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: 

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 beginning of OLD MARLBORO Road in Concord,
near Emerson Hospital. 
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.  

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.

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.
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, which is four miles distant from the center of Concord.

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. More likely Thoreau was referring to a Concord buried treasure legend.

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. 

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.


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