Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Traditional Arabic Medicine

Women shopping at an herb and spice store,
Aleppo,Syria, 2007. Click on photos to enlarge.
Traditional Arabic Medicine (TAM) is far less well-known in the U.S. compared to other “traditional,” i.e., non-Western medical practices such as traditional Chinese medicine or traditional Indian (Ayurvedic or Unani) medicine. Per the World Health Organization, “Traditional medicine refers to health practices, approaches, knowledge and beliefs incorporating plant-, animal- and mineral-based medicines, spiritual therapies, manual techniques, and exercises applied singularly or in combination to treat, diagnose and prevent illnesses or maintain well-being.”

Much of the roots of Traditional Arabic Medicine stem from the Alexandrian conquests and the subsequent hundreds of years of rule by Greek colonists in the Hellenistic States, stretching from what is now Egypt to the western edges of what is now India. The medical works of Hippocrates and Galen laid the foundations for medical practice in the Middle East. Greek-derived medicine survived the Roman conquests and was later formalized by the translations of Greek texts into Arabic in the 8th century A.D. Major Ayurvedic texts were also being translated into Arabic at the same time, and Ayurvedic practices were melded into Arabic medicine

Advances in medicine during the Abbasid Caliphate (8th to 13th centuries) included the establishment of hospitals, surgical methods, medical encyclopedias, medical schools and the standardization of botanical preparations. The western reaches of the Islamic empire reached into what is now Spain, with centers of learning in Cordoba and Granada. Toward the end of the 12th century, translations from Arabic to Latin of such works as the Canon of Medicine and the Comprehensive Book on Medicine laid the foundation for the development of “Western” medicine in Europe.

Current use of TAM varies widely across the Middle East, and within countries by socio-economic status and education. Ethnobotanists have identified 200 to 300 plant-derived products in common use. The list includes: anise, black seed, cardamom, chamomile, cherry, cinnamon, clove, coriander, cress, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, flax, frankincense, galingale, ginger, Greek sage, henna, laurel, licorice, mastic, mint, mustard, nutmeg, olive, parsley, pepper, pimento, rosemary, saffron, senna, sumac, Syrian rue, turmeric and wormwood.

As an example of how one of these might show up as a modern dietary supplement ingredient, frankincense (Boswellia serrata) contains various boswellic acids, which can be concentrated into a Boswellia extract. Boswellic acids have been shown to inhibit the inflammation pathway. In clinical trials, Boswellia extracts have demonstrated promising effects in osteoarthritis, colitis and asthma.

In many cultures, traditional medicines include animal
parts in addition to plants. This shop has starfish and
turtle shells in addition to herbs, spices and food.
The 21st century future for TAM is not as strong as it is for traditional Indian or Chinese medicine. A 2006 visit to Damascus and Aleppo found herb-selling traditional Arab pharmacies in the souks, but in the suburbs there were cars double-parked in front of modern pharmacies where consumers raced in to buy glucosamine, ginkgo and other non-indigenous complementary and alternative medicines.

A survey of Arab practitioners in the Middle Eastern region provides evidence that TAM does not have this forward-looking momentum. Practitioners considered to be knowledgeable in their trade inherited the practice from their fathers or male relatives, or learned it as an apprentice. The survey's authors mentioned that the number of practitioners they were able to locate was fewer than reported in earlier surveys. There was limited exchange of information among healers, and no systematic instruction of the next generation of healers. The healers either sourced their herbs from the wild - limiting them to what grew locally - or purchased products from traditional Arab pharmacies. On average, each healer used only 22 botanical products in their practice - far fewer than the 200-300 that ethnobiologists had identified as still in common use. On the bright side, there are attempts to establish re­search/teaching centers, including gardens for medicinal plants.

To remain vibrant, any traditional medicine requires schools to continue to graduate practitioners, agreed upon definitions for botanical materials, stable sources of those plants and a population of consumers seeking traditional treatments. Given the current world dominance of “Western” medicine, advocates of traditional medicine may also try to apply evidence-based research methods to traditional practices. This typically involves identification of the active compounds in plant extracts, followed by evaluation through human studies. This approach can be conducted at regional universities. Or students from the region who have moved to other countries to complete their advanced education could conduct research there on treatments they were familiar with from childhood.

Black Seed (Nigella sativa) is one of the most commonly used botanical products throughout the Middle East. It is also an example of “Prophetic Medicine” - referring to health and disease statements found in the Holy Koran and in the Hadith - writings, sayings and traditions from Mohammad, the Prophet of Islam. An English translation of one statement: “There is healing in black seed for all ailments, except death.” Usage is oral consumption of the crushed seeds, sometimes mixed with foods (especially honey), or else oil extracted from the seeds. Traditional uses include treating  asthma, allergies, bronchitis, gastro-intestinal problems, to increase milk production in nursing mothers, and others. Placebo-controlled human studies suggest that Nigella extracts might lower blood pressure, cholesterol and fasting glucose.   

And because what's old is new again, local pharmacies carry dietary supplements containing ingredients such as chamomile, cinnamon, fenugreek, frankincense, garlic, ginger, turmeric...


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Salt-Cured Meat and Fish

Before refrigeration, before commercial development of the ice business, before canned goods, salting and/or drying, with or without smoke, were the major means of preserving meat. The idea was to make the food inhospitable to bacteria and mold, yet still edible. Hog killing time was in the fall. Yield included hams, bacon, sausage and a barrel of pork meat submerged in strong brine. What we call salt pork now is a small fraction of what went into a barrel back then. With careful planning the brined meat would last a family through the winter. In a novel set in colonial times, James Fenimore Cooper wrote: "I hold a family to be in a desperate way, when the mother can see the bottom of the pork barrel."

Late fall, after the first frosts, was hog killing time for a few reasons. Colder weather meant less of a problem with flies and risk of rot while the meat was being processed. Piglets from the spring's litter would have become hogs weighing 150 to 200 pounds. There was no reason to keep/feed hogs over the winter (except for the breeders, which reached an adult weight of 400 to 600 pounds, and ate 6,000 calories a day). Meat was packed in salt and let sit for weeks, with holes in the bottom of the basin for water to drip out. From here, some went into the smoke house for weeks of drying, while other cuts went into a barrel of brine. Either way, non-refrigerated storage was good for months and more. In Italy, air-dried Prosciutto hams are aged 14-30 months before going to market.

Salt beef was another food common to the era before refrigeration, especially aboard sailing ships, as barrels of this commodity would keep for months. Nowadays we are reduced to corned beef and pastrami, the key difference between the two being that the latter is dried and smoked in between the initial brining and the end-stage cooking. Much of the land in Ireland was given over to cattle for the British Navy and merchant fleets, leaving the native Irish to the cities, and potatoes. The Irish Potato Famine of the late 1840s, caused by a potato wasting disease, forced many to emigrate to the Americas, locally to work in factories.    

Salt cod. Click on photo to enlarge. (Internet download)
Salt cod is third example of a once common New England food, now less so. In Catholic neighborhoods, especially, markets would have these air-dried, salted, unrefrigerated fillets on display. The buyer would soak the cod in fresh water for at least 24 hours, changing the water several times, in order to rehydrate, and remove most of the salt. In Norway there used to be five different grades of salt cod: superior extra, superior, imperial, universal and popular. Top quality came from the fish being caught on a fishing line, bled while still alive, beheaded, gutted and immediately salted. This versus netted - which probably meant the fish was dead a while before being beheaded and gutted - then frozen on the ship, then thawed, salted and dried once ashore.

While all Catholics were eating salt cod during Lent, the local Finnish population had started eating lipeƤkala (lutefisk, i.e., 'lye fish') before Christmas. Same salt cod, but after the rehydrating water soak, soaked a couple of days in a strong lye solution, them more days of water soaking to remove most of the lye. First-timers describe is as either soapy tasting fish or fishy tasting soap. Either way, a strong odor and an acquired taste.     

'Pork barrel politics' is a metaphor for the appropriation of federal or state government spending for projects designed to bring money to a representative's home district. Construction, defense spending, and agricultural subsidies are the most commonly cited examples. A famous Massachusetts example was the Big Dig, a multi-billion dollar, federally funded, traffic improvement project shepherded through Congress by Thomas 'Tip' O'Neill, Jr., then representing Boston and serving as Speaker of House of Representatives. Closer to home we have the Assabet River Rail Trail, primarily funded by the Federal Highway Administration from the federal fuel tax. Your (and other people's) tax dollars at work.

"Bottom of the barrel" has other origins. When wine is stored in barrels, solid materials composed of grape skin fragments, dead yeast cells, tartaric acid crystals and precipitating tannins (the last from the grapes and also the wood of the barrel) settle to the bottom and are referred to as dregs or lees. Modern-day bottled wines are filtered, so there is much less of this, and thus less need for decanters, but even then there can be some post-filtering precipitates. Back in the era of unfiltered wine, the well-off got the good stuff and the poorer class of people drank wine from the bottom of the barrel. Present day usage means something being of poor quality. There is a belief that beer drawn from a fermentation tank is progressively darker toward the bottom. Not true.   

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Maynard News, 1917

One hundred years ago the local weekly newspapers, The Maynard News and the Maynard Enterprise, both served the towns of Maynard, Hudson, South Acton, Stow and Concord Junction (West Concord). Annual subscriptions cost $1.50. Advertisements for wicker baby buggies listed prices of $10 to $45. Automobiles started at $700.   

Although the 'Great War' [World War I], had started in July 1914, the United States did not enter until April 6, 1917. From an editorial: "War has been declared between the United States and Germany. On Friday, the House voted 373 to 50 in favor of war, thus authorizing the President, as Commander-in-Chief... it is probable that an army of at least 500,000 men will be raised immediately, and others will follow..."  By the war's end, 19 months later, close to five million men had entered the armed forces, and there had been 53,400 combat fatalities and 63,100 non-combat fatalities. The total represented one-tenth of one percent of the country's population. In contrast, The United Kingdom lost two percent, and France and Germany, more than three percent (not counting civilian deaths).

Stow and Maynard would have a combined total of 428 serving in the armed forces, with 13 fatalities. In Maynard, the American Legion Post, on Summer Street (its building sold in 2016 and converted to condominiums), was named after Frank DeMars, the first of eight Maynard residents to lose their lives. Bronze nameplates on posts in various locations about town honor those men. Maynard's Memorial Park - dedicated in 1925 - has a plaque listing all enrollees. Stow's War Memorial, in front of the Randall Library, also identifies those who served and those who died.

An item in the paper in August noted that Maynard resident Toivo Alto drowned while bathing at Vose Pond. He had immigrated from Finland to the U.S. ten years earlier, and worked at the mill. He, his wife, and children had gone to the pond, a popular bathing spot. Although he had been seen going under the surface, and was brought up to the surface in a little over a minute by other bathers, he could not be revived. The doctor ruled cause of death as heart failure and drowning.

Maynard High School baseball team, Spring 1917. The man in the suit was
Principal Horace F. Bates, graduate of Harvard and coach of the team. 
1917 was the first year for high school seniors to graduate from the new high school. That building is currently the east wing of ArtSpace, on Summer Street. The graduating class numbered only thirteen students. Maynard's population at the time was 7,000. Stow's was 1,100. Maynard's Annual Report recorded 111 deaths, 92 marriages and 236 births. There were 188 dog licenses issued, and taxes collected for 151 horses and 129 cattle. Cars and trucks were not yet tallied or taxed.

The Town of Maynard Annual Report adds a bit more detail to life at that time. The fire department was debating replacing the horse-drawn ladder wagon with a motor truck. It had been a quiet year, with only ten fire calls for the entire year. The police report for the year included 88 arrests for drunkenness, 44 for assault and battery, 6 for larceny and 3 for profanity. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

ARRT Progress Report May 2017

Ground-breaking ceremony for Assabet River Rail Trail - July 2016
May 27, 2017: Footbridge over Assabet River now open. Approaches still need some work. Mile marker post shows 1.25 miles from bridge to Stow/Maynard border. All paved and open.

At a July 2016 ceremony in Maynard, representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the towns of Acton and Maynard met to oversee and celebrate ground-breaking for the $6.7 million construction of 3.4 miles of the Assabet River Rail Trial (ARRT) in the two towns, to run from the Stow/Maynard border in the southwest to the Acton train station in the northeast. Completion of this part of the trail is planned for spring of 2018. The contractor for this multi-year project is D'Allessandro Corp., a Massachusetts-based company with lots of experience in road, sidewalk, park and water management projects.

May 2017 is seeing efforts to complete much of the trail in Maynard. Starting from the south end, the trail is receiving the second/final layer of asphalt pavement, street crossing lights, signage, a parking lot at Ice House Landing, mileage markers, benches, bicycle racks, stone dust shoulders, topsoil and landscaping. The footbridge behind the post office, installed in February, is expected to be opened soon. Farther northwards, there is a bit of unfinished business just south of Summer Street, and then the soon-to-be-completed part of the Trail extends as far as Concord Street

Stow/Maynard border, looking toward Maynard. Stone posts show distance in
miles from the border, going north. Click on photos to enlarge.
The southwest end terminates at an entrance to the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge, which offers 15 miles of trails, half open to bicycling. ARNWR has parking lots near the north and south entrances. Walkers and cyclists are also permitted to travel 1.85 miles farther west on the unpaved, privately owned "Track Road," which ends at Sudbury Road, Stow

Going the other way, all of the Trail north of Concord Street is an active construction project, not open to the public. There has been tree clearing and pre-paving leveling, but construction is expected to continue through the summer and into the fall before any parts of this are finished.

Map of Track Road section.
All of the current project is the north end of a planned 12.4 mile trail. The south end, 5.8 miles in Hudson and Marlborough, was completed years ago. Connecting the two along the route of the original railroad, which would include Track Road, would cover 3.2 miles and cross the Assabet River twice. An alternative would be to go through the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge south before turning west. This would add many (scenic) miles to the originally proposed length, but obviate the need for the two bridges. Either way, the connection project is years away.

New benches at Mill Street. Route 117 in background.
An oft-asked question is whether the Acton end of ARRT will be connected to the Bruce Freeman Trail (from Lowell, through West Concord, to Sudbury). There is no disused rail right-of-way between the two, and thus no good option for an off-street connection. One possibility would be to create a three mile long bicycle lane on School Street and Laws Brook Road

Bruce Freeman Trail is also a work in progress. Construction is nearing completion for a bridge over Route 2A, but not as far south as over Route 2. That, and the extension to West Concord and points south are in the future.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wolves Repopulate Massachusetts - NOT!

Before Europeans arrived in North America, what is now the 48 contiguous states, i.e., all but Alaska and Hawaii, was home to an estimated 250,000 wolves. And 10 to 20 million deer. Nowadays the estimates are 5,500 wolves, and 25 to 30 million deer. There has been lobbying to restore wolves to the east, much as was done for bald eagles, but no action expected in the near, middle or distant future. Because it is one thing to restore the national symbol, and another to have the big, bad wolf wandering about the Berkshires.  

The anti-wolf movement started ten years after the Mayflower landed. In 1630, the Massachusetts Bay Colony approved a bounty for each wolf killed. Other colonies followed suit, at times switching back and forth between bounties paid to anyone and professional hunter/trappers. The first cause for this animosity was to stop depredation of domestic animals - cattle, sheep and pigs. Wolves had been eradicated in England and Scotland long before colonization to the Americas, so while the settlers had folklore of the depredations of wolves, actually losing livestock was a rude jolt.

By 1840 there were no more wolves in Massachusetts. Henry David Thoreau had lamented that of New England's wild life, nothing larger than foxes remained. Wolf extirpation followed in neighboring states, so by 1900 there were no more wolves in New England.

The practice of killing wolves to make land safer for pastured sheep and cows shifted west as Americans moved west. In time, a second cause evolved. The early decades of colonization treated wildlife as an inexhaustible resource. Deer were hunted for family consumption, but also for the market for meat that grew as cities grew. In time, game became scarce, hunting for market was banned and the concept of licensed sport hunting matured. Wolves were hunted, trapped and poisoned so there would be more deer and elk to be shot for sport. Anti-predator attitudes extended to mountain lions and coyotes.  

What was learned, slowly, was that without apex predators, herbivores will multiply to beyond what the greenscape can support. Starting in 1994, a great experiment was conducted in and around Yellowstone National Park. Thirty wolves were trapped in Canada and released in the Park. Within ten years the population peaked at approximately 300. It has since declined to half that due to pack-to-pack competition for territory and out-migration. The elk population declined from 20,000 to what may be a stable 5,000. Mule deer, moose and bison populations showed little change. Spending by hunters is way down, but is more than compensated by wolf-related tourism. 

There have been other interesting consequences. The coyote population has been halved, but the grizzly bear and cougar populations stayed stable. Bald eagles and ravens - scavengers at wolfkills - increased in number. With the end of over-grazing by elk much plant life recovered, bringing biodiversity.

The concept of "ecology of fear" came out of this experiment. When animals continuously fear predators, behavior changes. More time spent on surveillance and staying nearer to safe havens means less time eating. Less time eating slows growth and reproductive success. Locally, our examples of animals without fear include turkeys and geese.       

Looks like lunch! (Internet download, click on photo to enlarge.)
There are proposals to restore wolves to upstate New York and northern Maine, which in time would result in populating surrounding regions. A big question: Will wolves attack people?  Nineteenth century newspaper accounts describe wolf packs attacking and eating children, adults, even armed adults who managed to kill some of the wolves before dying. Wolf attacks on humans are very rare now, but the main cause is that wolves are rare. What is being reported are increasing numbers of attacks on dogs. Hunters that use off-leash dogs for licensed bear hunting are reporting dog kills in Idaho, Wisconsin and other states. Pet dogs have been taken in parks in Minnesota.

There is an argument for a net benefit from restoring wolves to the east. Currently, 150-200 people die each year from vehicle collisions with deer. Restoring wolves would reduce that number, perhaps at the cost of 1-2 deaths per year from wolf attacks. Logical? Yes. Emotionally reassuring? No. One solution would to be equip a wolf or two per wolfpack with a GPS device and have a wolf app on your smart phone.

Not in the newspaper column: In 2007 a wolf was shot in Shelburne, Massachusetts, after reports of an animal killing sheep and lambs. DNA testing confirmed the 85 pound male animal as a gray wolf. The nearest known wild wolf population was in Canada, some 350 miles away. Back in elk country, the estimates are that wolf packs will kill 22 elk or other large ungulates per wolf per year. Deer being much smaller, it could mean more than 50 deer per wolf per year! Meanwhile, there have been scores if not hundreds of documented coyote attacks on humans, sometimes by rabid animals and sometimes not. Two attacks have resulted in deaths - a three year old child (1981), and a 19 year old woman (2009). Rabies more commonly affects raccoons, skunks and foxes, but can cross to coyotes. A common sign of rabies is a loss of fear of natural predators (and humans), abnormal behavior, such as being active during daylight hours for a species typically nocturnal, and aggressive biting.      

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Bald Eagles Repopulate Massachusetts

Bald eagles don't have to be fast, only strong. The majority of their diet is either fish or stuff already dead, competing in the latter situation with vultures, ravens and crows. Adults weigh 9-13 pounds (females are larger than males), and can easily lift a 3-5 pound fish out of the water. An eagle that ends up in the water - perhaps after grasping a too-large fish - can take off from the water's surface. Bald eagles also prey on young Canada geese, ducks and small mammals. And steal food from other predators, such as ospreys.

Bald eagle, Lake Boon 2011 (Martin French)
Bald eagles are in the genus Haliaeetus, common name sea eagles, of which the Steller's Sea Eagle* is the largest. Of the some 60 eagle species worldwide, our bald eagle does not make the top five for weight or wingspan. All eagle species are long-lived. For the bald eagle, lifespan in the wild often exceeds 20 years. In captivity, lifespan has been known to exceed 50 years.

During nesting season the mated pair are both involved in egg-sitting and bring food to the young - typically two - eaglets. The parents each need close to a pound of food per day, and the growing eaglets not much less, so an adequate food supply is essential to raising a family    

According to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, there were 56 nesting pairs of eagles in the state in 2016, up from 51 the year before. The process of restoring eagles to this state began in 1982. Over a six year period, 41 eagle chicks were collected in Canada and released in the Quabbin Reservoir area. The chicks fledged, i.e., reached flying age, at 11 to 12 weeks. Most survived the next critical period of six weeks during which hunting, flying (and landing) skills were improving. In a normal situation the young chicks would have been fed every 4 to 5 hours by their parents, but in this relocation program the human caregivers wore a hand puppet that looked like an adult eagle's head. The effort to restore eagles to Massachusetts was part of the federally funded Northern States Bald Eagle Recovery Plan. 

Bald eagle with a fish (Internet photo). Click on photos to enlarge
The effort worked. Young eagles take four to five years to reach sexually mature adulthood, including a slow transition from juvenile all-brown tones to adult coloration, during which time they wander hundred of miles but tend to return to the general area where they were born to seek a mate and start raising families. By 1989 the relocated eagles were starting to nest in the Quabbin region. Since then, nesting sites have been spreading east and west. The nearest to us is in Framingham. Any local eagle sightings are of wanderers - either juveniles that have not yet paired up or adults during the non-nesting part of the year, which runs from mid-July to mid-January.

Juvenile bald eagle lacks the white feathered head and  tail,
and beak has not yet turned yellow. (Internet photo)
In Colonial times, an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 bald eagles populated what would become the continental United States, i.e., excluding Alaska and Hawaii. But by the 1970s, through a combination of hunting, loss of habitat and the unexpected effects of DDT spraying for mosquitoes, the number of nesting pairs had dropped to under 500. Through a combination of banning of DDT in 1972, the Endangered Species Act (1973) and the relocation programs, nesting pairs now exceed 10,000 and the species is no longer considered endangered. It is still protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.**

Lead poisoning continues to be an issue. The most significant hazard to wildlife is through direct ingestion of spent lead shot and bullets, lost fishing sinkers, or through consumption of prey containing lead shot or bullet fragments. While lead was federally banned for waterfowl hunting in 1991, its use in ammunition for other hunting remains widespread.

For many years, I half-remembered, or perhaps remembered half, of a short poem about birds of prey. While not specifically about bald eagles, it does capture a predator's sudden brutality. As remembered:

In the woods, I heard a scream.
Whether it was bird of prey
   or prey of bird,
I do not know, I only heard.

And then, while working on this column, I remembered the book I had read it in. So, as actually written:

BY NIGHT
After midnight I heard a scream.
I was awake, it was no dream.
But whether it was bird of prey
Or prey of bird I could not say.
I never heard that sound by day.
   - Robert Francis

*Steller's Sea Eagle: Georg Wilhelm Steller (1709-1946) was a naturalist on a Russian expedition to the Bering Sea in 1740. This eagle is 1.5 times the weight of the bald eagle. Adult females are known to top 20 pounds. Diet is mostly fish. In addition to the sea eagle, other species bearing his name are the Steller's Jay, Steller's Sea Lion, and Steller's Sea Cow. The last, a relative of manatees and dugongs, was hunted to extinction within decades after Steller's identification of the species.
Adult Golden Eagle (Internet download)

**The Golden Eagle is native to North America, but unlike the Bald Eagle, not limited to North America. Golden Eagles prey primarily on small mammals, and prefer open plains and mountains to densely wooded terrain. But they do wander east as far as Massachusetts, and can be mistaken for immature Bald Eagles. The original federal Act (1940) protected only Bald Eagles, but was extended to cover Golden Eagles in 1962.  

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Assabet River Rail Trail - April 2017

See May update: footbridge open to traffic even though fencing and landscaping not complete.

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.
Maynard did not become a town until 1871, so the road
predates the town by several centuries.
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: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1862/06/walking/304674/
https://www.walden.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Walking-1.pdf 

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:
https://archive.org/details/writingsofhenryd08thorrich

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: https://archive.org/details/oldconcordherhig00sidn_0) 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. https://archive.org/details/annalsofsudburyw00huds

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. A good guess is where Emerson Hospital is located.

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.