Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Work/Live/Play - Maynard

Struck as I was by the recent find of an aerial photo of the mill from the 1930s with no parking lots, I wondered if Maynard is again becoming a town for people who want to work, live and play in the same place. Of course, the reason back then was the dearth of car ownership. The reason now is the realization that every minute taken by commuting is a minute stolen from quality of life. Realtors tell us location, location, location. And now, websites such as Zillow, Trulia and City-Data help potential buyers parse exactly what location means.

Business in the mill
Work: Without a broad mix of employment opportunities, cities and towns have no reason to continue to exist. This is especially obvious in the decay of one-company towns. Examples can be as small as New England’s once-upon-a-time mill towns, but also as large as what has caused the median house sale price in the city of Detroit to be under $50,000. Old rules dictated that cities developed around seaports and navigable rivers, sites rich in natural resources, or in places where falling water could power mills. In time, infrastructure that contributed to creating or supporting cities grew to include canals, railroads, roads and airports. And as the nature of work became more cerebral, cities with good universities attract companies that required hyper-educated employees. Think Boston or San Francisco.    

Apartment building construction, fall 2014, next to McDonald's
restaurant. A dentists' clinic occupies the first floor.
Live: The options are few: don’t work, live where you work, or live in a “bedroom suburb,” i.e., sleep here, work there.  Critical for rebirth after a company has departed from a one-company town is a mix of old and new housing, owned or rented, at affordable prices, near enough to the new places where people will be working. Right now, Maynard is the low-cost hole in the middle of a high cost donut. It attracts renters and first home buyers. Because the homes are small and on small lots it also attracts empty nest downsizers who do not want to leave the area.

Safety is a critical issue for any “live here?” consideration. Schools matter even if there are no children in the family, as quality of schools helps drive home values. Commuting distances to where the jobs are matter. Having a vibrant arts, music and food culture is icing on the cake. One big advantage for Maynard is walkability. Once downtown, which for many is just a short walk, everything is a short walk. I was recently in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, where the median house price is over one million dollars and nothing was walkable.

John A. Crowe Park. Named after Reverend Crowe, Pastor at 
St. Bridget's Parish from 1894-1905. He was instrumental in 
securing the land for the park,and served as its first superintendent. 
He was present at the dedication of the park in 1915.
Play: From bar crawl to nature walk, communities that offer a variety of recreational options are more attractive than those that do not. A partial list: playgrounds, playing fields, woodland trails, a rail trail (!), theater, music, art, dance, restaurants and bars. There should also be opportunities to gather at public places, where one might run into friends and meet new people: a farmers’ market, concerts in the park… Having a variety of what-to-do options when living in a town that has a retail center are not new to this century. Maynard used to have a bandstand, more than one movie theater, billiard parlors, bowling lanes, a roller skating rink, ice skating on a man-made pond next to Glenwood Cemetery, Vose Pond for swimming…

Maynard is months away from the official opening of the Assabet River Rail Trail (there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony), which adds a walking and biking (and skateboarding) means of connecting the edges of the town to the center. It is an interesting observation that the Hudson portion of ARRT was completed ten years ago, and coincidently or not, downtown Hudson has had a significant increase in vitality. Looking forward, the same may happen here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Maynard: Founders' Day 2018

The inaugural celebrations marking the founding of Maynard, April 19, 1871, are described in great detail in the 1921 book "A Brief History of Maynard." Drawing on newspaper accounts of the time, the first town meeting, on April 27th, just eight days after the Commonwealth had granted the petition to create the town, met for the purpose of electing key officials, and then ended early, to turn to the celebrations.

The parade included the Eagle Cornet Band, International Order of Good Templars, the Amateur Brass Band, St. Bridget Temperance and Benevolent Society, and town officials. A Revolutionary War cannon was borrowed from Concord. The Treasurer's Report recorded $13.50 spent on gunpowder.   

Aerial view drawing of the center of Maynard, made eight years after the
creation of Maynard as a separate town. Mill complex smaller and pond
larger than present-day. Both parts of the image show the mansions of
Amory Maynard and Lorenzo Maynard on the hill south of the mill.
Prior to the date, Assabet Village, as the hamlet was known, was a fast-growing mill town straddling the Assabet River, which was also the border between Sudbury and Stow. These ‘parent’ towns had been against the idea, as the proposed new town would take roughly 50 percent of their populations. Stow residents circulated three petitions which garnered about 140 signatures. Sudbury held a vote at Town Meeting, 183 against and 88 for. In disregard of this opposition (and perhaps influenced by some undocumented lobbying), the request to form a new town was granted. Some solace was achieved by Maynard making payments to the towns seceded from. 

A note here on the 'founders' of Maynard. Histories of the town list as founder the 71 men who signed a petition dated January 26, 1871. There is more history behind this history. Months earlier there had been a petition with 68 signees to create a town, name not yet selected, to encompass small parts of Acton and Concord in addition to larger portions of Sudbury and Stow. This was never submitted to the state legislature. The second petition gave up annexing the gunpowder mill land from the first two towns.

Subsequent to this official petition there were three additional supporting petitions with 76 more names. All tallied, minus six who signed more than once. the count came to 209 men who favored the creation of a new town. (Women not achieving a right to vote until 1920.)

Maynard Centennial medal shows Amory Maynard. He and
William Knight started the woolen mill in 1846.
Amory Maynard was not among the signees although he was perhaps the largest landowner and also part owner and manager of the woolen mill. His sons Lorenzo and William signed, and Lorenzo became the town's first Treasurer and Tax Collector. An account of the day, in the Hudson newspaper, had this comment on how the town came to be named: "Mr. Maynard is the chief founder of the community now incorporated in his name. He is a taking man withal, and his personal christening of the new town is a popular acknowledgement of his agency in its birth and breeding."

Milestone anniversaries have been celebrated in various ways. The 50th anniversary was a huge event. According to the program, church observances on Sunday, April 17th, school observances on Monday, and on Tuesday morning a 50-gun salute and a parade of an estimated 1,000 people down Main, Nason and Summer Streets. Speeches by Governor Cox and Senator Gibbs followed. Local veterans of the Civil War (!), Spanish-American War and the Great War participated. Afternoon activities included Glee Club and choir singing, a band concert and ball game - Maynard versus Concord - at Crowe Park.

Centennial Time Capsule
Click on photos to enlarge.
Likewise, the 100th anniversary was a huge event. Huge. Celebration was pushed to June (perhaps in hope of better weather). Ten days of celebrations included picnics, concerts and performances, capped by a parade and fireworks on July 4th.  

The 125th anniversary celebration, in 1996, appears to have been a subdued affair. The Maynard Historical Committee published a collection of essays on town history. One puzzle: there are photos of the Olympic Torch being carried through Maynard by a young runner. It turns out that the torch was in Massachusetts on June 15th to be relayed along the entire route of the Boston Marathon, and while in the state, visited many other towns, including Maynard and Stow.

Looking futureward, hold this date, as the Town of Maynard is planning several events to celebrate its sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary celebration. Events will start with the opening of a 1971 Time Capsule (actually, a box) currently on display in Town Hall.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Things Change (Retail Businesses)

According to one definition from the Oxford English Dictionary, history is “A continuous, typically chronological, record of important or public events or of a particular trend or institution.” In a less formal tone, “You’re history” conveys the sense that a person no longer factors into current or future events. Back in high school, I remember the history we were taught as not getting past World War II. It was as if any subsequent events had not been sorted, sifted, interpreted into what was the ‘right’ history worthy of teaching.

Personally, I think history is everything up to this morning’s cup of coffee. This column is about retail businesses that have come and gone since I moved here in 2000. Because every business launched and sunk was someone’s vision of being part of Maynard’s history. And part of recording that history has become my effort to take a photograph of every business sign.

This is not about long-lived establishments that chose to close since 2000. Not about the Episcopalian, Methodist or Congregational churches, which closed their doors in 2006, 2014 and 2017 respectively, after 111, 119 and 164 years (respectively) of providing places of worship. Not about Gruber Bros. Furniture, which was with us for almost 100 years. Not about the older drinking and eating establishments that folder their doors: Amory’s, Paul’s Bakery, Sit ‘N Bull, Stretch’s Tavern and Oriental Delight – all of which made it to this century only to depart soon thereafter. Not retailers Aubuchon’s Hardware, Bikeworx, Gramps’ Garage, Masciarelli’s Jewelers and Samuel’s Studio. Not organizations such as American Legion, Knights of Columbus and the Masons having given up their buildings. All predating 2000. All gone now.

No, this is about businesses that started and ended between 2000 and 2018, some with us for a handful of years, some less. If this litany learns us anything, it is that being a retail business is hard. Fraught with failure. Naming just food and drink establishments: 51 Main Street, Café La Mattina, Cast Iron Kitchen, Christopher’s, Fast and Little, Halfway Café (reimagined as The Brook), Johnny Ray’s Ultimate, JoJo’s West, Malcolm’s Steakhouse, Morey’s Tavern, Neighborhood Brick Oven Pizza, Peyton’s RiversEdge, On A Roll (the hot dog joint), River Rock Grill, Quarterdeck Restaurant and Savoring Indian Cuisine. (And yes, this list is missing a few names – the Brazilian restaurant, the Brazilian bakery, the ice cream shop.) Restauranting is tough. Nationally, research shows that 45 percent of restaurants fail within the first three years.

Other short-timers: BitSlinger Systems, Bon Marche, Dunia, India Palace, The Meeting Place, Ochre Blue Gallery, Paint ‘n Pour,  Porfino’s Barbarshop, The Smart Room, This & That Consignment and Whole Health dietary supplements. (And yes, this list is missing names of businesses I neglected to photograph and fail to remember.)

In Requiem for a Nun, William Faulkner wrote “The past is never dead. It's not even past.” The book itself is convoluted Southern Gothic, emblematic of Faulkner although not at his best, but the line lives an independent life. During the primaries leading up to the 2008 presidential election, then-Senator Barack Obama gave a speech “A More Perfect Union.” His theme was how the long tail of racial injustice in the United States colors present thinking and behavior. His not-quite-Faulkner version, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” captured the complexity of 2008, present now more than ever. See #BlackLivesMatter. See #MeToo.

This one set a record, for having
a sign, but never actually opening
as a business. 
Locally, the retail start-up/fail process will continue. Only the future will determine whether that is the usual churn or part of a morphing (gentrifying?) Maynard that will simultaneously remember and forget its past. Restaurants will open in the same spaces as past restaurants, mostly because the buildings are already zoned to be restaurants. Storefronts will open every time a person thinks 1,000 square feet and an idea equals a business plan. Selling stuff or selling services, the comparatively low rents of Maynard compared to, say, Concord, made it an attractive place to attempt to start a business. Some of these will make no sense for Maynard. Some of these will make no sense at all.

Mark’s daughter has just launched a I-don’t-need-a-store business in Los Angeles. She is making miniatures of the climbing holds used in rock climbing gyms, as refrigerator magnets. See www.tinyclimbers.com.