Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Treeless in Maynard

Clearing for the Assabet River Rail Trail involved cutting
hundreds of trees, some more than a foot in diameter. This
photo of section behind Cumberland Farms gas station.
Instead of “Sleepless in Seattle,” how about “Treeless in Maynard?”  From either Google’s satellite map or casual driving around, there is a first-glance sense that Maynard is adequately treed, but arborist history tells a different and continually changing story. The de-treeing of our town is a consequence of deliberate deforestation, species-specific diseases, invasive insect species, invasive plant species, uncompensated storm damage, deferred maintenance, and even the consequences of the return of deer and beaver to eastern Massachusetts.  

The colonists’ approach to a wooded New England was “The first thing we do, let's cut down all the trees." The resultant landscape was farmland and pasture. Massachusetts gradually became rewooded after the mid-nineteenth century as farms were abandoned, people either shifted toward factory jobs in cities or relocated to the fertile, flatter lands of western Pennsylvania and Ohio. Demand for wood for fuel was superseded by coal and oil.

Abandoned farm land reforested naturally, but a conscious decision was necessary for industrial era towns – trees or no trees? In that era of people not having cars or air conditioning, trees provided shade for sidewalks and homes. There are studies showing that in urban and suburban environments, more trees per square mile leads to cooler, cleaner air, happier people, and even lower medical expenses for treatment of physical and mental ailments.

Two tree diseases caused dramatic changes to public-space plantings. Chestnut blight, an airborne fungus accidentally introduced to the United States around 1904, killed as estimated three billion trees from Mississippi to Maine within 50 years. Subsequently, many cities, towns and college campuses were planted with rows of elm trees – note streets named Elm or Elmwood – but in 1928 a shipment of logs from the Netherlands that was infested with elm bark beetles led to a fungal plague that killed between 75 and 100 million trees.

Hurricane damage, Sept 1938
Invasive insect species had a massive impact. The caterpillars of Gypsy, Brown-tail and Winter moths (plus native tent caterpillars) can completely defoliate trees. If this happens for several years in a row the trees become weakened and suspect to disease. The larvae of Emerald Ash Borer and Asian Longhorned beetles have a more directly fatal impact on ash and other deciduous trees, as does the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid on hemlocks. The impact of invasive plant species is subtle, but still considerable. Oriental bittersweet vines grow into the tops of mature trees, overshadowing the trees’ leaves and breaking branches with weight, until the trees die. Japanese Barberry and Garlic Mustard release chemicals into the soil that hinder the growth of other plants.

Eastern Massachusetts suffered extensive tree damage from a September 1938 hurricane. Maynard’s annual report for that year mentions 900 trees blown down in streets, parks, cemeteries and on houses, and an additional 800 trees severely damaged. The report goes on to mention that 780 trees were planted to replace what was lost. Closer to now, creating the Assabet River Rail Trail caused the cutting of more than 600 trees four or more inches in diameter, with replacement plantings of smaller trees perhaps one-fifth that number.

Hurricane damage, Sept 1938. Photos courtesy of
Maynard Historical Society. Click to enlarge.
Deer browse on small trees. The result is a forest of mature and old trees, but no replacement trees in the understory. Beaver have returned to the Assabet River and are killing many of the trees bordering the river and millpond.          

Lastly, the Town of Maynard will need to decide how to manage what had once been scores of trees planted along Nason and Main Streets and other public places. Most of these are either long-dead, stumps cut flush with the ground, or standing dead, or standing sickly. Consequently, the streets are becoming shade-free zones, the sidewalks punctuated by squares of dirt from which nothing is growing.

How to combat the treeless trend? Have a program to promote trees on town property and giveaways for plantings on private property. As new buildings are proposed, have a master plan that preserves greenspace, providing for both recreational parks and nature reserves. The City of New York posts an Approved Species List for urban plantings, with division into large, medium intermediate and small trees: Trees rule!

Not in article: Norway maple was a popular urban and suburban tree choice in the second half of the twentieth century, but was designated by Commonwealth of Massachusetts as an invasive species in 2006, sales banned. Removal of existing trees not required. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

World War II: Maynard's Observation Tower

World War II observation tower built atop Summer Hill, Maynard, MA.
Staffed initially by volunteers from American Legion, replaced by
U.S. Coast Guard. Abandoned after war, and burned October 31, 1951.

Once the war commenced in Europe, Maynard appointed Guyer W. Fowler as Chief Air Raid Warden. Women were trained as volunteer air raid wardens. The American Legion – veterans of service in the U.S. armed forces – took it upon themselves to use the hose-drying tower at the fire station on Nason Street to serve as an airplane watch tower. Then, three days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Maynard’s Selectmen declared a “state of emergency.” A decision was made to build an observation tower atop Summer Hill. Louis Boeske donated the gravel for an access road – the same road used to service the town’s water tanks today – and townspeople, including many high school students, provided the labor. The tower became operational January 12, 1942. An open house event was conducted on March 1, 1942, attended by 500 people! The tower was staffed around the clock.

The concept of civilian observers was loosely modeled on the Royal Observer Corps, Great Britain’s civilian spare-time volunteers, who provided invaluable enemy plane observations to the Royal Air Force during World War II. The ROC started out as untrained civilians with binoculars. It evolved to a uniformed corps of men and women, still civilian, deeply involved in guiding RAF planes during the Battle of Britain, and then for the Normandy invasion, ROC men were stationed on Allied ships to help them avoid firing at their own planes.

Here in Maynard, the operation of the observation tower remained in civilian hands until January 1943, when staffing was taken over by the 605th U.S. Coast Guard Artillery. Maynard was a valid strategic target. The mill was making blankets for the U.S. Army. A quarter of Maynard land on the south side had been taken by eminent domain in April 1942 to create a munitions storage and transfer facility called the Maynard Ordnance Supply Depot. Gunpowder was being manufactured on the Maynard/Acton border at the American Powder Company.  

In retrospect, the creation of the observation tower on Summer Hill, complemented by formation of a committee to implement blackout drills, and having the streets department filling with sand any buckets or other containers people placed outside their homes, for purpose of extinguishing fires started by bombs, was all moot. Germany had no aircraft carriers. German battleships never operated in the western parts of the Atlantic Ocean. Plans for German long-range bombers were initiated, but never came to fruition. The only serious reach of the Axis forces across the North Atlantic was the operation of submarines up and down the coast (and into the Gulf of Mexico), which sank hundreds of ships, some within sight of major cities.

The U.S. Army constructed concrete watch towers along the east coast, including sites in Massachusetts such as Marblehead Neck, but the intended purpose was to scan the ocean for submarines. Back then, submarines spent most or the time on the surface because that allowed propulsion from diesel engines. Once submerged, all power came from batteries. Underwater, the boats were slower, and time underwater was limited. Coastal watchtowers made sense. Inland, not so much.

Reservoirs on top of Summer Hill. Old tank (left), built 1888,
concrete, roof added after this photo taken. New tank (right)
was steel construction, built 1972. Gravity provides water
pressure for town's water system (and fire hydrants).
Combined capacity approximately 4.6 million gallons,
the equivalent of a 4-6 day water supply for the town. 
After the war ended, Maynard’s observation tower was obsolete. The government returned it to the town. It deteriorated. In 1947 the tower was turned over to Maynard’s Boy Scout Troop. The night of October 30, 1951, the tower was completely destroyed by fire. Paul Boothroyd, lifelong resident of Maynard, mentioned that his father put in time at the observation tower, and said that the location was where Maynard’s second water reservoir tank was built in 1972.

CODA: There are rumors of German POWs working at the woolen mill during the war. This is not true. While there were scores of prison camps scattered across the United States to hold some 400,000+ prisoners, only a few camps were in Massachusetts, and no POWs were assigned to work in the mill. The closest prison camp was Fort Devens, host to 3,100 “Anti-Nazi” prisoners. These were men who had been in the German Army, but opposed Nazi government and philosophy. (Many were socialists or communists.) There were segregated from other German prisoners for their own safety.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Maynard Garden Club 1938-1962

Peony (click on photos to enlarge)

The garden club we have now – Maynard Community Gardeners, 1995-present, is not a continuation or rebirth of the Maynard Garden Club that came into being September 1938 and apparently ended circa 1962. The Maynard Historical Society has copious notes on the first garden club, including minutes from many of the early meetings.

The decision to form a local garden club was triggered by a presentation by Mrs. Walsh, President of the Winthrop Garden Club, on the topic “Garden Clubs.”  Early on, a constitution and by-laws were composed. Initially, membership was limited to 25 and annual dues were $.50, later changed to 35 members and $1.00. Per the MGC constitution: “The object of the Club shall be to stimulate the knowledge and love of gardening among amateurs.” In comparison, the present-day Maynard Community Gardeners has approximately 90 dues-paying members, dues of $20/year and as its mission statement: “Dedicated to sharing a common interest in horticultural activities, promoting town beautification, and creating gardening opportunities for all.”

In comparison, the present-day Maynard Community Gardeners has approximately 100 dues paying members. Per the MGC constitution: “The object of the Club shall be to stimulate the knowledge and love of gardening among amateurs.”

There is an interesting letter from 1939, advice from the same Mrs. Walsh, on whether the Maynard club should join the Federation. This was apparently the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts. Mrs. Walsh wrote “The Federation activities are run by a group of wealthy women, Groton, Lexington, Concord, Newton, etc., with large estates and they have plenty of money to do things with…there is quite a feeling that the smaller clubs are like ‘poor relations’ if you know what I mean.” There is no record that MGC joined. The Federation still exists. Maynard Community Gardeners is not a member.

The club’s finances were modest in the extreme. The 1940 Treasurer’s report noted $13.00 collected in dues and $4.50 in entry fees for the annual flower show. Expenditures included $16.50 paid to speakers and $3.00 for membership in the Massachusetts Agricultural Society.

Cover art on the
1960-1961 program.
The annual programs, which for most years described monthly meetings spanning September to June, were printed on card stock with an artist’s drawing of a flower arrangement on the front cover. In addition to educational speakers presenting at the meetings, the club also performed public service – there are thank-you notes from the Bedford Veterans Hospital expressing thanks for the donation of flower arrangements, and a note that at least for a time the club was helping maintain a garden at Emerson Hospital.

Sometimes gifts to other organizations were modest in nature. A record of donations for 1951 to 1955, inclusive, totaled $23.00. That included $5.00 to Maynard Girl Scouts, $5.00 to the Jimmy Fund, $5.00 to MA Heart Fund and $4.00 to Red Cross. 

There were parallels between the garden club then and the garden club now, including bringing in outside speakers, corresponding with other garden clubs, field trips to places such as Garden in the Woods, a holiday season party with exchanges of gifts, and an annual plant sale.

Maynard Community Gardeners plant sale, 2013
One difference is that the present-day garden club does not have a judged flower arrangement contest. A second difference is that the present-day club has a community outreach program that includes the perennial plantings at Maplebrook Park, plantings at the “Welcome to Maynard” signs and the historic horse watering troughs, plus flower barrels scattered about downtown on Nason and Main Streets. For the last, the town provides the barrels; members adopt a barrel and are then responsible for planting and watering. The town gathers up the barrels in the fall. 

Toward the end of the existence of the Maynard Garden Club there were 24 members – all women – and the annual program ran from September to June. Meeting presentations were mostly by members. Topics included such as: Flower Arrangements, Dried Flower Arrangements, Christmas Corsages, Valentine Arrangements, Day Lillies, and a joint meeting with the Maynard Woman’s Club (itself in existence 1904-1976). There is nothing in the files to show that the Maynard Garden club Continued beyond the 1961-62 year.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Photos from the ARRT Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

ASSABET RIVER RAIL TRAIL: A ribbon-cutting ceremony took place on August 10th, 2:00 p.m., at the Acton end of the Assabet River Rail Trail. Mass Department of Transportation (MassDOT) Secretary/CEO Stephanie Pollack, was joined by state and town officials to say a few words. Everyone was eloquent, and the crowd of roughly 100 people stayed to the end despite the hot summer day. Their reward was cake and lemonade.

D'Allessandro Corp. was the construction company. Despite the
ceremony, there is still an unfinished section about 200 yards
long, just north of Concord Street. May be completed by
Labor Day. The delay is due to contaminated soil.

Cake! Printed with the ARRT logo and the names of the
five towns connected (sort of) by the rail trail. Reality is
a north end and a south end, but nothing for Stow, in the middle.

The gathered crowd of about 100 people. More than two
dozen rode bicycles to get there. Others had walked the
Trail from Maynard to Acton.

Maynard has in mind making the trail a "Trail of Flowers"
by allowing volunteers to plant daffodils and tulips and
other spring blooming bulbs along the trail. This photo is
of a volunteer planted plot older than the Trail, corner
of Summer, Brooks and Maple.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

ARRT Ribbon Cutting Event - Aug 2018

July 2016: Ground-breaking
ceremony for Acton/Maynard.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned for August 10th, 2:00 p.m., at the Acton end of the Assabet River Rail Trail. Mass Department of Transportation (MassDOT) Secretary/CEO Stephanie Pollack will join state and local officials (not yet named) at the event. If the weather is nice, consider walking, running or bicycling to the site. Mileage markers are in place. Maynard’s start at the Stow/Maynard border (White Pond Road), at 0.0 miles. The last in Maynard reads 2.25. And then, 100 yards farther, is the Maynard/Acton border with a 0.0 stone to indicate the start of the Acton section. Combined length 3.4 miles.

1992-2002: The idea of converting 12.5 miles of obsolete railroad right-of-way into a rail trail was first conceived by local activists in 1992. The catalyst for this was several federal laws, including the National Trails System Act, that had led to the creation of more than 600 rails-to-trails conversions by 1994. Locally, the Assabet River Rail Trail as an organization was established in 1994 with Jeff Richards as president and Duncan Power as secretary (a role Duncan still holds to this day). Thomas Kelleher succeeded Richards as president in 2001 and still holds that position to this day. Over the years, feasibility studies led to engineering surveys led to federal and state and town funding. A key milestone was the transfer of the right-of-way from the MBTA to towns, in 2002.  

2003-06: Construction initiated on the 5.8 mile, Marlborough/Hudson portion of the Trail; completedBoston, so together they could start up a carpet mill on the Assabet River.
ARRT's blue caboose is in Hudson, between
Route 62 and the Rail Trail. 
2006. ‘ARRT-south’ offers a blue caboose, two river crossings, passage between stone abutments, a tunnel under the Route 85 connection to Interstate I-290, and an overlook providing a view of the Fort Meadow Reservoir. Amory Maynard’s sale of the Fort Meadow water rights to the City of Boston in 1845 as an intended water supply was the making of his fortune. Amory pooled his money with William Knight, who had also sold water rights to

2006-2016: Volunteers belonging to the ARRT organization ( met almost monthly, and often conducted group efforts to maintain the paved portion and improved the northeast end to a point where it could be hiked or bicycled. In Maynard, where rails were still in place, volunteers filed between the rails with wood chips so as to make a packed, level surface, much preferred to trying to walk, run or ride on the exposed railroad ties.  

Logo for ARRT organization
2016-18: At a July ground-breaking event held in Maynard, construction of the 3.4 mile, Maynard/Acton portion of the trail was officially started, completed August 2018. There was a delay (and additional cost, borne by Mass Dept Transportation) to remediate contaminated soil on the section north of Concord Street. Final landscaping is a work in progress. Tree and shrub planting has been nearly completed, but a few of last year’s plantings did not survive the winter and will be replaced. ‘ARRT-north’ offers a boardwalk and two bridges, transit through the center of Maynard, and a north terminus at the South Action train station. Going forward, the towns will have to decide what level of maintenance is needed, whether to snowplow in winter, and also whether to install amenities such as benches and trash receptacles that were not part of the original project.

Replacement bridge, 2017. Click on
any photo to enlarge
Railroad trestle bridge over Fort Pond
Brook, before 2016.
Future/National: The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), a non-profit organization promoting trail creation and use, estimates that there are currently more than 30,000 miles of trails in the United States, with an additional 8,000 miles under consideration. RTC ( lists 82 trails in Massachusetts, ranging in length from 0.1 to 38 miles.

Future/Local: A proposal has informally been made to the Town of Maynard to make the town’s portion a “Trail of Flowers” by having volunteers plant flowering bulbs, mostly daffodils and tulips, alongside suitable portions of the Trail. Each fall would have a weekend or two designated as bulb-planting weekend. Volunteers would coordinate where to plant (sites first OK’d by Town). The idea is to add beauty to the Trail, for the enjoyment of residents and visitors.