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:

The Schiller Institute:

Cornell University:

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:

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. 

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 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.  

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.  

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 and

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.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

OARS Annual River Cleanup 2016

OARS: Poster listing sponsors.
Click on photos to enlarge.
The OARS 30th Annual River Cleanup took place on September 17, 2016. Teams of an estimated 200+ volunteers were assigned locations along the Assabet, Sudbury and Concord rivers. In Maynard, nearly 30 high school students were part of the effort, their presence organized by Maynard High School science teacher Rochelle Lerner.

At the post-event pizza celebration, dirtied and tired workers were joined by U.S. Congressional Representative Niki Tsongas and State Representative Kate Hogan, who had both been making a morning's effort to visit several of the day's river events. Tsongas and Hogan spoke to how efforts of organizations such as OARS (Organization for the Assabet, Sudbury and Concord Rivers) have made such a difference to our state's waterways. They also thanked the students for this year's service and charged them with the need to give something back to their community and country wherever their lives take them.

This appeared to be a watershed year (pun intended), as Maynard had more volunteers than trash to be removed from the river. Past years had yielded as many as 100 car and truck tires, plus bicycles, shopping carts, and tons of iron pipe, scrap metal, broken pottery, old carpets and miscellaneous junk. This year, only two tires, one bicycle, and an estimated total of less than one ton of glass, metal, plastic, broken furniture, etc. Not much in the way of newer stuff such as aluminum cans or plastic bottles. Clearly, less and less is being thrown into the river each year. Hurrah!   

Elmo (from Sesame Street), here posed kicking a soccer ball, was
salvaged from the river, as was hundreds of pounds of miscellaneous trash.
Each year the finds from the river include intact glass bottles with a bit of history. A Coca-Cola bottle, volume 6.5 ounces, with "LOWELL" inscribed on the bottom, was dated to the mid-1950s. In 2013 the find was an amber glass pint bottle embossed with the words CALDWELL'S RUM and the image of a three-masted sailing ship alongside a dock. The company had been started by Alexander Caldwell in 1790. Markings on the bottom signified that the bottle had been made for Caldwell's Rum in 1953 by the Anchor Hocking Glass Company. The oldest find to date is a one cup size bottle embossed with TURNER CENTRE SYSTEM, representing a dairy bottling and home delivery company active 100 years ago. 

Trash collected by the students.
 This year's find was a plain glass bottle with NEW ENGLAND VINEGAR WORKS embossed on the bottom, no other markings. Turns out NEVW began its life in 1865 in Somerville as the Standard Vinegar Company. Arthur Rowse bought the company in 1900, changed the name to New England Vinegar Works in 1907, then moved it to Littleton in 1930 to be closer to Massachusetts' apple orchards. Some time around then or a bit before, he created the name Veryfine, after bringing in pasteurization equipment and going into the apple juice business.

Veryfine and its popular bottled water brand Fruit2O remained a family owned business until 2004, when it was sold to Kraft. As part of the deal, the Rowse family insisted that Kraft keep any of the 400 employees who wanted to stay. Approximately fifteen million dollar from the sale was used to pay bonuses to employees; those who had been there more than 20 years got a bonus equal to a full year's pay. Kraft sold Veryfine to Sunny Delight in 2007. Sunny Delight closed the Littleton facility at the end of 2015 while continuing to make the Veryfine and Fruit2O brands at other sites. The Veryfine label has a banner that reads "Since 1865." Let's just call that a stretch.

As to the means by which thousands upon thousands of glass bottles ended up in the stretch of the Assabet as it wended it way through Maynard, think bridges and backyards, and the opinion that anything disposed into the river went "away." This is not a new problem. From the 1913 Annual Report of the State Board of Health "The Assabet River has at various times been seriously polluted in different parts of its course, the most serious condition in recent years below Maynard where the river receives sewage and manufacturing waste from a very large woolen mill and a considerable quantity of sewage also from the town... the river continues to be objectionable in appearance and odor, especially below Maynard."

To learn more about our rivers, go to:

U.S. Congress Representative Niki Tsongas (right) and State Representative Kate Hogan (dark suit, 
left of center) pose with Maynard High School students. Kneeling is Alison Field-Juma, Executive Director 
of OARS (left) and Lisa Vernegaard, Executive Director of Sudbury Valley Trustees (right). Science teacher 
Rochelle Lerner is in green shirt, to left.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Maynard's High Schools 1871-2016

The school that opened for the 2013-14 school year replaced the building next door that had served as Maynard's High School for 49 years. The high school before that one had served for 48 years. The next to last school had a troubled gestation. In 1961 the town vote was against building a new high school. This was short-sighted, as the existing school had an official maximum capacity of 350 students (already exceeded), no library and a too-small gym. One year later the vote went the other way, in favor of spending up to $1.7 million dollars to go forward. 

The project was way overdue. Projections based on the Baby Boom were that the high school population would swell to 600 in ten years. And in truth, it hit 644 in 1971. Junior high school students were already on split sessions due to overcrowding and the elementary schools were averaging 30 to 35 students per classroom. The new school relieved overcrowding across the entire school system.

MAYNARD HIGH SCHOOL sign destroyed along with the building in 2013.
The Class of 1965 was the first class to graduate from the school building that met its demise in 2013. Joseph Mullin was the class president of 124 graduating students. The class motto was "Non est vivere est valere vita," which translates as "Not merely to exist, but to amount to something in life."

As for the newest iteration of Maynard High School - the sixth to serve that function since the town was incorporated in 1871 - construction broke ground in 2011. Classes began with the 2013-14 school year even though the building and landscape were still works in progress.

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

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

   As for a list of all the high schools:
       Nason Street          1871-1877
       Acton Street           1877-1892
       Nason Street          1892-1916
       Summer Street       1916-1964
       MHS                      1964-2013
       MHS                      2013-

At the time of the incorporation of Maynard in 1871, the new town was served by ten teachers working in four small school buildings. Salaries were in the range of $9-15/week. The small school building at Nason Street became the first high school, with a total enrollment of 35 students. Six years later a new high school was built on Acton Street (site currently occupied by Jarmo's Auto Repair). Then back to the Nason Street site, and then Summer Street before decamping to the south side of town.

The third high school served from 1892-1916. This was a newly built wooden, 12-room schoolhouse at the current site of the Maynard Public Library. The school suffered a minor fire on September 12, 1916, then burned completely on September 20th. Both fires were thought to be arson. 

Maynard's new high school (1916). Click on photos to enlarge.
The fourth high school started out as part of the building currently occupied by ArtSpace. Construction was completed in time for the start of the 1916-17 school year. The school was nameless until 1932, when "Maynard High School" was approved at a Town Meeting vote. A timeline compiled by Ralph Sheridan and David Griffin for the Maynard Historical Society noted, among these many facts, that football was reestablished as a school team for the fall of 1917, after a 12 year hiatus. The team lost the first game by 59-0.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

In Memory of Daniel Mark (1984-2009)

Daniel Mark dressed up for a family event
August marks the seventh anniversary of our son’s death. Most people don’t think of epilepsy as a potentially lethal disease. It is. Daniel’s epilepsy was part of his life from an early age. In spite of his epilepsy and his other disabilities, his attitude about life was “I want it all.” His goal was to live his life with as much independence and joy as possible. He was proud to work at a horse stable and a supermarket. He was happy to meet every person he ever met. Daniel lived in Maynard from 2000 to 2008. Then, at age 24 years, he moved to a supported-living house in a near by town, but continued to visit Maynard often. 

Eight things Daniel liked to do in Maynard:

  1. Walk around. Maynard is one of the few walk-around towns in the area. Where else do you have more than 40 restaurants, stores and shops within walking distance?
  2. Summer concerts in the park. A place to meet friends and listen to the town band work through a Disney medley.
  3. Erikson’s Ice Cream. Serving ice cream in Maynard since 1937.
  4. Friday night football. Whether you have kids at the high school or not, it’s not the worst way to spend an evening. Sometimes the opposing team has more cheerleaders than Maynard has team members. And still, often enough, Maynard wins.
  5. Volunteer to clean up the river. Because where else can you walk around in ankle deep mud dragging out tires with a bunch of friends?
  6. See a movie. Maynard has a movie theater. Acton does not. Stow does not. Sudbury does not. Concord does not.
  7. Dine at a Maynard restaurant. Oft times Daniel knew wait staff from his high school days. If the food was good he would say “No offense Dad, but this tastes better than your cooking.” If it was very good, he’d say “I can’t stop eating this!”
  8. Drinking with friends. Daniel could not drive, but he did have a state photo ID so he could travel by air. And, as he figured out, if he ran into buddies from his high school days while walking around downtown, they could go to a local bar and he could use his “drinking license” to order a non-alcoholic (because of his meds) beer.
Quiet moment at the barn job arranged by Minute Man ARC:  The ARC
mission statement: "Improving the lives of children and adults
with disabilities through therapeutic services, employment,
recreation, housing and community involvement."
 Epilepsy affects one in a hundred people, and impacts the lives of their families and friends. It is our fondest hope that cures may be found - better drugs, better surgery - so that other families will not experience the loss that we sustained. In memory of Daniel, make a point of enjoying life in Maynard.

This is the point in a column where readers might expect a request to donate to a specific health related charity. But the truth is we all have dealt with, or are dealing with, or will deal with disease and death in our own families. There is lots of advice on how to deal with grief, but it always boils down to: Get help. Take care of yourself. Take care of others. So, get help, take care of yourself, and support the charity that is right for you.

Our family toast, before our evening meal, is "To family and friends, with us and gone."

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Desolation of the Shire (Maynard)

Cluster of tree stumps, cut for Assabet River Rail Trail
Maynard and Acton, two small towns in eastern MA are in the beginning stages of construction of a rail trail. In Maynard it runs through the center of town, with much consternation about how many trees are being removed. This column touches on tree clearing and urban trees in general. Two columns earlier is a lengthy description of the project, and in June, a history of same. A construction update has been posted in October.

For those who remember the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (the books, not the movies), after Sauron was defeated, Frodo and his Hobbit companions return to the Shire, only to learn that Saruman and Wormtongue, aided by ruffians and abetted by hobbits who had turned to new ways, were cutting down trees to fuel steam-powered mills. From LOTR: "They cut down trees and let ‘em lie." Later on: "All along the Bywater Road every tree had been felled." After the deaths of uncounted numbers of orcs, humans, elves and one HUGE spider, we the readers were to get our undergarments in a bunch over trees. Trees! For Tolkien, this was a semi-autographical touch - he mourned the loss of the agrarian English countryside of his childhood.

And now we turn to 2016, where in preparation for the rail trail construction through Maynard, 609 trees of diameter four inches and greater have been cut down, woodchipped and soon to be stump-yanked. Yes, I walked the dusty trail from one end to the other, counting tree stumps.  A bit of back-of-envelope math puts the count at a bit more than 0.1 percent of all of Maynard's trees.

Wait, wait, a September update! D'Allessandro decided that all of the trees bordering the trail parallel to Railroad Street were surplus, as were others south of Route 117 and north of Concord Street. Let's up the count to 660 trees removed.

Stumps since cleared, so you cannot challenge my count. My town tree estimate derived from one on-line statement that New England forests have roughly 200 trees per acre five inches diameter or larger; 640 acres per square mile; town area of 5.4 square miles; subtract 40% of the total to account for developed area with fewer trees and water-covered area with no trees. Or subtract 50% to get a better estimate for our tree count and what was cut becomes 0.2 percent.

Tree stumps bordering the planned route of the Assabet River Rail Trail
None of this was a surprise. From the beginning the plan called for a twelve foot wide paved path through the wooded areas, flanked by two foot wide shoulders of either grass or packed stone dust, and in some locations a swale, which is a fancy term for a drainage ditch. The great majority of trees had grown up after the railroad stopped running, in the 1960s. Prior to that the railroad had used cutting and controlled fires to keep a wide swath of land to either side of the tracks vegetation free.

Before we get too deep into this rationalization qua apologia that it was OK to cut all these trees for the trail, I readily admit that some trees are more equal than others. Two healthy London Plane trees at the corner of Nason and Main (both still with us!) are much more valuable aesthetically than a dozen maple trees across from Christmas Motors. The four trees that bordered Main Street near where the Farmers' Market sets up will be sorely missed (as will the hedge); likewise other trees that bordered streets, parking lots, the footbridge, and the back yards of many houses. As compensation, the rail trail project includes in its budget over two hundred thousand dollars for landscaping, including the planting of more than 500 trees. Homeowners wanting even more visual privacy may consider that this is the time to plant a hedge.  

Yellow hauler drags trees to end of section, where orange-armed crane stuffs
trees into blue woodchipper. Click on photo to enlarge.
Maynard has tree work to do separate from remediation of rail trail construction. Nason Street, part of Main Street and the south end of Walnut Street collectively have 36 sidewalk cutouts for trees. Current status is 23 healthy, five sickly, five dead and three empty spaces. Additionally, the grassy strip across from the Fine Arts Theatre recently lost two of four trees and one of the five maple trees planted back of Library has died.

Replacement trees are needed. New sidewalk cutouts could be added farther east and west on Main Street. My point here is that summer shade is an essential part of a walkable downtown. If people are expected to walk between downtown and the mill complex, trees will make that walk more inviting. Worth a mention here that Mill & Main plans call for removing 40 existing trees and planting 88 new trees.
sign looks like.

Another ambiance-improving town project would be to purchase a strip of land between the now empty Gruber Bros building and the Assabet River in order to create a river overlook green space and pathway connecting Main Street to the rail trail.  

Maynard may also consider applying to be certified as a TREE CITY USA community, a designation established by the Arbor Day Foundation. This non-profit, non-government organization sets qualifying criteria as 1) maintaining a tree board or department, 2) having a community tree ordinance, 3) spending at least two dollars per capita annually on urban forestry and - wait for it - 4) celebrating Arbor Day. Neither Maynard nor Stow nor any of the surrounding towns are currently certified, but roughly one in four Massachusetts towns and cities are. Lexington has qualified for 27 years. Cambridge 24, Boston 20. Concord, not. The idea of being a TREE CITY USA is not just having trees, but rather having a government program that manages on streets and in parks.