Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Trail of Flowers - Planting daffodils

Trail of Flowers volunteers digging out an area 70 feet long, four feet 
wide and six inches deep for the daffodil planting. That's a lot of dirt!
On Saturday, October 20, 2018, under a rain-threatening sky, sixteen volunteers put in a morning of digging and digging and digging at the Marble Farm historic site in order to plant an estimated 900 daffodil bulbs. This was the inaugural effort of a program to turn the Assabet River Rail Trail [www.arrtinc.org] into a Trail of Flowers. In the following week hundreds more daffodils to be planted at various locations along the trail, bringing the total to 1,600 bulbs.

The idea is that each fall, thousands of flowering bulbs will be planted at locations adjacent to the trail, so that in the spring, there will be weeks of flowers. Daffodils were chosen for this site because its location at the north border of Maynard, puts it square where deer would eat any planted tulips. More central to town there will also be tulip planting, and perhaps mixes of smaller bulbs such as snowdrops and crocuses. People who's backyards border the trail will be asked to plant bulbs, flowering annuals and perennials at the back of their properties.

David Mark, founder of Trail of
Flowers, stands next to a daffodil
sculpture he created for the planting
event. It will reappear at flowering
 time. The house foundation is beyond
 the stone wall.
In time, plantings may extend to Acton (and even to the south part of the trail, in Hudson and Marlborough). The trail will become a springtime destination for trail walkers, runners and bicyclists from other towns, perhaps including a stop at one of Maynard's cafes.

A giant daffodil: To spice up the planting event, a giant daffodil sculpture was created from a Christmas tree stand, fence post, six pieces of plywood painted yellow and a plastic flower pot painted orange. The sculpture will put in appearances at future events - in time perhaps to be joined by a giant tulip.

Marble Farm: For those who are not familiar with the recently completed section of the Assabet River Rail Trail that crosses Maynard and extends north into Acton, it passes a location across Route 27 from Christmas Motors that was settled by the Marble family circa 1705. There is a plaque at the site with description and photos. Briefly, the family lived at the site, in the same house, for more than 200 years (the house burned in 1924). What remains is impressive stone walls and the stone foundation of the house. The latter is too overgrown at the moment to get more than a glimpse of, but if the entire site was cleared, made safe, and maintained, it could become an addition to Maynard's 'pocket parks,' joining Carbone and Tobin Parks as small greenspace gems.     

Group photo before the digging started. Click on photos
to enlarge. Before this project started the grassy area
where people are standing was overgrown with Oriental
bittersweet, blackberry and sumac. 
Spring Flower Walk: Flowers are expected to be blooming from late March into early May. In April there will be an organized flower-viewing rail trail walk from downtown Maynard to the site. The walk will pass by the intersection of Summer, Maple and Brooks Streets, which includes Maplebrook Park, a garden maintained by Maynard Community Gardeners dating back to 1995. 

The launch of this project was made possible by generous donations from Maynard Community Gardeners and the Assabet River Rail Trail organization. The Town of Maynard approved this use of the Marble Farm site, which is town-owned land. Thanks to all who made this possible. Think spring!


Mysterious iron ring, now painted orange

Archeological finds: While digging out the bulb bed were limited to a few glass fragments, a few colonial or post-colonial pottery shards and one half-pint, clear-glass bottle with seams down both sides (meaning machine-made rather than blown), with no brand or maker marks in the glass. Anchored into the ground in the middle of the flat area now planted with grass is this mysterious iron ring, which is about four inches across. Previous finds from the foundation include beer bottles and a horse shoe. Non-archeological finds include Bud Lite beer cans and nips bottles. Bricks from the two collapsed chimneys, remnants of the 1924 fire that destroyed the house, were used to create the base of the bricked path that now connects the Rail Trail to the historical site lawn where the daffodils were planted. (Bricks from a chimney teardown elsewhere were used for the surface of that path.)

Progress: As of 10/27, 1300 planted, 700 to go. Numbers not always in accord in this and the volunteers needed columns because original order was for 2,000 daffodils, shipper sent 1,600 in time for planting on 10/20 and the rest were cancelled. But then the shipper sent the remaining 400. Not charged for and not required to return. Hence, 2,000. More holes to dig. 

As of 11/10, 1850 planted, 250 to go. Turns out the supplier over-fills the bags, so '100' is often 110-120 bulbs per bag. Subtracting discards (damaged or fungus-rotted), and best estimate for total is 2,100. Locations: Marble Farm site, behind Cumberland Farms gas station, intersection of Summer, Maple and Brooks streets, and a few surprise spots. 


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Gleasondale, MA, aka Rock Bottom

The definition of “rock bottom’ is of being the very lowest. The phrase is often used nowadays to describe someone deep into drug, alcohol or gambling addiction as “hitting rock bottom” before attempting a recovery. The historical origin, however, appears to be more of mining term, meaning the layer of solid rock that exists beneath soil, clay, glacial till and alluvial deposits. Thus, "rock bottom" started out as a simple synonym for "bedrock" in the mid-1800's, mostly in the context of mining. Once a miner or driller hit rock bottom, the quest for water, gold or whatever was over. Later it carried over to ‘rock bottom’ prices on items offered for sale.

Gleasondale Dam, Stow, MA. This is one of six historic dams
on the Assabet River, none of which are currently providing
any function. The Powdermill Dam in Acton may be restored
 to generate electricity. Click on any photo to enlarge.
For the years 1815-1898 the hamlet sprawled across south Stow and northeast Hudson was initially called, then named, Rock Bottom. The story goes that in 1815 – or thereabouts – the Randall family sold land, mills (saw mill and corn mill) and water rights to businessmen intent on constructing a factory on the site. When the men who were digging the foundation for the factory hit bedrock, Joel Cranston, one of the owners, called out that they had reached rock bottom. Apparently, the owners were so taken with the phrase that in 1815 they incorporated their nascent business as the Rock Bottom Cotton and Woolen Factory. In time, the name carried over to the community, to the point that it had a Rock Bottom Post Office, and on an 1888 map of Massachusetts, the Rocky Bottom train station.

Prior to this infusion of the Industrial Revolution, early owners of the land surrounding the river were the Whitman family, with a dam and mills built by Ebenezer Graves. Whitmans and Graves are buried in the Stow Lower Village Cemetery. The river gained a bridge in 1769. The land and mills were sold to Timothy Gibson in 1770, a few years later sold by him to Abraham Randall. The area was known as Randall Mills from 1776 to 1815. Of note, these early mills were on the east side of the Assabet River, and the dam was about 80 feet downstream from the location of the currently existing dam. On Abraham’s death the property went to his sons, who in turn sold to Joel Cranston. His business partners included Silas Jewell, Silas Felton and Elijah Hale. The business failed during the Recession of 1829, ownership ending up with a Benjamin Poor, who was responsible for having a new dam circa 1830 and a factory building constructed.

Gleasondale mill, original brick building at back right, with belfrey.
Extension on right and building to left were later additions.
Hard times persisted. In 1849 the mill was purchased by Benjamin W. Gleason and Samuel Dale. They expanded operations, and replaced the waterwheel with a more efficient turbine. Then, disaster stuck! On May 9, 1852 the entire mill burned to the ground. It was replaced by a brick factory building, 125 feet long, 50 feet wide, and five stories high, completed in 1854. A description from a 2011 Massachusetts Historical Commission Inventory report: “The structure’s granite lintels, slate shingles, and gabled roof, capped by a distinct belfry at its northern end, are reminiscent of the Greek Revival style popular in the early era of mill architecture.” The dam was replaced by what is the current dam in 1883.

Ownership and management continued into a second generation of Gleasons and Dales while the name transformed from B.W. Gleason & Co., to Dale Bros & Co., to B.W. Gleason’s Sons, and finally settled down to being Gleasondale Mills in 1898, acknowledged by a name-change for the post office. With this went the end of Rock Bottom and the beginning of Gleasondale, which name persists to this day, although the hamlet no longer has a post office or a train station to call its own. As a remnant namesake, the road into the mill building shows up on Google maps as Rockbottom Road.

An anecdote: On March 31, 1911, Phineas Feather, former superintendent of the Gleasondale Mills, attempted to murder Alfred Gleason, mill owner. At the mill headquarters he confronted Gleason over money he felt due him, then drew a revolver from his pocket. Mill superintendent Charles E. Roberts was shot through the chest, and although severely wounded, disarmed Feather, and with Gleason’s help wrestled him to the floor. Robert J. Bevis and others ran into the office to help subdue Feather. During the struggle Bevis and Feather were both shot, in the hand and arm, respectively, by a second gun Feather drew from another pocket. Feather was arrested. All survived their injuries. Feather was remanded to the Bridgewater Hospital for the Criminally Insane, an institution under supervision of the wonderfully named Massachusetts State Board of Health, Charity and Lunacy. He was released in 1915.

Today, the mill buildings stand as host to small businesses that at one time or another have included printing, engraving, woodworking, furniture refinishing, product warehousing and antiques storage. The dam exists, but serves no function. Various studies to revitalize the mill complex have come to naught.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Volunteers Really Needed (Maynard, MA)

Marble Farm historic site, October 2018. Daffodil
planting will be in front of the far stone wall.
A repeat of last week’s column. Volunteer responses have been weak, so if you or anyone you know wants to be involved in these efforts to improve Maynard’s outdoor spaces, now is the time. One key change – the bulb planning weekend has been shifted to October 20-21.

So once again: Can you handle a brush saw? Know which end of a shovel goes into the ground? Not afraid of the outdoors? Then there are two – yes, two – volunteer opportunities waiting for you this fall: Trailkeepers and Trail of Flowers (TOF).

Maynard has miles of woodland trails on town land that are is need of maintenance. Without constant work, these trails are reverting to impassable woods. The town’s website Open Space and Trails Map shows a trail that has done exactly that, as a short trail into Blue Jay Woods, off the west side of Blue Jay Way, no longer exists. Miles of trail in, around and across Rockland Woods, Durant Pond, Silver Hill, Summer Hill, Assabet River Walk, Carbone Park, Ice House Landing, The School Woods and Glenwood Cemetery could suffer the same fate.

Repaired brick path leading onto the
Marble Farm historic site. Area
immediately behind cleared and
planted with grass and daffodils.
Kaitlin Young, the recently hired Conservation Agent, serving the Conservation Commission, hopes to resurrect the idea of a volunteers’ group to maintain existing trails and perhaps create new ones. The proposed name is Trailkeepers. The thinking is to recruit volunteers, have an organizational meeting in October, and plan to send out work groups in November and through winter. The idea behind the timing is that once frosts are occurring that should be the end of deer tick risk. Volunteers would be expected to clear brush that is encroaching on trails, cut-and-remove small trees that are blocking trails, repaint blaze marks on trees, and so on. Organizational meeting tentatively set for Wednesday, October 17, to be followed by trail work after frosts end the deer tick risk and before serious snow. 

As to “Trail of Flowers,” now that the Assabet River Rail Trail is paved in Acton and Maynard, a proposal has been made to embellish the trail with extensive plantings of spring-blooming bulbs. The proposer is David Mark (me). Briefly, donations have been made to pay for the purchase of bulbs. In November, volunteers will be asked to commit to showing up for day or two, tentatively mornings of October 20 and 21, to plant bulbs. It will be BYOS, as in bring-your-own-shovel. If this gets off to a good start this fall, with an impressive blooming next March and April, the project will become an annual effort.

A couple of hundred daffodils were planted at the Marble Farm site in 2009.
This is a photo of the blooming, spring 2010. Without maintenance, the area
became overgrown with Oriental bittersweet. Click on photo to enlarge.
For this kick-off year the plan is to plant 1500 daffodils at the Marble Farm historic site, which is at Maynard’s north end of the trail, across from Christmas Motors. In addition, flyers will be delivered to the homes of people who are trail abutters, suggesting they plant bulbs and other flowers on the trailsides of their own properties. Bulbs will be provided to them. For future years, other sites in Maynard (and possibly in Acton) will be mass-planted with bulbs and other perennial flowers.

Each spring there will be an organized flower-viewing trail walk, with suggestions to wear flower-themed clothing (Hawaiian shirts, anyone?). And a flower poster to promote the event and list sponsors. And a website. The 2019 walk will start at the footbridge over the Assabet River, pass by Tulip Corner (intersection of Summer, Maple and Brooks Streets), then proceed north on the Rail Trail to Marble Farm.   

On Saturday, October 20, volunteers planted approximately 900 daffodils at the Marble Farm site. Remaining bulbs to be planted elsewhere along the Trail. 

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Volunteers Needed (Maynard, MA)

Can you handle a brush saw? Know which end of a shovel goes into the ground? Not afraid of the outdoors? Then there are two – yes, two – volunteer opportunities waiting for you this fall: Trailkeepers and Trail of Flowers (TOF).

Trees brought down onto Assabet Riverwalk by March storms.
For scale, that is a five gallon bucket and an 18" saw.
Maynard has miles of woodland trails on town land that are is need of maintenance. Without constant work, these trails are reverting to impassable woods. The town’s website Open Space and Trails Map shows a trail that has done exactly that, as a short trail into Blue Jay Woods, off the west side of Blue Jay Way, no longer exists. Miles of trail in, around and across Rockland Woods, Durant Pond, Silver Hill, Summer Hill, Assabet River Walk, Carbone Park, Ice House Landing, The School Woods and Glenwood Cemetery could suffer the same fate.

Kaitlin Young, the recently hired Conservation Agent, serving the Conservation Commission, hopes to resurrect the idea of a volunteers’ group to maintain existing trails and perhaps create new ones. The proposed name is Trailkeepers. The thinking is to recruit volunteers, have an organizational meeting in October, and plan to send out work groups in November and through winter. The idea behind the timing is that once frosts are occurring that should be the end of deer tick risk. Volunteers would be expected to clear brush that is encroaching on trails, cut-and-remove small trees that are blocking trails, repaint blaze marks on trees, and so on. Organizational meeting tentatively set for Wednesday, October 17, to be followed by trail work after frosts end the deer tick risk and before serious snow. 

As to “Trail of Flowers,” now that the Assabet River Rail Trail is paved in Acton and Maynard, a proposal has been made to embellish the trail with extensive plantings of spring-blooming bulbs. The proposer is David Mark (me). Briefly, donations have been made to pay for the purchase of bulbs. In November, volunteers will be asked to commit to showing up for day or two, tentatively October 20 and 21, to plant bulbs. It will be BYOS, as in bring-your-own-shovel. If this gets off to a good start this fall, with an impressive blooming next April, the project will become an annual effort.

Tulips at Summer, Maple and Brooks Streets = Tulip Corner
New bulbs will be planted here. Click on photo to enlarge
For this kick-off year the plan is to plant 2,000 daffodils at the Marble Farm historic site, which is at Maynard’s north end of the trail, across from Christmas Motors. In addition, flyers will be delivered to the homes of people who are trail abutters, suggesting they plant bulbs and other flowers on the trailsides of their own properties. For future years, other sites in Maynard (and possibly in Acton) will be mass-planted with bulbs and other perennial flowers.

Each spring there will be an organized flower-viewing trail walk, with suggestions to wear flower-themed clothing (Hawaiian shirts, anyone?). And a flower poster to promote the event and list sponsors. And a website. The 2019 walk will start at the footbridge over the Assabet River, pass by Tulip Corner (intersection of Summer, Maple and Brooks Streets), then proceed north on the Rail Trail to Marble Farm, where refreshments will be served.   

The Town of Maynard approves. To wit: Will this cost the Town any money? No. Will this require the Department of Public Works to do any planting or maintenance? No. Will this interfere with DPW’s intent to mow the borders of the Trail? No. This is a great idea!

As it appeared in the newspaper, this column had email contacts for Kaitlin Young and David Mark. Responses led to the creation of a trailkeepers group, and enough volunteers to plant 1,200 daffodil bulbs at the Marble Farm site and elsewhere.