Saturday, April 8, 2017

Assabet River Rail Trail - April 2017

New photos on status of Assabet River Rail Trail, Maynard and ActonMassachusetts. The replacement footbridge in Maynard was installed February 8th (photo). Work on the approaches, including the loss of parking spaces behind the post office, began April 10. The bridge remains closed to traffic.

February 8, 2017: A crane starts to lift and then lower the Assabet River Rail Trail
bridge at the same site where a wooden footbridge had been since 1989, previously
 the site of a railroad bridge, 1850-1979. 
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. Farther north, the old Acton bridge, over Fort Pond Brook, has been removed. Grading and filling ongoing. Nothing paved yet north of Concord Street, Maynard.  

Older sets of construction photos posted in November, October, December and January. The overall schedule calls for the complete 3.4 miles from near Acton train station to Maynard:Stow border to be completed by fall 2017, with landscaping (tree planting, etc.) wrapped up in early 2018.

Click on any photo to enlarge:

The bridge to cross Fort Pond Brook is being assembled near Maple Street,
Acton. It will be trucked to the site and lowered into place by crane

The bridge is 70 feet long. Like the Maynard bridge, it is to be 16 feet wide.
To be installed summer 2017. Maynard bridge will have lights. Not this one.

At the Paper Store office complex, on Route 27, Acton, a boardwalk is being
constructed over a small retaining pond and over wetlands. The Trail here has
left the original railroad right-of-way to be between the building and Route 27.

The boardwalk makes a right angle turn around a kiosk to connect with the
Trail, which resumes its route on the original railroad right-of-way
in the woods off to the left of the photo. SAAB dealership visible on right.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Revisiting the 2010 Flood (Maynard, MA)

The U.S. Geological Survey has an automated, on-line
measure of river height, but this ruler nailed to a tree is an
old school back-up. This photo from a low water day. Search
on USGS Assabet to get to the on-line site. See "Summary of
all available data on this site" and once there, "Peak
streamflow" for past years' high water.  
In case you missed it, the Assabet River officially reached 'flood' stage on April 7th. Water height at the gauge behind Tedeschi Food Shop reached 5.2 feet. This was the highest the river has been in three years. Officially, anything above 5.0 feet is 'flood,' over 6.0 feet is moderate flooding and over 7.0 feet major flooding. The 2010 flood peaked at 7.11 feet. Nothing since then has overtopped 6.0 feet.

The Assabet River starts in the Westborough marshes that drain into the George H. Nichols flood control basin (more on this later), then works its way first north, then east. For much of its length the Assabet drops 5 feet for every mile. Within Maynard, river elevation is 175 feet over the top of the Ben Smith Dam and 145 feet out the east side.

All this downhillness means that water moves quickly through the Assabet watershed. Although there were four major storms in forty days spanning late February to early April 2010, collectively delivering more than fifteen inches of rain, much of the high water subsided between storms. The river's high water caused minimal property damage and no road flooding anywhere in Maynard or Stow. In the much flatter Sudbury River watershed the river did not subside between storms, the river set a new record for height, and some roads were under water for weeks.    

There is a history of severe floods on the Assabet River, especially before three major flood control dams - George H. Nichols Dam, Tyler Dam and Delaney Complex - were completed. The impoundment area behind Nichols is kept partially full in order to be able to provide water to the Assabet in times of drought, but has a 500 million gallon flood hold-back capacity. Tyler’s impoundment area stays low between floods and has a hold-back capacity of 1,800 million gallons. Delaney adds an estimated 300 million gallons hold-back at full capacity. The amounts sound huge, but the Assabet River’s 2010 peak of 2500 cfs equated to 1,615 million gallons per day. The three dams are enough to mute the worst outcomes of these every 10 to 20 year floods, but not enough to prevent them completely.

Water outlet at Delaney Complex. Slow flow through the lower
bars, then more water exits once the level surpasses the lowest
horizontal bar, about six feet up. Click on photo to enlarge. 
To put all that flood water into perspective, water usage for Maynard and Stow combined is less than two million gallons per day. There is no place in either town to create a reservoir capable of retaining a useful amount of water, so we depend on what sinks down into the soil to refill the groundwater under our feet. Neither town connects to regional reservoirs. Maynard has town wells. Stow depends on privately owned wells.

Back before any flood control dams were in place, the November hurricane flood of 1927 washed away both the dam and the bridge at what is now the Route 62 crossing. A flood in 1936 took out the wooden Mill Street bridge. Hurricane Diane, August 1955, brought the most rain recorded in any one month and the highest water on the Assabet since modern record-keeping began in 1942. The river crested at 8.94 feet. Streets were flooded. No bridges were lost.

More recent floods of note occurred March 1968, cresting at 8.15 feet, and January 1979, cresting at 8.11 feet. Both flooded Main Street. Retirees from Digital Equipment Corporation remember sandbagging the buildings in 1968 in an attempt to keep water out of the production facilities.  Jack MacKeen noted, “I have a clear mental picture of Ken Olsen [President of DEC] in suit and boots, helping place sandbags between the buildings.” Afterwards, DEC had the river retaining wall built higher along the lowest stretch next to the mill buildings. The wall kept the river out in 1979.

Mill Street bridge, Maynard, at mid-summer low water. Note
sewer pipe. There is a narrow range of river height high enough
to float a kayak but low enough to fit under the pipe.
This month's high water was courtesy of two soggy snow storms followed by a significant rain storm. Vernal pools were topped up, which should bode well for the spring-mating frogs. Collectively, the storms were enough to temper but not end local drought status. Total precipitation for the last twelve months is still roughly ten inches below recent averages. Unless the rest of spring is abnormally wet, expect water restriction rules for this summer.

Mark's first book, "Maynard: History and Life Outdoors," (2011) has an entire chapter on the Assabet River. Parts of this column are from the book. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Assabet River by Other Names

1830 map shows Elizabeth River as the
border between Stow and Sudbury
River exploration tends to start at a river's mouth and work upstream, with naming following. At a major branching a decision is needed - is one the river and the other a tributary? Or better to think of the situation as two branches of the river? The Nashua River flows into the Merrimack River in Nashua, New Hampshire; upriver it splits into North Nashua and South Nashua. River naming was once as simple for the Assabet.

When Concord was established in 1635 the land - purchased from Native Americans - was originally referred to as Musketaquid for "grassy plain," and perhaps also meaning the river, as another history translates Musketaquid as Reedy River. This was descriptive. Both north and south of nascent Concord the river was slow-moving, with a very wide flood plain. The colonists coveted the reedy marshland as meadow, fodder for cattle and horses.  

Upstream the river forked at Egg Rock. Concord maps from 1753 to as late as 1835 refer to the north branch as North River, or on some maps Concord NR. An echo of this naming is the present-day North Branch Road, near the Concord/Acton border and parallel to the Assabet River. Settlement did not expand up both rivers at the same pace. Sudbury was named a town in 1639. Meanwhile, surveyors described the territory along the other river as "meane land," not settled until Stow was a named town in 1683.  

An early name for the Assabet River. Click on photos to enlarge

In Stow the river's name was in flux, with various maps and documents reading Asibeth, Assabath, Elsabath, Elsibeth, Elizabeth, Assabett, Assabet... One map even had it as Stow River. There was a consensus in 1830 that Elizabeth Brook flowed into Elizabeth River into Concord River, but by 1856, when Middlesex county was being remapped in great detail, it was Assabet Brook flowing into the Assabet River, with the pre-Maynard community identified as Assabet Village. (Nowadays it is Elizabeth Brook into Assabet River.)    

There is a well-known quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne (1846) which when cited now usually has the "Assabet" spelling, but what he actually wrote was: "Rowing our boat against the current, between wide meadows, we turned aside into the Assabeth. A more lovely stream than this, for a mile above its junction with the Concord, has never flowed on earth..."

Native American name? No one
knows for sure. Or what it meant.
As for how "Ass-a-bet" came to be the name of a river - a mystery. Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time. Our problem here is that various 19th century history attribute the origins to a Native American name, but if that is true, it would have been from the Nipmuc dialect of the Algonquian family of Indian languages. There is no resource to pursue this theory back to an original source. Supposed translations are to the reedy place, the miry place, or the backward flowing river place. A mire is more permanent - a marsh or bog - than a temporally fleeting muddy place. 'Backward flowing' is a reach. On infrequent occasions the Sudbury River, immediately upstream from the junction of the Sudbury and Assabet, flows backwards. This happens after heavy rain, and it happens because water from the steeper Assabet reaches the junction sooner than water from the flatter Sudbury. Place names are rarely for rare events, so this last theory feels unlikely.  

An alternative theory is that the various names of the river were corruptions of spelling of "Elizabeth." But it is more of a reach to go from this perfectly good person-name to Aisbeth or Assabath, both dating to late 1600s, than it is to consider all those Elizabeth-names as attempts to Anglicize the native name.

There are other examples of changeable naming. In southeast Stow, Bottomless Pond became Crystal Lake. In Harvard, Hell Pond became Hill Pond, became Mirror Lake. In early Sudbury documents the Sudbury River was referred to as the Great River, while at the same time the upper end from Framingham west was for decades called the Hopkinton River. And lest we forget, in 1902 the Town of Maynard almost changed its name to - Assabet.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

How Fast are Raindrops?

What do we know, and not know, about rain? For one thing, raindrops do not taper to a pointed end at the top. That image is only an artistic means of conveying downward direction. Small water drops are round. This is due to surface tension - round being the smallest possible surface area for any given volume.

Raindrops lose round shape with increasing size. 
Dotted lines are circles; solid lines are actual shapes. 
As water droplets float about in the air they bump into each other and merge. Once a drop reaches a diameter of 0.02 inches it starts to fall as a round raindrop. However, above a certain size, air resistance causes the bottom to flatten. The drops are no longer round. More speed, more assimilated droplets, faster, more resistance from air and these large raindrops become concave on the bottom. And then, large drops fragment into several smaller drops, which revert to being rounder and slower.

The larger the raindrop, the faster it falls. Newtonian physics is not being circumvented here. Rather, as drops become larger their mass increases faster than the friction of falling through air. Only in a vacuum would a large and small raindrop fall at the same speed. As noted above, drops get only so large before fragmenting into smaller, slower-falling drops. As a consequence, the maximum velocity of a large raindrop approaches twenty miles an hour. Very small droplets may have little or no downward movement, i.e., drizzle and fog. There are exceptions to the twenty mile an hour maximum speed: at higher altitudes the air density is lower, so rainfall is faster, and also when the air itself is moving down, as in a thunderstorm downdraft.   
Real raindrops do not look like this

Rain can feel like it is falling faster without exceeding the speed limit. What we feel is an average of small to large drops. When a lot of rain is falling in a very short period of time - say two inches an hour - all the pieces of fragmenting large drops quickly combine with other fragments. At ground level, majority of raindrops are large and fast. Once the storm's rainfall slows there is less recombination.

Light rain is defined as a rate of about 0.1 inches per hour, moderate as 0.1 to 0.4 inches per hour, heavy as up to 2.0 inches per hour, and violent rain as exceeding 2.0 inches per hour. Severe thunderstorms can exceed a rate of 4.0 inches per hour for short periods of time. The known U.S. record is 12 inches of rain in 42 minutes, falling on Holt, Mississippi, on June 22, 1947.

Virga is a term used to describe rain that starts to fall from a cloud but evaporates before it reaches the ground. From a distance this phenomenon appears as dark, straight or slanted streaks extending below the base of a cloud. When looking at a televised weather radar map this can explain why an area is shown with rain while for the people on the ground nothing is happening.
Sleet happens in winter, when rain from warmer clouds aloft falls through colder air near the surface. Frozen raindrops reach the ground as ice pellets. If the cold air layer is thin, then freezing will be delayed until the raindrops actually reaches the ground, resulting in an ice storm. In this uncommon meteorological condition raindrops are supercooled to a temperature below the freezing point but do not actually freeze until impact with cold surfaces, such as car windshields and tree branches. The result is a coating of clear ice.

Hailstones (internet download). In a severe hailstorm the ground
can become covered inches deep. Click on photos to enlarge.
Hail is what happens when rain goes very, very, very bad. A frozen raindrop, caught in a thunderstorm's strong updraft, can spend many minutes traveling upward, accumulating layers of ice. The hailstones that finally breaks loose from the updraft and fall to the ground can range in size from a pea to a golf ball, and in rare instances, much larger. Large hailstones can exceed the weight of a baseball and impact at more than 80 miles per hour. U.S. farm and property damage exceeds one billion dollars a year.

In the book Isaac's Storm the author retells an observation of a Texas hailstorm with unusual consequences. Heavy rain and large amounts of hail combined into an ice laden flash flood. Fifty miles downstream the ice had melted but the fast-rising river was icy cold. Water spread across the river's flood plain, carrying cold-stunned fish with it. People were able to walk out into the shallows and pick up the cold fish.  

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Thoreau "The Old Marlborough Road"

Old Marlboro Road in Maynard, MA. Click to enlarge.
This entry is about connecting Henry David Thoreau's poem "The Old Marlborough Road" to the factual people and places named. See below for final version of the poem. Marlborough is a Massachusetts town 16.5 miles from Concord.  Both towns date to the 1600s, so a road could be 'old' in 1850.

Thoreau created a lecture entitled "Walking," first delivered at the Concord Lyceum on April 23, 1851. He spoke on the topic close to a dozen times, revising the presentation as years passed, so it is referred to in some descriptions has having been written 1851-1860. As a published work, which includes the poem, "Walking" first appeared in the Atlantic Monthly magazine in 1862, shortly after his death. The entire essay is available at several websites, including: 

What is unknown is whether the poem was ever part of the lecture presentations, or only added to the essay for publication. Research on this would require locating and transcribing lecture manuscripts. The Concord Public Library Special Collections does have Thoreau's handwritten manuscript of "Walking" as submitted for publication. The poem - in his sister's handwriting - has no mark-ups or amendments. (Thoreau was ill/dying from tuberculosis as he worked on this and other writings that were published posthumously. His sister helped by making clean copy for some parts of his marked up drafts). The manuscript does differ in a minor way from what was actually published: the poem's title and spelling throughout were "Old Marlboro Road."

An earlier version of the poem can be found as an 1850 journal entry with the title already set, but missing the first eight lines, and with extra lines, later cut. What in the final version are the important last four lines instead were located in the middle, just before "Nobody repairs it." The journal version of the poem can be found on line at various sites, including pages 54-56 of the Bradford Torrey edition of the journals, covering 1850 thru September 1851. See:

Elsewhere, as recorded in Thoreau's journal on September 4, 1851, he and William Ellery Channing walked on parts of the old road to Marlborough as part of their trek to Boon's Pond. Thoreau mentions that he had walked in this general direction many times - he described it as a tendency to head west or southwest once stepping out his door - but not as far as the destination of that specific trek. He described the road to Marlborough as "little-frequented," and no more than a woodman's cart path. [Torrey edition, pp.452-462]

The road exists again, paved, and named Old Marlboro Road. It wends west from near Emerson Hospital, cuts across the north corner of Sudbury as Powers Road, continues as Old Marlboro Road in Maynard, where it ends at the east border of the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge. Within the Refuge, it continues as a trail named Winterberry Way; then out the west site yclept Bruen Road, White Pond Road and finally Concord Road all the way to the center of Marlborough.

As to how old the road was, and why it had fallen into disuse, Marlborough officially became a town in 1660. By 1663, Sudbury records describe an intent to create a road to "Marlbrow." The road from Concord to Marlborough, across the northern part of Sudbury, became a major route for stagecoaches transporting farm produce, freight and people. From 1685 to 1815, Rice Tavern, Sudbury, was at the crossroads of the Concord-Marlborough and the Sudbury-Lancaster roads. But by Thoreau's time a new road had been built farther south. Rice Tavern had reverted to a farmhouse, torn down in 1942.  

This "C" for Concord marker (not on Old
Marlborough Road) bears evidence of repeated
visits. The "M" stands for town of Maynard, not as
diligent. The letters are carved into the stone.
While the theme of the poem is that by stepping out on disused/abandoned roads - as was already true of the old road to Marlborough in his day - you are in effect traveling on any road and every road, the poem also contains factual references specific to Thoreau's time and place. Martial Miles owned land near the road (Martial Mile's Swamp mentioned elsewhere in Journals). Elijah Wood (1790-1861) was a life-long resident of Concord, descendant of one of the founding families; his son, Elijah Wood, Jr. (1816-1882), was a contemporary of Thoreau. Why Thoreau wrote "And Elijah Wood/I fear for no good" is a mystery. Perhaps aware of Wood's pending death.

Elisha Dugan was a free Negro, never married, son of Thomas Dugan, an escaped slave who had become a landowner in Concord. The Dugan family history is described at length in Black Walden, by Elise Lemire. In the poem's context, "Close to the bone" would have meant in poverty/destitute.

"Not many there be/Who enter therein/Only the guests of the/Irishman Quin," Sudbury archives show James and Zana Quin on various town records (qualified voter, taxes). James, born in Ireland, died 1848. His wife died 1866. The house, on the old road to Marlborough may have gone to a son or relative, as an 1856 Middlesex county map shows Riley Quinn.

Granite markers: Thoreau's "Great guide-boards of stone" - were common then, and many still stand to this day. Some of these indicated town borders. Many Massachusetts towns have by-laws that require the Selectmen or their representatives to periodically confirm such stones' locations and status. Other reasons for a stone post would be to have directional arrows pointing toward towns, and perhaps mileage. One stone could serve both purposes.    

Esther Howe Wheeler's book, Nature - A Thoreau Country, (1965) has her circa 1940s photo of a large granite marker post besides the dirt road. The Concord Public Library Special Collections has a photo dated November 7, 1899, showing the same stone and calling it an Old Marlborough Road guide post. And yet more! The second (1892) edition of Old Concord: Her Highways and Byways, by Margaret Sidney (pen name of Harriet M. Stone), tells of visiting Martial Mile's House, passing by the remnants of the house of Irishman Quin, and taking her horse and carriage on the Old Marlborough Road, which she described as in poor repair. An artist's rendering in the book (pp. 176-178: shows the same stone marker as in the photographs. With a magnifying glass it is possible to discern "← 12 MARLBORO" and "→ 4 CONCORD" on one face of the stone. A recent drive-by found no stone marker at the road's boundary between Concord and Sudbury, four miles distant from the center of Concord.

Possible that Thoreau passed this stone on his way from Concord to the start of
Old Marlborough Road. This is facing west, as the intersection of Route 62 and
and Old Road to Nine Acre Corner. Follow ORNAC across Route 2, then turn
right onto Old Marlboro before getting to  Emerson Hospital. The faint grooves
on the left face indicate this piece of granite was split and shaped by hand.

The poem mentions Gourgas, Lee, Clark and Darby as Selectmen. Massachusetts towns elect men and women (only men back then) as Selectmen rather than electing a mayor. Francis Richard Gourgas was part of Concord government as Postmaster, Selectman and Town Clerk, also a Senator in the Massachusetts Legislature. Thoreau had surveyed land for him. Daniel Clark, Joseph Darby and Isaac S. Lee were identified in town annual reports as Selectmen serving prior to 1850 (first known date of poem, their names already included in that version).

The first two lines of the poem as published in 1862: 
       Where they once dug for money,
       But never found any;

Some interpreters took this as meaning people used to travel the road on business, which takes aim at the first line but elides the second. There is another interpretation that was possibly known to Thoreau and his audience at the time. There was a story back then, still well known now, that one spring, circa 1720, a group of men came and briefly stayed at the Thomas Smith family farm in what was then Sudbury, now Maynard. The house was close to the road to Marlborough.

As the story goes, the men one morning borrowed shovels and digging tools, went off into the woods heavily burdened, returned empty handed, paid for their lodging and fare in gold coins, and left. Months later Smith received a letter that his mysterious lodgers were now in prison in Boston, to all be hung as pirates, and that it would be of value for him to come to the city. Depending on the story's version, either he decided not to go, or went, too late. Either way, the story of lost pirates' treasure carries down to the present, i.e., people wandering about Maynard with metal detectors.

The earliest known source for the buried treasure story is Annals of Sudbury, Wayland and Maynard, (1891) by Alfred S. Hudson (p.70 of the Maynard section). So it is intriguing that Thoreau's couplet, predating the book by at least 30 years, may be telling the same myth.

Added 4/13/17More likely Thoreau was referring to a 
Concord version of a buried treasure story.

In an 1856 journal entry, there is a sentence "On Money-Diggers’ Shore, much large yellow lily root washed up; that white root with white fibres and yellowish leaf buds." The text has no location, but the 1906 Gleason map of things Thoreau puts Money Diggers' Shore as squarely within Concord, on the west shore of the Sudbury River, near the start of Old Marlboro Road. Three other journal entries (1856, 1858, 1859) make mention of plants found growing on Money-Diggers' Hill without any clues as to location.

Thoreau's Nov 5, 1854 journal entry has a description of the legend of pirate treasure buried near John Hosmer's hollow. That would be near the west shore of the Sudbury River, in Concord. Hosmer and a friend had come across a pit some six by six feet, and as deep. They explained to Thoreau that there were old stories of pirate treasure, and that people had been digging near the river for a hundred years. Thoreau revisited the treasure story in a December 1856 journal entry: "Am pleased to see the holes where men have dug for money, since they remind me that some are dreaming still like children, though of impracticable things - dreaming of finding money, and trying to put their dream into practice. It proves that men live Arabian nights and days still. I would they should have that kind of faith than none at all."

THE OLD MARLBOROUGH ROAD (as published, 1862)
Where they once dug for money,
But never found any;
Where sometimes Martial Miles
Singly files,
And Elijah Wood,
I fear for no good:
No other man,
Save Elisha Dugan,—
O man of wild habits,
Partridges and rabbits,
Who hast no cares
Only to set snares,
Who liv'st all alone,
Close to the bone,
And where life is sweetest
Constantly eatest.
When the spring stirs my blood
With the instinct to travel,
I can get enough gravel
On the Old Marlborough Road.
Nobody repairs it,
For nobody wears it;
It is a living way,
As the Christians say.
Not many there be
Who enter therein,
Only the guests of the
Irishman Quin.
What is it, what is it,
But a direction out there,
And the bare possibility
Of going somewhere?
Great guide-boards of stone,
But travellers none;
Cenotaphs of the towns
Named on their crowns.
It is worth going to see
Where you might be.
What king
Did the thing,
I am still wondering;
Set up how or when,
By what selectmen,
Gourgas or Lee,
Clark or Darby?
They 're a great endeavor
To be something forever;
Blank tablets of stone,
Where a traveller might groan,
And in one sentence
Grave all that is known;
Which another might read,
In his extreme need.
I know one or two
Lines that would do,
Literature that might stand
All over the land,
Which a man could remember
Till next December,
And read again in the spring,
After the thawing.
If with fancy unfurled
You leave your abode,
You may go round the world
By the Old Marlborough Road.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Memories of Heating with Coal

One hundred years ago there were advertisements in the local newspapers for luxurious kitchen stoves that burned either wood or coal, but had gas for some of the burners. Models such as Glenwood or Majestic also functioned as water heaters. Clues that your original homeowners cooked and heated with coal are a chimney next to the kitchen, places in each room where a small coal stove would sit, and perhaps a part of the basement that would have been the coal bin. Heating with coal was common into the 1950s. Perhaps our older readers can share memories of the town's coal yards and delivery companies by way of letters to the newspaper.

Lumps of coal found next to Willey's Auto Service and Repair. The $100
gives a sense of size. Benjamin Franklin also invented the Franklin stove,
but that was actually a wood burning innovation. Coal did not become a
popular fuel until canals and railroads could handle transportation needs.
Much of the train traffic to and through Maynard was delivering coal to
mills. Not known if the resulting ash was hauled away or dumped locally.
As to what coal is - it depends. Peat is a soggy, boggy layer of decomposing plant material which can be dried and burned. If, however, peat is overlaid by sediment, further decomposed and compressed in an oxygen poor state, it transitions over long time to lignite ('soft') coal, then bituminous coal and lastly anthracite ('hard') coal. Good quality anthracite is approximately five percent water and 10 to 15 percent ash, which is the unburnable residue. Anthracite was mined in eastern Pennsylvania.  

A history of local coal companies is timely because one of them owned a bridge exactly where the new bridge was recently installed for the Assabet River Rail Trail. William F. Litchfield (1857 -1935) started Wm. F. Litchfield, Dealer in Coal and Wood, some time around 1900. One of his advertising slogans was "From mine to cellar." Litchfield had a coal yard behind 125 Main Street, west of the river. Coal was unloaded from trains east of the river, where the town parking lot now is. Coal dust and small pieces are evident in the soil next to Willey's Auto Service and Repair. Litchfield's bridge was built under the railroad bridge in 1906. Apparently, it was still there until 1979, when the railroad bridge was removed. The Historical Society has the original blueprint and contract for the bridge, constructed for a cost of $310.    

Undated photo of Litchfield's bridge (built 1906) underneath the railroad
bridge (built 1849), both spanning the Assabet River, Maynard, MA.
Image courtesy Maynard Historical Society. 
Litchfield also owned a granite quarry in Fitchburg. The granite archway entrance to Glenwood Cemetery bears a sign: "This Gateway presented to the TOWN OF MAYNARD by William F. Litchfield 1928." He and his wife Amy (descendent of the Smith family) lived in the large, white, house the Smith family had owned at 38 Great Road, corner of Summer Hill and Great Road. To this day there is a very large piece of coal set the yard between the barn and the road. 

The Maynard Coal Company took over Litchfield's business. Exact date unknown, but one town record identifies Litchfield as retired in 1923. A clue to the end of MCC comes from perusal of the collection of high school year books in the collection of the Maynard Historical Society. Lists of "Screech Owl" sponsors up to 1965 included MCC at 125 Main Street. Starting in 1963, another of the sponsors was John's Cleaners at 127 Main. According to long-time town resident Paul Boothroyd, John was the son of the owner of MCC, and the dry cleaning business was actually started years before the yearbook sponsorship began.

Present day, John's Cleaners and Tuxedos occupies 125-127 Main, and the current owner says he has a sign in the basement that reads MAYNARD COAL COMPANY. A 1910 photo identifies a two-story wooden building at that site as the Litchfield Block, so at some later time either the building was radically remodeled or else torn down and replaced with the current one-story, brick facade building that additionally houses Merai Liquors and Designing Women.

February 8, 2017: A crane starts to lift and lower the Assabet River Rail Trail
bridge at the same site where the railroad bridge and Litchfield's bridge
once spanned the river. Click on any photo to enlarge. 
Other coal companies in Maynard included Assabet Coal, Haynes Coal, E. Henderson & Co. and the United Co-operative Society of Maynard. A book "Maynard Weavers" tells the story of the Society's beginnings in 1906 and the addition of a coal yard and delivery service in 1923. The book notes that in the winter of 1940-41, anthracite coal from Reading, PA was priced at $13.00 per ton, delivered. The CO-OP's entry into this business led to other companies lowering their prices to stay competitive.     

Coal stoves for home heating are still an option. Anthracite can be purchased by truckload or fifty pound bags. The stoves are akin in design to wood pellet stoves, fueled by shoveling in coal or else using an attached hopper to automatically feed fuel to the fire. The big downside is that ash needs to be removed almost daily when burning coal during winter, and at least once per week during warmer times if the coal stove is being used to heat water. Six to eight pounds of ash are produced per every fifty pounds of coal burned.

A cold start of a anthracite coal fire requires quite a bit of wood first, as the coal needs to be heated to 900F to get started and will then create burn temperatures of 1500-2000F. Obviously, coal specific stove needed. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Shrinking Stow - Part Three

Last week's column glossed over some of the interesting details that brought William Knight and Amory Maynard to Assabet Village, and years later lead to the creation of Maynard. History has it that Knight and Maynard starting buying land on both sides of the river circa 1846 with intent to build a dam and canal (1846) and a carpet mill (1847).

We know for a fact that Knight sold his water rights to Long Pond (later renamed Lake Cochituate) to Boston on March 30, 1846, and Maynard his rights to Fort Meadow Reservoir circa 1847. However, a careful perusal of Sudbury town records, thankfully transcribed and posted by the Sudbury Historical Society, identifies William Knight as active in Sudbury affairs as early as 1843. This means that Knight and Maynard as partners were planning to relocate years before finally being bought out from their existing operations in, respectively, Framingham and Marlborough. What may have sent them searching was that for years it was clear that Boston desperately needed more water, and was looking west for solutions. 

Border stone north of the Assabet River with
"A" for Acton on the west side. Click on
any photo to enlarge.
What was found in Sudbury's records were the minutes of a Town Meeting, April 1843, with a vote that the Selectmen oppose a road petitioned by William H. Knight and others. Apparently, Knight (and Maynard) were already buying up water privileges for the Assabet River and land on both sides of the river. What Knight wanted the town to pay for was a road next to his intended factory site, to be able to bring wool in and finished carpet out. Knight tried again in 1844, and then in 1846 submitted a petition to shift the boundary southwards so that all of the property would be in Stow. The petition was seconded by the town of Stow, ostensibly to straighten the borderline and enlarge the smallest of Stow's school districts. Sudbury opposed the action. Sudbury won this battle, but ceded the war when it went ahead and built the road and bridge over the river (now Main Street, Maynard), in 1849.

As for the 1871 creation of Maynard, aka Assabet Village, Stow created a committee, naming F.B. Warren, Henry Gates, Jonathan Priest, B.W. Gleason and Francis Tuttle to negotiate. According to their reports, the Assabet committee failed to show at the first scheduled meeting. At the second meeting the Assabet people took the position they the new town would be taking on debt associated with the land, so Stow should pay them to secede. This "...did not receive much favor from your [Stow's] committee." The next proposal from Assabet is that it wanted a larger part of Stow than initially proposed, no payment. Stow counter-proposed that it did not want the new town to be created, but if it were to happen, less land and Stow to get $15,000.   

Maynard side has a "S" because the stone
dates to when this side was Stow
These two groups not reaching an amicable agreement, on January 26, 1871, residents of Assabet Village submitted official petition to the state Legislature, with name "Maynard" written in on a space that had been left blank, and proposed boundaries. This is referred to as the Henry Fowler Petition. In February and March 1871 Stow residents submitted three petitions against - a total of 136 signatures. Preamble from one petition:

 "The undersigned legal voters of the Town of Stow respectfully and urgently remonstrate against having our small town divided for the purpose of forming a new town as prayed for by the petition of Henry Fowler and others, taking as it is proposed about one half of our population and more than a third part of the valuation, it would leave our ancient town in a weak and crippled condition to which we most decidedly object."

Sudbury also opposed formation of the new town. Regardless, Maynard was created on April 19, 1871. The boundaries were smaller than what the residents of Assabet Village has wanted. Stow ended up being paid $6,500 (plus interest) over seven years. Stow gave up approximately 1300 acres and 800 people (out of 1,800). What went was everything north of the Assabet River plus a long triangle of land south of the river. Sudbury gave up 1900 acres - including the mill and the railroad - and 1,000 people (out of 2,100), and received $20,883.28. As late as 1950 the population of Maynard was larger than Stow and Sudbury combined.

A final note: the aqueduct from Lake Cochituate to Boston was completed in 1848. On October 25th of that year a great celebration was held in Boston Common, with an estimated 100,000 people attending. The great day began with a 100-gun salute and an immense parade through the city, ending near Frog Pond, in the Common. Mayor Quincy gave a speech, at the end of which he asked if the people of Boston were ready for Cochituate water. "The crowd roared, the gates opened, and a fountain of water 80 feet high burst into the air." Cochituate was in service until 1951, supplemented and finally superseded by Wachusett (operative 1908) and Quabbin (operative 1946) reservoirs. Boston had also bought Amory Maynard's Fort Meadow Pond, but never connected it to the aqueduct, and in time sold it back to Amory to add to his water privileges on the Assabet River.


Butler, Caleb. History of the Town of Groton, Including Pepperell and Shirley. Boston, MA: T.R. Marvin, 1848.
Chandler, Seth. History of the town of Shirley, Massachusetts, from its early settlement to A.D. 1882. Town of Shirley,MA. 1883.
Gutteridge, William H. A Brief History of the Town of Maynard, Massachusetts. Maynard, MA: Town of Maynard, 1921.
Hager, Lucie Caroline. Boxborough: a New England Town and Its People. Philadelphia, PA: J.W. Lewis & Co, 1891.
Hudson, Alfred Sereno. The Annals of Sudbury, Wayland, and Maynard, Middlesex County, Massachusetts. Self-published, 1891.
Hudson, Alfred Sereno. The History of Sudbury, Massachusetts, 1638-1889. Sudbury, MA: The Town of Sudbury, 1889. Republished, The Sudbury Press, 1968.
Hudson, Charles. History of the Town of Marlborough. Boston, MA: T.R. Marvin & Son, 1862.
Norse, Henry S. History of the Town of HarvardMassachusetts, 1732-1893. 1894. Republished Higginson Book Company, Salem, MA, 2006.
Sudbury Historical Society Archieves.
Zwinger, Ann, and Edwin Way Teale. A Conscious Stillness: Two Naturalists on Thoreau's Rivers New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1982.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Shrinking Stow - Part Two

The 1630 on the plaque refers to the beginning of the Massachusetts Bay
Colony. A few families settled in Pompositticut around 1660, but were all
driven out or killed in King Philip's War (1675-78). Resettling commenced
around 1681 and the territory given name Town of Stow on May 16, 1683.
The early years were marginal at best - by the end of 1687 down to
only 28 families, and no resident Minister until 1689.
Last week's column left off with Stow having gained land from Sudbury and given up land to Harvard and Shirley. After the Shirley subtraction, Stow was contained within seemingly sensible boundaries (no more Stow Leg), but would subsequently lose land and people to Boxborough, Hudson and Maynard.

Boxborough was created as a District in 1783, officially becoming a Town in 1835. Its creation took parts of Stow, Harvard and Littleton. Stow amiably gave up hundreds of acres, but Boxborough's situation with Littleton was contentious. The compromise was that individual landowners within the District of Boxborough could consider themselves residents of Littleton and pay taxes accordingly. Over subsequent decades most of these landowners or their descendents finally agreed to become Boxborough-ites, but two farm-owning families were still holdouts until 1890. Finally, a piece of the border between the towns was shifted south, making them legally part of Littleton. Earlier, in 1868, there had been an attempt to expand Boxborough by acquiring West Acton. This failed.

In 1846 Stow tried to annex a small but crucial part of Sudbury. The Assabet River was a boundary dating back to 1683. William Knight and Amory Maynard starting buying water rights and land on both sides of the river circa 1843 with intent to build a dam, canal and woolen mill. The dam site was entirely in Stow; the mill site and what later became Maynard's Main Street entirely in Sudbury. A petition by Knight to shift the boundary southwards, so that all of their property would be in Stow, was joined by the town of Stow, ostensibly to straighten the borderline and strengthen one of Stow's school districts. (Ha!) Sudbury opposed the action. Stow lost. More on this next week

Back in 1702 Stow had tried for a much larger land acquisition. In the aftermath of King Philip's war, the Indian town of Nashobah, some sixteen square miles, had been vacated. Individuals were moving in, and towns such as Groton were shifting borders. Stow reasoned that the land was adjacent to its northern border, and would be a gain toward raising taxes to support a Minister. Stow lost. Nashobah was later incorporated as Littleton. In another border brouhaha, there was a thwarted early attempt to chop off a southern portion of Stow via a petition to create a new town from land in Sudbury, Framingham, Marlborough and Stow in 1739. This was opposed by parent towns in 1740. Nothing came of it.   

Stow, MA, 1856 = before north part of Marlborough became
Hudson and before Maynard created from parts of  Stow and
Sudbury. Boon's Pond not yet enlarged and Gleasondale was
known as Rock Bottom. Click on images to enlarge.
Hudson nibbled on parts of Stow in 1866. The creation of this manufacturing town came mostly from Marlborough, but included about 350 acres from Stow's southwest corner. The small loss of land to Hudson did not raise opposition from Stow. Two asides: a downward dip in the middle of Hudson's northern border dates to 1783, and was designed to leave mills and associated buildings (now the hamlet of Gleasondale) in Stow rather than partially in Marlborough, and two years after Hudson was created it bought two square miles from Bolton for $10,000.

From a collection of stories about Stow's history, collected by Lewis Halprin, there was one final minor boundary adjustment with Hudson in 1979: putting a dividing line down the center of the three upper basins of Lake Boon. Prior to that there had been a straight line border which had caused a dozen or so houses on the north side of the lake, surrounded by Stow, to be legally part of Hudson and a similar number of houses on the south side, reachable only via Hudson, legally part of Stow.

The creation of Maynard on April 19, 1871 took 1,300 acres from Stow, but of greater impact, nearly half its population, in what was informally had been called Assabet Village. There were some exploratory town-founding rumblings in 1870, followed by a petition to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, filed January 26, 1871. Supportive petitions with additional signers were submitted in January and February. All told, nearly 160 signatures gathered. Key points of the complaint were that the fast-growing population clustered around the woolen mill on the Assabet River was miles away from the town centers of Sudbury and Stow, and were not getting adequate school and street improvement spending despite taxes being paid to the parent towns.

There was opposition to the petition. Stow residents countered with three remonstrances, stating that such a division would remove “…the only portion that has increased in its population and in its valuation for the past ten years.” A total of 136 men signed three counter-proposals. Stow lost. In compensation Stow received $6,500 plus interest ($1,470) spread out over seven years. The only solace was that an initial, non-official proposal for a 'Greater Maynard' would have taken close to an additional 600 acres from the southeast edge of Stow, all the way down to White Pond. What was left to Stow after Maynard decamped was an area of 18.1 square miles (11,584 acres) with a population of about 1,000. With the exception of the Gleasondale mills, Stow remained primarily a farm town (poultry and apples) for a long time, not reaching a population of greater than 2,000 until the 1950s.

Much of the work on this topic, including the "Stow Leg" map, rests on research that Francis W. Warren, a Stow historian, conducted in 1979 for a lecture "Boundaries of Stow," some since revisited and retold by Stow historian and author, Lewis Halprin. Concluded in Part Three.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Shrinking Stow - Part One

In the decades after the creation of Stow in 1683, certain boundaries, fluid, were settled, and neighboring towns gave up or took land. There are statements in historical documents that Stow at its largest was more than twice its current area of 18.1 square miles. The saga begins with Stow attempting a land grab of the vacated Indian town of Nashobah (now Littleton) in 1702. This would have added 16 square miles. The petition was rejected. Next was Stow gaining about 250 acres from Sudbury in 1730. When Stow was created, Sudbury still retained a bit of land north of the Assabet River, bordering what would become Acton in 1735. As the settlers there had no easy means to get to church or town meetings in Sudbury, they petitioned to joint Stow. The area included 200 acres that initially belonged to the Browne family. It roughly matched land now site of Maynard golf course, Christmas Motors, and Maynard's northeastern woodlands.

Frances W. Warren's 1978 map of the original size of Stow. MA
Click on maps to enlarge. (Courtesy Stow Historical Society)
After this, it was all subtraction, subtraction, subtraction. Pompositticut Plantation, renamed Stow on May 16, 1683, had been created to fill the space between the older towns and territories of  Concord, Sudbury, Groton, Lancaster and Marlborough. "Pompositticut" was an Indian name said to mean “land of many hills. ” Summer Hill, Maynard, was on old maps as Pompositticut Hill. 

Stow included a narrow strip of land called the Stow Leg which extended miles west, to beyond the Nashua River. This  came about when Lancaster and Groton were created in the 1650s. A corridor of land had been left between the two for the Native Americans of Nashobah to travel west to hunting regions. The concept was not unique - The south side of Lancaster once included land referred to as the Shrewsbury Leg.

Towns changing size was not uncommon. Sudbury, established 1639, grew in 1640 and 1649, then subsequently gave up land to Framingham, Stow, Wayland and Maynard. Lancaster was as large as 112 square miles, then birthed Harvard, Bolton, Berlin, Clinton, Boylston, West Boylston, Sterling and Leominster.

Map of Harvard, MA, showing the strip across
the middle that had come from Stow, described as
200 rods (0.625 miles) wide. Town of Shirley,
was created later from southwest part of Groton.
Courtesy Harvard Historical Society  
Back to Stow. The creation of Harvard in June 1732 was vigorously opposed by residents of Stow, but in the end Stow lost 2,650 acres of the Stow Leg, west as far as the Nashua River. This created an oddity. Stow Leg extended farther west than what was deeded to Harvard, so that after the creation of Harvard, Stow included an isolated chunk of land on the far side of Harvard, roughly 1.25 miles in length east to west and two hundred rods (0.625 miles) wide north to south. Problem solved 33 years later when the town of Shirley, created in 1753, formally took over this 450 acre remnant in 1765.

There is physical evidence that Stow had once extended so far west. According to Ethel Childs' book, History of Stow (1983): "On the road from Shirley Center to Leominster, about 50 feet east of the Shirley-Lunenberg line is a small gully. About 125 feet up this gully one may find an old granite marker about four and one half feet high. On the top is carved the letters, 'GROTON STOW LEG OLD CORNER '." The location was visited February 2017 and the boundary marker stone still stands, although the top is so weather-worn as to be nearly illegible. The stone reads "S" and "1848" on east side and "L" on west side.  According to Chandler's History of Shirley (1883), the boundary between Shirley and Lunenberg had been disputed, not settled until 1848, at which time this marker was installed. The lettering on top was historical homage to the fact that this had once been the west end of the east-west line between Groton and Stow Leg.

The annexation of that Stow land by Shirley in 1765 resulted in a legal action that reached the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 1810. In those days, towns were responsible for the care of resident paupers, most commonly widowed women and orphaned children, but also men with physical or mental ailments, who were unable to care for themselves. These unfortunates could be supported in place, in their residences, taken in as town-paying borders in someone else's home, or relocated to a town's poor farm. Work was often required in return for support. 

Top of the stone reads GROTON STOW LEG OLD CORNER. Apparently
this marker was installed in 1848 to indicate where the northwest corner of  
Stow Leg had been until taken over by Town of Shirley in 1765. 
If a person or family moved into a town and the town decided the newcomers were unlikely to be able to support themselves, the town could "warn out" such persons. This did not mean eviction. Rather, it meant that the town legally absolved itself from providing future support. The case in question concerned James Bartlett, residing in Shirley. Bartlett owned land he had inherited from his father, but could not support himself. The land in question had been in that part of the Stow Leg annexed by Shirley in 1765. Shirley claimed that Bartlett's upkeep was still the responsibility of Stow. Shirley lost.

The question of which town 'owned' poor was not abstract. When Maynard was created in 1871 the agreements with Stow and Sudbury were that the newly created town would assume responsibility for the relief and support of paupers within its bounds. As Sudbury already had in its care - at its Poor Farm - people who had been on land now deeded to Maynard, Maynard also agreed to pay Sudbury $300 per year for ten years for their care.
Much of the work on this topic, including the "Stow Leg" map, rests on research that Francis W. Warren, a Stow historian, conducted in 1978 for a lecture "Boundaries of Stow," some since revisited and retold by Stow historian and author, Lewis Halprin. Continued in Part Two.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Beavers Invade Maynard

Gnawed tree near Ice House Landing, Maynard
(2006 photo) Click on any photo to enlarge.
A beaver family has created a lodge on the north side of the mill pond about 80 yards east of the Sudbury Street bridge, and are destroying trees on Mill & Main property, trees bordering St. Bridget property and also on neighboring private property. Tree damage by other beaver families is evident up and down the Assabet River between the Ben Smith and Powdermill dams. Beavers will walk more than 150 feet from water's edge to take down trees for food and building material. Heavy gauge wire fencing four feet tall is recommended to protect individual trees.

Due to fur trapping, beavers were gone from colonial Massachusetts by 1750, and did not start to repopulate the state until 1930s. When colonial farmers relocated to new areas to start a new village they anticipated finding large, tree-free expanses near streams. These farm-ready spaces had once been beaver ponds. Resident beavers would have moved away after all the surrounding trees have been cut down and eaten. Or else had been trapped for pelts. Unmaintained dams deteriorated and washed out, draining the ponds and leaving fertile meadows.  

While recovery has not been as explosive as for whitetail deer, which now exceed their pre-European population, estimates are that Massachusetts is home to at least 100,000 beavers. The Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge is home to a dozen or more active colonies – all contributors to the wetlands habitat essential to many other species.

Many towns’ Department of Public Works have to deal with beaver management every year. Maynard's DPW has on several occasions brought in licensed trappers to remove beavers from wetlands near the town’s well fields. Homeowners can apply to a town’s Board of Health for an Emergency Permit to trap and kill beavers affecting private property. State law does not allow for relocation, or for that matter, destroying a dam or lodge without a permit.

When beavers are able to find a place to live without disruption, spring brings a litter of about four kits which will remain close to the parent pair for two years, helping out with chores such as dam and lodge maintenance, plus late-fall food storage in the form of underwater piles of branches. This way, food remains accessible under the winter ice. The adult male of the mated pair will create scent mounds marking the family’s territory. This territoriality results in families being no closer than half a mile from each other. If a beaver pond is seen with two lodges it just means the one family in residence upgraded.

Beaver skull purchased from licensed trapper.
Note orange tint to enamel. Click to enlarge.
Our resident adult beavers have no predators. Before the Europeans got here they were hunted by Native Americans, wolves, cougars and black bears. Nowadays, their lifespan in the wild can exceed 20 years, with adults typically weighing 45-65 pounds but known to top 100 pounds. Every spring, the two-year olds, evicted from their parents’ lodges, go a wandering. Summer sightings and new areas of tree damage are probably by these adolescents. Lodges are not always surrounded by water. If the water level is relatively stable the beaver will forego constructing a dam, and instead build a lodge next to shore, referred to as a bank lodge.

The four front wood-gnawing teeth, continually growing, are radically different from the chewing teeth. The enamel of the outer surface incorporates an iron-containing pigment which makes that surface harder and also orange in color. Because the rest of the tooth is a softer dentin material, the teeth resharpen with use.

Beaver skull showing space between
gnawing teeth and chewing teeth
Everyone knows that beavers chop down trees, but the descriptions in school-age appropriate texts omit a few facts. Yes, beavers use mud, rocks and branches to construct dams and lodges. Yes, branch tips and underbark are consumed as food. But did you know that gnawed food is only partially absorbed during passage through a lengthy small intestine? Whatever is left enters an enlarged section of the large intestine, where it undergoes bacterial breakdown. After a day of browsing on greenery, beavers retire to the lodge for the night, where they will defecate, gather up their feces, and eat everything all over again. Coprophagia (yes, it has a name) allows for enhanced energy absorption from the bacterially processed plant fiber, and is practiced by many other herbivores. The next morning the beavers defecate the twice processed material in the water outside the lodge and start the new day.

Beaver damage to large trees.
Beavers sometimes gnaw all the way around the trunk of a large tree, but do not finish the work, so the tree is dead but still standing. One theory is killing large trees will promote growth of new trees, which is what the beavers want to eat. The other theory is dental hygiene - the beavers need to gnaw on hard wood to keep their front teeth from getting too long. These two trees are next to the Assabet River on the Assabet River Walk trail. The bark is chewed to a height of about three feet. Nearby, there are stumps of small trees the beavers cut through and dragged into the river for food. The water level on this part of the river is set by the Powdermill Dam, so beavers have a lodge but no dam of their own.