stone, Steel, Silver and Gold

This stone wall at the junction of Maple and Brook Streets is eight feet long,
four feet high and tapers from three feet thick at the base to two feet at the top.
Volume = 80 cubic feet. Mostly granite. Estimated weight = 10,000 pounds.  
Stone is heavy. Every stone mason who has ever blackened a fingernail knows this to be true. Granite weighs 168 pounds per cubic foot. Filling a wheel- barrow with gravel will far exceed the safe load capacity of the wheelbarrow. Tons and tons of stone are needed for a not particularly tall or long stone wall.

Steel is heavier. Steel weighs approximately 490 pounds per cubic foot. Pieces of rail on old and abandoned railroads across New England are 13 yards long a bit under 100 pounds per yard. Going price for scrap steel is roughly 15 cents per pound. New rails are marked near the ends with pounds per yard, manufacturer’s brand, and year and month made.

Silver, surprisingly, is not much less dense than lead. The two metals come in at 655 and 709 pounds per cubic foot, respectively.  In movies where silver is being cast into bullets (perhaps to shoot a werewolf?) the silvery molten metal is actually lead, which becomes liquid at 621 degrees Fahrenheit. Real silver melts at 1763 degrees and would be glowing red. Twenty-four carat gold is 1206 pounds per cubic foot. Standard-sized gold bars are 1.5 x 3.25 x 10 inches and weigh 27.4 pounds (400 ounces). In the movie The Italian Job the Mini Coopers escaping with the gold would each have been loaded with gold weighing more than the car itself!

In baseball terms, a regulation baseball is 12.8 cubic inches – give or take a bit – and weighs 0.3 pounds. Granite carved to the same dimensions would be 1.3 pounds; steel 3.7 pounds; lead 5.3 pounds and gold 9.0 pounds. At a late September 2016 price of $42.46 per gram, that solid gold baseball would be worth about $175,000.