Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Assabet Cleanup 2019

The 33th Annual River Cleanup took place on September 14, 2019. Teams volunteers were assigned locations along the Assabet, Sudbury and Concord rivers. In Maynard alone, decades of annual river clean-ups organized by the Organization for the Assabet, Sudbury and Concord Rivers (OARS) have removed tons upon tons of trash. This year, the focus was on trash, plus invasive and riverview-obstructing plants at Tobin Park, just west of the Rail Trail bridge.

One visible gain from cleaning up the Assabet River is that progressively, over the years, less new trash ends up in the river. The “broken window theory,” first in print in 1982, holds that vandalism is contagious, i.e., unrepaired vandalism triggers more vandalism, and perhaps more controversially, triggers an increase in more serious crimes. In theory, zero tolerance for small crimes reduces the rate of large crimes. Whether true or not for criminal behavior, littering is clearly contagious – the more litter remains visible, the more likely people will litter more.

Tobin Park, Maynard, 2019 Assabet River cleanup. Click photos to enlarge. 
This appeared to be a watershed year (pun intended), as Maynard had more volunteers than trash to be removed from the river. Past years had yielded as many as 100 car and truck tires, plus bicycles, shopping carts, and tons of iron pipe, scrap metal, broken pottery, old carpets and miscellaneous junk. This year, only two tires, one Styrofoam cooler and an estimated total of less than 200 pounds of glass, metal and plastic. Clearly, less and less is being thrown into the river each year. Hurrah! Similar results were reported for other towns.    

Glass bottle, 1953: CALDWELL'S RUM
Past years have also included intact glass bottles with a bit of history. From 2010, the find was a bottle inscribed HALF PINT LIQUID, HANS ERIKSEN, MAYNARD, MASS. The name’s spelling dates the bottle, because it was after World War II that the family, which was then also in the milk delivery business in addition to ice cream, changed their name from Eriksen to Erikson. From 2013 the find was an amber glass pint bottle embossed with the words CALDWELL'S RUM and the image of a three-masted sailing ship alongside a dock. The company had been started by Alexander Caldwell in 1790. Markings on the bottom signified that the bottle had been made for Caldwell's Rum in 1953 by the Anchor Hocking Glass Company. The yield from 2016 was a plain glass bottle with NEW ENGLAND VINEGAR WORKS embossed on the bottom. Turns out NEVW began its life in 1865 in Somerville as the Standard Vinegar Company. The name was changed to New England Vinegar Works in 1907. Another old find was a small bottle embossed with TURNER CENTRE SYSTEM, representing a dairy bottling and home delivery company active 100 years ago. 

As to the means by which thousands upon thousands of glass bottles ended up in the stretch of the Assabet as it wended it way through Maynard, think bridges and backyards, and the opinion that anything disposed into the river went "away." This is not a new problem. From the 1913 Annual Report of the State Board of Health "The Assabet River has at various times been seriously polluted in different parts of its course, the most serious condition in recent years below Maynard where the river receives sewage and manufacturing waste from a very large woolen mill and a considerable quantity of sewage also from the town... the river continues to be objectionable in appearance and odor, especially below Maynard."

Click on image to enlarge. Cumulative score for lower
Assabet River is a B. Weaknesses in yellow. Bacteria is a
planned future score, hence grey.
Going forward, OARS may consider its means of using volunteers for its fall event. Recently, a river health Report Card was created to assess the health of the three rivers, with each river divided into upper river and lower river sections. Based on twenty criteria listed at, the Assabet from headwaters to Elizabeth Brook, in Stow, was graded C+ and the lower Assabet – from Elizabeth Brook to the convergence with the Sudbury River – was graded B. Weaknesses include dissolved nitrates in the water (from fertilizer runoff and effluent from wastewater treatment plants), floating biomass (algae and duckweed on the surface) and aquatic connectivity (because the Ben Smith and Powdermill dams prevent wildlife movement up and down river). In the future the OARS Cleanup may expand to sending crews out to improve river-bordering trails, passability and riverviews. There are no current plans to remove any of the dams on the upper or lower Assabet.

Photos for this year's effort will posted at the OARS website.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Death by Exercise

Sudden cardiac death – as in the college-age basketball player or the hyper-fit triathlon participant – tends to make the news. As it should. Newsworthy death while exercising provides every non-exerciser with rationale for not exercising. “See” they say, “this person was an avid runner [cyclist, swimmer] and dropped dead at 40.” The contrarian point being that the endurance sports that are supposed to protect against heart disease sometimes appear to do just the opposite.

There is a wisp of truth to this observation. Estimates are that just under one person per 100,000 participating in a marathon, or 1.5/100,000 participating in a triathlon will die during or immediately after the event. Figure a collective three million participants in these types of races and that comes to maybe 30 to 40 deaths per year. There are fuzzier estimates of perhaps one sudden death per every million exercise events for other forms of vigorous exercise. So, the true answer is yes, exercise can kill the physically fit, but no, not a risk factor worth avoiding exercise entirely.

Internet image portraying a man having a heart attack while exercising.
There is more truth in the observation that exertion by the physically unfit can result in fatal cardiovascular events. The classic case is the middle-aged office worker who drops dead shoveling snow while attempting to clear the driveway and get to work. Contributing factors include the fact that blood pressure peaks in the morning a few hours after waking up, and the fact that exertion in cold weather constricts arteries, further adding to heart stress. Snow removal related heart attacks frequently occur in women and men with no known pre-existing heart disease.

Exercise can also result in accidental death. In the U.S., walking, running, bicycling, swimming, boating and winter sports add up to about 10,000 deaths per year. Subtract half who are either children or are adults under the influence of alcohol (as in walking or riding a bike home from a bar, at night), and it’s still a big number. But the total pales compared to the 2,800,000 total deaths per year, of which many are premature cardiovascular deaths brought on by a lifetime of inactivity.

The good news is that benefits from even modest amounts of exercise are becoming clearer. The American Heart Association recommends adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, but notes that even a few minutes per day was better than nothing! Studies have reported the greatest improvement for modest exercise compared to no exercise at all, and diminishing but still cumulative returns for progressively more exercise. A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that endurance fitness was a better predictor of good cardiovascular biomarkers (cholesterol, etc.) than strength.

The theory that aside from injuries, over-doing exercise may cause more harm than good has been disproven. A science journal article reviewed studies of longevity of elite athletes. Athletes from endurance sports had 3-6 year longer life spans than the general population. The authors cautioned that elite athletes may by genetically different from the population as a whole, with both their abilities and lifespan being consequences of their genes rather than one causing the other. A review article encompassing 48 published studies confirmed that people doing as much as 7-14 hours per week of moderate to vigorous exercise were had a 15 percent lower mortality risk than those doing only 1-2 hours per week, with no hint that the benefit fades toward the high end.  

There is a non-fatal problem with exercise – it is potentially addictive. As one well-known fitness expert author put it, “…people reduce their lives to fitness routines, training as many as 40 hours a week. That the effort may wreck marriages and compromise immune systems isn’t even relevant. To these people – demographically a diverse lot – exercise is addictive. The more the body gets, the more it wants. In return, the drug of exercise infuses the swimmer, cyclist and runner with two powerful illusions: that he/she is escaping the horrible, and progressing toward the divine.”

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Overtourism (Walden Pond, MA, USA)

“Overtourism,” a relatively new word, is the perceived overcrowding from an excess of tourists, to the detriment of the local population, the tourists, and/or local ecology. According to Wikipedia, it is now the most commonly used expression to describe the negative impacts ascribed to tourism. The quality of life of local citizens is affected, but there is also a negative impact on the quality of the visitor experience. Ask anyone who lives in or has visited such popular locations such as the French Quarter of New Orleans, or Venice, Italy, during the tourist season.

Locals are crushed by crowding. Moving about by car, or even on foot, becomes difficult. Any variety in shopping opportunity is crowded out by souvenir shops selling t-shirts and coffee mugs, and by fast-food restaurants. The tourist experience is also degraded by the crowding. Long lines plague getting to the attractions, and even walking across a plaza or down a market street becomes a shuffling daymare. Littering, water- and air-pollution become problems when local government infrastructure cannot keep up with demand.     

Can overtourism be overcome? A quote attributed to Yankees baseball player Yogi Berra, but actually much older, is: “Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded.” Popularity can wane once the reputation for an unspoiled and authentic experience is lost, but not if the core attraction is famous enough. Neither scores of tour buses (Chichen Itza, Mexico), nor cruise ships by the dozens (Barcelona, Spain), nor New York City by the tens of millions, have diminished the tourists’ desire to visit these locations.

Overcrowding occurs even on mountains. Nepal refuses to limit the number of permits to attempt Mount Everest, resulting in deaths because climbers run out of oxygen while waiting their turn at the peak. In Switzerland, numbers attempting the Matterhorn are limited. In Australia, climbing of Uluru, formerly known as Ayer’s Rock, will be banned effective October 26, 2019.

Walden Pond beach, Concord, MA
The closest experience residents of Stow and Maynard have to chronic overtourism is in neighboring Concord, both downtown and at Walden Pond. The former accommodates by providing off-street parking, a staffed visitors’ center (with bathrooms), and starting in 2013, a ban on the sale of bottled water. Walden Pond State Reservation now closes access to the park when the parking lot reaches capacity. The path around the pond is managed to minimize soil erosion.

The pond has its own problems. As a kettle pond, Walden Pond does not have streams flowing into it. This means that most of the water in the pond is a result of rain water and snow melt sinking down into the surrounding sand/gravel soil, then subterraneanously filtering into the pond. Historically, this resulted in a nitrogen- and phosphorous-poor body of water that did not support water plant growth. Thoreau’s description in 1854 was of water “so transparent that the bottom can easily be discerned at the depth of 25 or 30 feet.” One of Waldon Pond’s problems today is that of too many people peeing in the pond, contributing nutrients that promote algae and plant growth.

Improved bathroom facilities and signs advising against this practice are helping, but because there is no outflowing stream to remove nutrient-rich algae and surface water plants such as duck weed, the nutrient cycle is vertical: summer’s growth dies in fall, sinks to the bottom, there to decay, and thus releasing nitrogen and phosphorus back into the water. The same vertical problem plagues the Assabet River to a much greater extent, as the dams prevent the river from being flushed clean by winter’s snow melt. Town sewage treatment plants along the Assabet are now required to further restrict nutrient release, but tributaries bring in nutrient-laden sediment, with contributions from farm, lawn, garden and golf course fertilizer treatments.  

Neither Stow nor Maynard have much in the way of tourist attractions. (At apple-picking season, Honey Pot Hill Orchard, Stow, does cause traffic jams.) There have been recent and future changes that bring more visitors to Maynard: designation as a Massachusetts Cultural District, Emerson Hospital’s establishment of an out-patient center at the former Walgreens building, the Assabet River Rail Trail – including the nascent Trail of Flowers project – and the pending operation of two or three marijuana dispensaries. None of this will make Maynard a tourist Mecca. Stow gets it leaf peepers, but the effects are at most seasonal and modest.  

Not Historic Enough

42 Summer Street, Maynard, MA - before demolition.
The yellow, wood-frame building at 42 Summer Street, Maynard, is on the verge of being torn down to be replaced by an apartment building. The existing building is not historic enough to justify any attempt to preserve the exterior while repurposing the interior. In general, “not historic enough” can be applied to much of Maynard’s private residences due to those buildings not being particularly old (by New England standards), never lived in by someone famous, nor designed by a famous architect. The Town of Maynard has established a Demolition Delay Bylaw, at the instigation of the Maynard Historical Commission, to slow or stop demolitions of significant buildings.

Maps from 1875 and 1889 show the Summer Street property with no house on it, owned by Mrs. T. Brooks. Adjacent property shown as owned by T. Brooks. The same map shows L. Brooks and S.P. Brooks owning land across Summer Street, including a cider mill. Those people were Rebecca Brooks, wife of Thomas Brooks, Luke, their son, and Silas, brother of Thomas. The Brooks clan were early settlers and extensive land owners on the north side of what would become Maynard.

The building itself dates to only 1948. The property may have been unattractive to earlier development because it was adjacent to the coal yard and fuel oil tanks owned by the United Co-operative Society. Warren A. Twombly purchased the property for a relocation of the W.A. Twombly Funeral Home, which had been on Main Street, near the Methodist Church. Twombly’s was one of four funeral homes in Maynard, and was in business into the late 1960s. From records in the collection of the Maynard Historical Society, it is apparent that Twombly’s handled many of the burials of people of Finnish descent – at one time a very significant portion of Maynard’s population.

The next occupant of the house was Century 21 Classic Properties, a real estate business owned and operated by Paul Boothroyd. This business was replaced by Call-A-Copy Inc (later renamed CAC Digital Copy & Print Center). Over time, the copying and printing business shrank, to be gradually replaced by Summer Street Fine Consignment, under the same management. The property was purchased in 2018 by James MacDonald, a developer/operator of several apartment buildings scattered about Maynard. The consignment business wound down operations in 2019 as preparations for the demolition took shape.

The building, scheduled to be demolished soon, sits on a bit more than half an acre of land that slopes from 190 feet elevation above sea level on the north (street) side to 175 feet on the south side. The shape is odd. To fit in a 24-unit apartment building, the narrow end of the rectangle will face Summer Street, but at an angle. The driveway, on the west side, will run the length of the property, to enter underground parking from the south end. The three-story building will have siding and a peaked roof rather than be brick with a flat roof. The smallest units will be studio apartments of 500 square feet, the largest, duplexes with two bedrooms.     

The Maynard Historical Commission has identified a “List of Historically Significant Properties in Maynard” that encompasses about 60 buildings. The Demolition Delay Bylaw (2017) provides for up to a 12-month delay of the demolition of buildings or the exterior façades of buildings deemed historic. (Interior demolition and subsequent construction not affected.)

Some buildings, while parts are old, have been modified so extensively as to be not historic enough, an example being the Gruber Bros. Furniture building at 117 Main Street. The original building dated to 1868, built by Amory Maynard, called the Riverside Block. It hosted the first town meeting, April 1871. A severe fire in 1934 destroyed the second and third floors; what remained went through several remodelings during the Gruber family tenure. This building is fated to be demolished and replaced by an apartment building with commercial businesses on the first floor.   

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Three History Books

Three history books, in order published: “1421,” by Gavin Menzies (2002), has as its subtitle “The Year China Discovered America.” Second, “1491,” by Charles C. Mann, published 2005, has as its subtitle “New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.” Third, “1493,” same author, published 2011, has as its subtitle “Uncovering the New World Columbus Created.” Each describe the consequences of explorations and colonization between the ‘old world’ of Europe and Asia and the ‘new world’ of North and South America.  

Three hefty-sized history books about discovering the New World
Menzies’ book has to be read as an alternative history. He postulates – on a mountain of flimsy evidence – that the Chinese treasure fleet expeditions went FAR beyond reaching the west coast of Africa. The core truth: under the leadership of Zheng He, the Emperor’s Grand Eunuch, China sent ‘Treasure Fleets’ of trade ships, war ships and support vessels on seven multi-year expeditions to lands bordering the Indian Ocean. The purposes were diplomatic, military and trade. Estimates are that each expedition was staffed by as many as 30,000 people, occupying 100 to 250 ships, some as large as 200 to 400 feet long. (Columbus’ largest  was about 60 feet.)

Upon returning from the sixth expedition of 1421-23, Zheng He found that the Emperor had died, and that his successor had no interest in China’s reign over the sea. The Treasure Fleet journeys were discontinued (one last in 1433), ships destroyed, records of the journeys destroyed. The government’s attention turned toward defending against the Mongols in the north. In effect, China had given up being a sea-going power as too expensive, with little financial benefit and no strategic benefit. Foreign trade was forbidden, not to be restarted until more than 100 years later, when silk and porcelain could be traded for silver mined from the Spanish colonies in South America.     

Menzies controversially proposed that rather than being limited to the Indian Ocean, portions of the Treasure Fleet of 1421-23 rounded the Cape of Good Hope, thus entering the Atlantic Ocean. From there, they explored up and down the east coast of what became the Americas (including the Merrimack River!), as far north as Greenland and far enough south to reach the tip of South America, there to divide again, some going north along the west coast of the Americas, other touching Antarctica before sailing eastward to Australia, thence home. Apparently, the Chinese sailed everywhere – except Europe. All in all, entertaining reading, but not part of accepted history.

Machu Picchu, Peru
Click on photos to enlarge
In “1491,” Mann is in the universe of accepted history. He makes a strong case against the “empty America” image of an American near-pristine wilderness in which small native villages or nomadic tribes were populated by hunter/gatherer peoples lived in harmony with nature, but with a minimal or non-existent sense of history, religion or culture. This ‘Noble Savage’ stereotype colored Henry David Thoreau’s thinking; he wrote of “…in the primitive age of the world, a primitive man.”

In contrast, Mann describes densely populated regions – city-states in the north, Aztec and Inca empires in the south – with extensive agriculture, trade routes, and significant impacts on plant and animal life. Old estimates – that the total population of the New World was fewer than 10 million people – were replaced by Mann and others with estimates ten-fold higher.

Without steel for axes and saws, fire was a predominant tool for managing terrain. Fall-season deliberate burning of prairies, meadows and undergrowth in forests made for the spring grasses preferred by herbivores, which in turn were food for the native peoples. Here in the northeast – deer. Elsewhere in North America, elk and bison. In South America, hillsides became terraced farmland, while in the Amazonian rainforest the land was terraformed via canals and mounds. Aerial photography has revealed what is under ‘pristine’ rainforests.

Mann’s second book explores the consequences of what happened post-Columbus. European diseases killed 90% of indigenous peoples in the Americas. Very few diseases went the other way. “Old World’ diseases such as malaria and yellow fever also killed European immigrants to the Americas. Africans had a genetic resistance to malaria, which led to a preference for African-born slaves over European-born indentured servants or English criminals as plantation labor. Over a period of 400 years, an estimated 10 to 15 million people were enslaved in Africa and shipped to the Americas.

The deliberate or accidental movement of plant and animal species to other countries – importantly corn, potatoes and sweet potatoes from the Americas to elsewhere – led to population explosions in China and Europe. Three American-origin cash crops changed the world: tobacco plants, cocoa (for chocolate) and rubber trees. Rice, sugarcane and bananas were imported to the Americas. Horses and pigs are examples of large European species gone wild, earthworms and honey bees, same, but on a smaller scale. This globalization, sometimes called the “Columbian Exchange,” continues to this day, but now we tend to describe it as invasive species. It still goes in both directions. Across Great Britain, our grey squirrels are displacing the native red squirrels. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Women and World War II

With the advent of World War II, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts established a Massachusetts Women’s Defense Corps (MWDC) in May of 1941, under a Massachusetts Committee on Public Safety. The MWDC worked closely with the Massachusetts State Guard, the U.S. Army, state agencies and local communities. Its function was to assist in training women volunteers in five areas: medical, transportation, communications, canteen, and air raid precautions.

Pin that had belonged to Mrs Louis Boeske.
Women's Defense Corps Pin. “ARP” for
Air Raid Precautions; “PARATUS ET FIDELIS”
 translates as Ready and Faithful
From a start as a Women’s Civilian Defense School in Boston, the organization had quickly grown to having more than one hundred auxiliary defense schools by the end of 1941. Maynard was one. The Maynard Historical Society notes that in November 1941, Maynard women of the MWDC Motor Corps received diplomas from their instructor, Mrs. Frank Sheridan. The following March the women conducted a drill involving a convoy of twelve cars. The women drove to a rendezvous site in Clinton, where their final test was a tire change. Mrs. Louis Boeske was complimented for her speed at this skill. She replied that she had spent many years in and around cars with her husband.

Later during the war, the various states’ organizations were superseded by federal government action. The Women’s Army Corps (WAC) was made active duty status on July 1, 1943. The idea behind WAC was that women serving in non-combat roles would free up men for combat assignments, essential because the Army was running out of men to draft. WACs initially served as switchboard operators, clerk/typists, mechanics and in food preparation. In time, other classifications were added, such as transportation, postal clerk and armory staff. WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) were the Navy equivalent, SPARS for the Coast Guard, WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) flying planes, and Marine Corps Women's Reserve. The previously existing Army Nurse Corps dating to 1901, expanded to 60,000 women during World War II. All totaled, more than three hundred thousand women served in the armed forces during World War II. Per the plaques in Memorial Park, this included more than two dozen women from Maynard.

All was not champagne and roses for the women who volunteered for military duty. There was serious backlash. Men in service who had a safe, stateside or behind the lines job did not want to be sent to combat. Mothers, wives and girlfriends did not want their men being sent to combat. Priests and ministers sermonized against women joining the military. There was a slander campaign – much of it initiated by men in uniform – that women who were enrolling were prostitutes, or that they were sexually promiscuous, becoming pregnant, spreading venereal diseases…  Part of the motivation was a fear that if their wives, fiancés or girlfriends joined the army they would be far from home and in the company of other men.

In Massachusetts, soldiers in the Fort Devens area were credited by investigators with originating the rumor that "fantastic" numbers of pregnant women had been sent back to Lovell General Hospital from North Africa. Agents descended on that hospital's records "without prearrangement" and reported, "No record of an overseas pregnancy was found." Another Fort Devens’ rumor was that the venereal disease rate was skyrocketing. Also not true. A third rumor was that women in uniform were officially advised to utilize prophylactics, or even issued same. Agents interviewed hundreds of women and were unable to find even one who had ever been so instructed.

Locally, whether women were in the Massachusetts Women’s Defense Corps or not, enrolled in WAC or not, all were deeply affected by the war. Rationing included gasoline for cars (three gallons per week), also fuel oil for houses, sugar and coffee (one pound per adult every five weeks). Meat, butter and canned goods were in short supply. All new car manufacture ceased February 1942, to not be resumed until the war was over. A national speed limit of 35 miles per hour was imposed to save fuel. All forms of rationing ended in the United States in August 1945. In stark comparison, rationing of many good and foods continued in the United Kingdom until the summer of 1954. George Orwell’s famous novel “1984” was completed in 1948; the title stemming from an inversion of the last two numbers of the year. Food rationing was present in Orwell’s real life and in his novel.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Swans on the Assabet River

Mute swan at rest, Assabet River, Stow, MA
Mute swans reside on the Assabet River, either as solitary birds or nesting pairs. These swans can occasionally be spotted from the Ice House Landing dock, but will always be seen when kayaking or canoeing upriver into Stow.

Swans are long-lived, and return to the same nesting place. Of the 5–8 eggs laid each spring perhaps 1–3 cygnets will reach maturity. Unlike Canada geese, parent mute swans do not allow the yearlings to return to the same area the next spring, so in any summer the local populations are either solitary birds or parenting pairs with the new cygnets. Hatchlings start off gray in color, not turning white until their second year. They can paddle about within days after hatching, but need 60 days to mature enough to fly.

In flight, swans make Canada geese look small and slow. Low-flying geese meander about at 20–30 miles per hour. Higher-flying geese, the ones actually migrating, are at flock speed of 35–45 mph. In contrast, once swans have powered up they are doing 50 mph. At more than twice the weight of a ten-pound goose and with a wingspan of almost eight feet, this is one impressive bird. The wings of mute swans in flight make a distinctive whooshing sound that on still mornings can be heard more than half a mile away.

In the U.S., mute swans do not migrate southward. Come winter, they shift to the ocean shore, where they may congregate in groups. Come spring, the existing pairs head back to their nesting waters, while the three year-olds will be pairing up for the first time before seeking nesting waters of their own. Lifespan in the wild can by 10–15 years. Swans will often stay in mated pairs for many years, but if one dies, the other will take a new mate. And they are not actually “mute,” as they can hiss, snort, yip and so on; it’s just by comparison their not being as loud as North America’s native trumpeter swans.

The business end of a mute swan (internet download)
Boaters of any type should not approach mute swans during nesting and cygnet-raising seasons. These birds are SERIOUSLY territorial. On land or on the water, males act to prevent any animal or human from getting near the nest. That yard-long neck may look like a cute sock-puppet, but it is wielded more like a poking, pinching hand, combined with hard blows from the forward edge of the wings. Swans have been known to attack dogs and children. Swans have been known to attack swimmers, canoes and kayaks. Swans can sink jet skis, flip ATVs and down ultralight aircraft. OK, maybe not those last three, but really, leave nesting swans alone. There is one reported instance of a man (not wearing a life jacket) knocked out of his kayak and drowned by a nest-protecting swan.

Mute swans are not native to North America, and in fact are viewed as an invasive and destructive species because of their voracious appetite for aquatic vegetation and harassment of other water bird species. The first introductions were in New York state prior to 1900. Escaped swans initially established feral populations along the Hudson River, Long Island Sound and Chesapeake Bay, but have since spread to the Mid-west and North-west regions, numbering in the tens of thousands and increasing by more than 10 percent a year. A single mute swan can consume four to eight pounds of plants a day. Continuous feeding by a flock of mute swans can destroy an entire wetland ecosystem.

Various state programs attempt to control local populations. Some states along the Atlantic coast have hired professional hunters. Another control method is to coat the eggs with corn oil, which will prevent hatching (removing the eggs triggers the female to lay replacement eggs).  

“But they are really pretty.” Yes, they are. Mute swans were imported from England starting in the late 1800s as living ornaments for private and public garden ponds. The Swan Boats in Boston Public Garden are modeled on mute swans, right down to the orange beak and half-raised wings. Swimming, mute swans hold their heads curved down a bit rather than looking straight forward. Mated pairs oft face each other in the water, so in silhouette their necks and heads make a heart shape. The website takes the position that mute swans are in fact native to North America, and thus deserve the same protections as native birds.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Sophia Thoreau

Sophia - born two hundred years ago (June 24, 1819) - was the person most responsible for making Henry David Thoreau posthumously famous. Henry was one of four children born to John and Cynthia (Dunbar) Thoreau, in birth order Helen, John Jr., HDT and Sophia. None of them married. All of them taught at one time in their lives. All died relatively young, even for that era: Helen at age 37, tuberculosis, John Jr. at age 26, tetanus, HDT at age 44. Sophia survived her famous brother by 14 years before dying at age 57, from tuberculosis.    

Daguerreotype of Sophia Thoreau, ~1855 
Sophia was two years younger than Henry David. While Helen was described as the quiet Thoreau, Sophia was known to be talkative and opinionated, with a dramatic wit. Their mother and their aunts were all active abolitionists and members of the Concord Ladies’ Antislavery Society. Sophia and her sister also belonged to the Middlesex County Antislavery Society. At an 1844 convention they signed a petition in favor of dissolving the country rather than being party to a country with states where slave ownership was legal. Prominent abolitionists visiting Concord - Parker Pillsbury, Loring Moody, and John Brown among them - made their way to the Thoreau home. The family provided lodging and aid to fugitive slaves. Henry’s antislavery activism rested on the long-time commitment of the women of his family.

After John Jr. died in 1842 and Helen in 1849, Sophia and Henry grew closer. They were both living in their parents’ house (Henry having done his stint at Walden Pond 1845-47). They would collect plant specimens together, make berry-picking excursions in season, and Sophia would occasionally accompany Henry on boat trips up the Concord, Sudbury and Assabet rivers. Both helped out in the family’s pencil and graphite businesses.

Henry David Thoreau died May 6, 1862, having attained only limited recognition in his own time. It was during Henry’s decline from tuberculosis and after his death that Sophia made the largest contributions to his literary legacy. She served as nurse and companion after an 1860 bout with bronchitis exacerbated his disease. She assisted in writing his letters and preparing his manuscripts for publication. In a lengthy 2016 article by Kathy Fedorko, titled “Henry’s brilliant sister”, a case is made that Sophia alone edited her brother’s essay collections for publication after his death as “Excursions”, “The Maine Woods”, “Cape Cod” and “A Yankee in Canada”. (Previously, more credit had been given to Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Ellery Channing, with little or no acknowledgement of Sophia’s contributions.)

After the death of her mother in 1872, Sophia spent the last three years of her life in Maine, with relatives, during the declining illness that finally took her life in 1876. Before dying she had entrusted her brother’s journals first to Bronson Alcott, who failed to follow her instructions about their care. She consequently deposited them in the Concord Free Public Library in 1874, along with many books and memorabilia that had been Henry’s. Sophia’s will dictated that the journals go to Harrison Gray Otis Blake, who saw to the publication of more content from the journals in the 1880s.

Portion of Thoreau’s poem “Fair Haven”, copied
onto leaves (1868). Click on photos to enlarge. 
Sophia was an artist and musician. Her drawing of the cabin by the pond was chosen by Henry for the cover page of the first edition of “Walden; or, Life in the Woods”. Sophia left behind one odd piece of memorabilia - five shagbark hickory tree leaves on one twig bear sixteen lines of poetry from her famous brother. Created October 13, 1868 (six years after his death). The poem – “Fair Haven” refers to a widening of the Sudbury River, on the border between Concord and Lincoln, and also to the hill on the east side of the river. The last four lines of the poem are “And when I take my last long rest,/And quiet sleep my grave in,/What kindlier covering for my breast,/Than thy warm turf Fair Haven.” The leaves are in the Concord Library archives.


In passing, Thoreau’s given name was David Henry Thoreau, after his recently deceased paternal uncle, David Thoreau. But since everyone always called him Henry, he decided after finishing college that he would prefer to go by Henry David.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Street Lights - Kerosene to LEDs

Starting 1878, the Town of Maynard committed to shining a light (lights, actually) on the nighttime thoroughfares of this new town. Amory Maynard, 74 years old at the time, was on the committee, as were Joel Abbott and John K. Harriman (grocery owner, father to sons who later operated Harriman Bros. New Method Laundry). The result was twenty-five, six-foot tall street lamps installed on downtown streets,

Example of a kerosene street lamp from another town
(internet download). Click on photos to enlarge. 
 Lighting streets expanded over time. The original effort, under management of a superintendent of street lamps, expanded to 36 lamps, to be lit 17 nights a month. By 1891, railing against darkness encompassed 74 lamps, lit 19 nights a month, sunset to midnight. (anyone out past midnight was expected to have their own kerosene lamp). Records show Fred Taylor as the last lamplighter, in 1901, paid 3.5 cents per lamp. The job was not easy. A horse-drawn wagon went from lamp to lamp each evening. From a ladder, wicks were trimmed, glass cleaned of soot, more kerosene added if needed, and lit. After midnight a second visit was required to turn down the wicks, thus extinguishing the lamps. A few businesses, but not the Town, supplemented street lights with their own far more luminous gaslights.

Night lighting via oil or kerosene lamps was not a novel concept. In cities, people out afoot at night could hire lantern-bearers to escort them from place to place. By the mid-1700s Paris had thousands of oil lamps. Kerosene, which burned cleaner than plant or animal (whale) oils, was originally made by heating coal in the absence of oxygen, liberating coal gas, coal tar and crude kerosene – then known as coal oil. Processes extracting and purifying kerosene were perfected and patented in the 1850s. In time, petroleum became the preferred raw material for extracting kerosene, as it is today. Kerosene (also known as paraffin oil) is used in heaters and for cooking in areas of the world without access to natural gas.

Kerosene road torches, also called smudge pots, pre-dated battery-powered 
lights as a means of indicating road construction barriers. The most popular
 model was THE TOLEDO TORCH (Internet download).
People of a certain age may remember driving through construction sites at night, the sides of the road sporting 55-gallon metal barrels as barriers, and instead of battery-powered lights, kerosene-burning road torches, which were black, rounded top, a bit smaller than a bowling ball, open-flame. The effect of this lurid, flickering light was to make one feel one was driving through hell, or if not hell, a road next door to hell.  

September 1, 1902 saw a contact between the Town of Maynard and the American Woolen Company (AWC) to provide power for 92 electric lights. As with back in the kerosene days, the lights were not turned on during nights when moonlight sufficed, and were not lit all night. Over years, the extent of electric lighting expanded both for area and nights’ duration. News items in the September 1920 newspaper noted that a proposal was being considered to expand night lighting hours from eight hours to all night, at an estimated revised operating cost of $22 per light per year. At that time Maynard has approximately 250 street lights.

Circa 1931, the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of Boston began supplying power, there having been contentious debate that the American Woolen Company charged more than market rates for its monopoly on electric power. An engineers’ trivia fact here is that AWC power was 40-cycle alternating current while the U.S. national standard had settled on 60-cycle (many countries use 50-cycle). A lower frequency had the advantage of less power loss during transmission, the downside being a noticeable flicker in incandescent light bulbs and arc-type street lamps that were common back then.

Today, Maynard’s several thousand street lights are all LEDs (light emitting diodes) with the exception of early 20th century style ‘historic’ fixtures in downtown locations. The conversion to LEDs was expensive, but power requirements are lower, and the lights are supposed to last 15-20 years, so maintenance costs are lower. Additional advantages over the replaced yellow-tinted sodium lamps and white-tinted metal halide lamps included reducing glare impact on night vision and less light pollution. One negative is that street-directed LEDs leave sidewalks relatively dark. This can be remedied by adding sidewalk-directed lights. Unknowns include the long-term effects of LED street light wavelengths (less yellow, more blue and green) on plants and nocturnal animals.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

A Dearth of Trees

Maple Street, Maynard, 1910. Second tree on left appears to
be same tree as in photo below. Click on photos to enlarge.
Using Maple Street, Maynard, as a perhaps not entirely typical example, there is strong evidence for attrition of the urban treescape. A postcard in the collection of the Historical Society shows both sides of Maple Street (and the east side of Brooks Street) lined with maple trees; a 1910 photo shows the same trees  on Maple Street, larger, and allows for an estimate of perhaps forty trees at least six inches in diameter. Today, 110 years later, only four survive – one slowly dying. The greenway between the street and sidewalk contains these plus three replacement trees. The business district has suffered a similar loss. Roughly fourty sidewalk squares along Nason, Main and Walnut streets plus grass islands in the municipal parking lots were designed to host trees; many are treeless. Lastly, construction of the Assabet River Rail Trail through the center of town resulted in the loss of more than 600 trees more than four inches in diameter. Replacement plantings were perhaps one-fifth that number, and most of those north of Summer Street.

Maple Street, Maynard, 2019. Sickly tree on left is one of the
originals, most likely planted when houses were built in 1870s.
In addition to deliberate deforestation, our trees are at risk to species-specific diseases, invasive insect species, invasive plant species, uncompensated storm damage and deferred maintenance. Nationwide, chestnut blight took out three billion trees, elm disease another one hundred million. The larvae of Emerald Ash Borer have a fatal impact on ash trees, as does the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid on hemlocks. Oriental bittersweet vines grow into the tops of mature trees, overshadowing the trees’ leaves and breaking branches with weight, until the trees die.

Urban trees have value. A study conducted at Devens, MA, concluded that house prices in tree-rich neighborhoods are higher, energy costs needed to cool houses when trees provide share are lower, and asphalt streets have a longer lifespan before repaving is required due to a dampening of the daily heat/cool cycle. Trees capture rain, reducing the needs to channel and process stormwater runoff. Trees provide shade for outdoor activities, and muffle street noise. Plausible research suggests that patients in hospitals need less of pain relief meds and heal faster if their windows look out over gardens and trees versus a parking lot.

Nason Street, Maynard: stump of
removed urban tree. Eleven replace-
ment trees will be planted soon.
Counter to this, there is persistent lack of funding for urban forestry, consequence of tight budgets and an attitude that trees are “nice to have” but not necessary. Once a town or city has fallen behind maintaining an existing urban canopy, reversing the trend with an accelerated planting program is seen as too expensive. Only when a community recognizes that the commercial and personal health benefits of a trees sustainability program are real and important do annual budgets reflect the need. As of 2019, Nason and Main streets have lost most of their sidewalk trees.  

Norway spruce trees flanking house,
Glendale Street. 
Not only is Maynard suffering from a dearth of trees, it has no examples of remarkable trees. A pair of Norway spruces on Glendale Street approach 100 feet. There are sugar maples and white pines here and there that top 100 feet. Prior to the arrival of European colonists, New England’s white pines could top 160 feet, sugar maples 135 feet, eastern hemlock 130 feet, and tulip poplar trees 120 feet. Groves of 100-foot tall trees with trunks exceeding three feet in diameter were common, likewise trees 300 to 500 years old.    

The dearth of big trees rests on our history. To the colonists of the 1600s, every tree deserved an ax. Wood burning for household heat was so profligate that visitors from England wrote home that people were so extravagant as to having more than one fire burning at the same time! By 1850, more than half of New England was field or pasture, the remaining forests were second or third growth, good for firewood but not lumber. Locally, much of what had grown in abandoned farmland was leveled by the 1938 hurricane. A fair guess is that Maynard is home to no trees more than 200 years old, and that the majority is under 100 years old. What we have are adults with growing ongoing.

European copper beech, Acton Street, Maynard, MA.
Estimated 90' tall and 90' wide. 
EXTRA: there are two European copper beeches that may be the largest-trunked trees in Maynard. One is next to St. Bridget's Church. The other is in a side yard on the west side of Acton Street. The oldest known introduction of copper beeches to the United States dates to around 1830. The church beech may have been planted when the building was completed, in 1884. It has a girth of 14'11' at four feet from the ground, meaning a diameter of roughly 4.75 feet. European beech trees can reach ages of 250 to 300 years and diameters of 10 feet, with a few exceptional trees exceeding 500 years and diameters of 20 feet. Maynard's two stately copper beeches will likely be with us and holding us in awe for decades into the future.

The Town was designated a Tree City USA in 1999 and 2000, and refiled the necessary documentation for re-certification in 2001. Allowed to lapse, but applied and approved in 2016. The DPW Highway Department is responsible for the maintenance of all public shade trees.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Never Eat Lobster Alone

For the English colonists who started arriving on the American coast in large numbers during the 1600s, lobster was what you ate if you could not catch enough fish. In fact, lobster was used as bait for fish. Lobster developed a reputation as hardship food, and food for the poor. All along the coastal communities, it is bandied about that indentured servants were known to complain if they were fed lobster too often. What changed all this – what converted lobster from poor man’s to rich man’s food – was a combination of the canning industry and the restaurant industry.  

Industrial canning and transportation by steamship and railroad developed in the mid-1800s. Inland, where a person would never in their lifetime see a live lobster, canned lobster was a reasonably priced commodity. The Burnham & Morrill Company was one of the early lobster canneries in existence in Maine, now better known for its B&M baked beans. Lobsters were still so plentiful that anything under three pounds was thrown back as not worth the labor needed to remove the meat for canning. Upper-class restaurants in Boston and New York began offering fresh-cooked lobster. The doings of the well-off were grist for gossipy newspapers, then trickled down to the upper middle classes.

Lobsters can exceed 25 pounds and be more than 50 years old.

Thorstein Veblen, a noted economist and sociologist best known for his 1899 book, The Theory of the Leisure Class, popularized the concept of “conspicuous consumption.” The term refers to spending money on luxury goods and services to publicly display economic power. While initially applied to the very wealthy, who might have large properties, yachts, etc., in this country it expanded in time to the fuzzy-edged definition of middle class, where discretionary income (or modest inherited wealth) allowed displays such as trading in for a new car every year or two, vacationing in Europe – and serving lobster (or caviar, or expensive wines) to one’s guests at celebratory events.  

The economists’ term “Veblen goods” applies to types of luxury goods for which purchases increase as prices increase, thus running contrary to the normal laws of supply and demand, which dictate that purchases decrease as prices rise. For luxury goods, higher prices make products desirable as a status symbol. Manufacturers abet this trend by deliberately limiting supply, per prestige clothing, or else the supply may be naturally limited. Oddly, when the price of a luxury item decreases, its prestige may suffer and demand decline.    

Six Maine (Portland-bought) lobsters transported across state lines to
Massachusetts, for a celebratory group dinner.
The current world market situation for live lobster is interesting. Last year, the abrupt imposition of a Chinese 25% tariff on lobster imports from the U.S., in response to the trade war started by the U.S. government, the market for shipping live lobsters to China, which was approaching $100 million per year, crashed to near zero (Canadian lobster filled the gap). The sudden surplus depressed market prices. A year later, the tariff is still in place, but the industry adapted. “Boat price” increased from $3.92 per pound in 2017 to $4.05 in 2019 despite a larger harvest, and more to the point, growth for demand for frozen lobster tails and trendy restaurant offerings such as lobster tacos absorbed the surplus. As of June 2019, local supermarket prices for live lobster are $10-12 per pound. Going forward, a new problem affecting lobster harvesting is a shortage of bait for the traps. Quotas are being set for herring catch, which will translate to higher lobster prices as substitute bait is purchased.

Returning to the premise of the column title, “Never Eat Lobster Alone,” as noted, today, lobster is strongly identified as a prestige food and a celebratory food, meant to be eaten in public restaurants, where people can be seen by the less fortunate. Even when purchased for consumption at home, the prevailing practice is for a couple (or family) to eat lobster together on special occasions. This shared consumption is a self-confirmation of worthiness and good fortune. For all these reasons, eating a lobster alone, whether at a restaurant or at home, is counter-productive to the very idea. The mouth may say “Yes,” but the brain will say “Sad.”  

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Brown-tail Moths (History, Science, and a Poem)

Brown-tail moth caterpillar winter communal nests, made from oak tree
branch-tip leaves. In the spring, the caterpillars emerge, about 1/2 inch long,
eating everything as they descend. On breezy days they will let go, to drift
away on the wind, hoping to land on another tree. In effect, in late May
it will be raining poisonous caterpillars. This is annoying.
HISTORY: A bit more than one hundred years ago Maynard and Stow, in eastern Massachusetts, had a moth problem. Two moth problems, actually. Gypsy moths had been deliberately brought to Medford, MA in 1869 in an attempt to create a hybrid with silkworm moths that would be the basis of a winter-hardy silkworm industry. This failed. Accidental releases created a wild population that rapidly spread across New England, and continues to expand south and west. Less well known now was the Brown-tail moth. This species was accidentally introduced from Europe to Somerville, MA in 1897 and rapidly expanded its territory south to Long Island and north into Canada. (WHAT IS IT WITH MASSACHUSETTS AND INVASIVE SPECIES?!! Water caltrop (an aquatic plant) was brought from China to Cambridge in 1874, deliberately spread, and now plagues our local rivers and ponds. Winter moths were Canada first, but ground zero for the U.S. infestation was in or near Boston, expanding slowly west.)

Early spring Brown-tail moth
caterpillar, 3/4 inches long.
Gypsy moths caused the most severe foliage damage, but Brown-tail moths were the most dangerous to people. The problem was that barbed hairs (bristles, actually), of the caterpillars contain and deliver chemical compounds with hydrolase, esterase and hemolytic activity, the net result being a poison ivy like rash when in contact with skin, and respiratory problems if inhaled, especially for people with asthma. The hairs are shed, and remain toxic for years, so activities as simple as lying on the grass, mowing the lawn, sweeping a deck or raking leaves caused exposure. Rashes can be present from just hours, to weeks. There are no antidotes for the toxins, so symptoms are treated with anti-itch products. In severe cases, oral corticosteroids (inflammation response suppressors) can be prescribed.

Brown-tail moth caterpillar. Two red spots on back, near tail,
differentiate if from other hairy caterpillars (Internet download)
The Brown-tail moth life cycle is hatch in August, grow during summer and fall, over-winter as caterpillars in communal webs created at branch tips, resume feeding in April or May, pupate in July, emerge as winged adults in August, then quickly mate, lay eggs and die. In addition to toxic bristles on the caterpillars, the adult female sheds brown bristles from her tail (hence name) to protect the egg cases, and the molt prior to pupating protects the pupae. The caterpillars can be identified by presence of two red spots on the back, toward the tail end. This differentiates from other fuzzy caterpillars such as Eastern tent and Gypsy moth caterpillars.

Brown-tail larvae have been reported as feeding on more than a score of tree and shrub species. This generalist behavior is considered unusual. Combined with its tendency to reach extreme outbreak densities, this species is a major pest of fruit orchards, ornamental trees and hardwood forests. Partial list of plant species: apple, cherry, beech, elm, grape, hops, oak, pear, raspberry, rose and willow. In a mixed maple/oak forest, there is a strong preference for oak. An early description of the introduction to the United States in the 1890s identified pear and apple trees as most greatly afflicted, but mentioned that once trees were entirely bare of leaves, the larvae would descend to the ground in great numbers and move toward any leafy plant, including garden vegetables.

Maynard's Moth Department crew and wagon, circa 1910. Ladders were used
to get to higher parts of trees. Toxic chemicals were sprayed from the end of a
long pipe. Click on photos to enlarge (Maynard Historical Society).
In Maynard, the moth plague was so severe that the town had a Moth Department, with staff and equipment, to spray trees, remove Gypsy moth egg cases and in winter, clip branches that had Brown-tail moth communal nests. The annual budget was less than that for roads & sidewalks or the fire department, but larger than the police department allotment.

Circa 1906 there was an attempt at biological control of Gypsy moths by the introduction of Compsilura concinnata, a parasitic fly. The parasite was not species-specific, so it impacted many native moth and butterfly species, and while it was not particularly effective against Gypsy moths, it was spectacularly effective against Brown-tail moths, the reason being that Brown-tails were one of a very few species that over-wintered as caterpillars, which are what the fly larvae live within. Voila! By the early 1930s the Brown-tail had become extirpated from all of the afflicted territory with the exception of a few islands off the coast of Maine, and the tip of Cape Cod. And so the status remained until around 2000, when Brown-tails reappeared in increasing large numbers in southern coastal Maine, from Portland to Bar Harbor. One possible reason for the resurgence is a parasitism of the C concinnata fly by a species of Trigonalid wasp, a situation referred to as hyperparasitism.

MORE SCIENCE: Brown-tail moths are not unique in evolving poisonous spines. The term is "urticating hairs" which are actually hollow bristles or spines that contain toxins. For certain species of caterpillars, human reactions range from mild stinging and itching to intense pain, allergic reactions, kidney failure and death. Tarantula spiders also have detachable hairs which they will scrape off their abdomen into the face of an attacking predator.

Head to tail about one inch.
Female abdomen end is
covered in brown bristles,
hence the name. Bristles are
shed to cover egg clusters.
Brown-tail moth caterpillars, like other caterpillars, will shed their skins (molt) six to eight times between hatching and reaching full size. Immediately post-molt the caterpillar has few bristles, but quickly grows more. Each molt, bristles are shed as part of the discarded skin. These break off and are distributed by wind and any actions that disturb ground surface, such as mowing lawns and raking leaves. Touching surfaces with hands and then touching skin elsewhere can transfer loose bristles. The toxins remain potent for up to three years.

As of 2019, along the coast of southern Maine - north of Portland, south of Bar Harbor, but spreading in all directions - experiments in prevention are being funded by the state of Maine and local communities. Some of the pesticides are banned because run-off into the ocean affects marine life, specifically, lobsters. Small trees, such as apples and other fruit orchard trees, can be managed by cutting the branch tips that have the winter nests. This is not feasible, however, for mature oak trees, which are the preferred sites for females to lay eggs. Instead, testing being done with injecting pesticides into the tree trunk, with the idea that in theory this will be transported upward into newly forming leaves. Multiple injections per tree are needed (every 4-6 inches of circumference), and there is harm being done to the tree. This can cost hundreds of dollars per tree. Organically certified biorational controls are being researched, as are searches in the original habitat (Europe, western Asia, northern Africa) for species-specific parasites. Spraying the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is partially effective.

After vacationing in an afflicted area all clothing should be washed in warm to hot water. Tops and bottoms of shoes should be wiped with damp paper towels. Same to inside of suitcases. Even where native, there are historical reports dating back to the 1500s of severe outbreaks in cities, with trees of all types eaten bare of leaves. Southern parts of England are reporting 2019 as a very bad year. 

And a poem:
                                    IT'S RAINING CATERPILLARS
In fall, 
we hatchlings
climb upward, 
eating as we go.

At branch tips, 
we gather, 
bind leaves about us, 
and freeze.

All winter, 
we dream not.
Night, ice and snow
are our blanket.

Come spring,
we awaken,
climb downward, 
eating as we go.

There are caterpillars,
green inchworms,
which lower themselves 
to the ground on silken threads.

To travel, 
we let go,
cradled by the wind, 
falling toward
an uncertain future.  

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

This Old House (in Maynard, MA)

Winter view, 10 Maple Street, Maynard, MA
Maynard, Brooks, Greer, Hanna, Partridge, Barlow, Marsden, Jones and D’Amico/Mark. Those are the families who owned the property at 10 Maple Street from 1870 through the present. A reproduction of an 1875 street map at the Maynard Historical Society shows a house belonging to Charles Brooks, so the house itself is at least 145 years old. As built, the house likely did not have indoor plumbing, as the town did not have a water system until the late 1880s. The closest public well was at the corner of Concord and Brooks Streets. The house may have had piped gas for gaslight fixtures. Electric lights did not begin to reach Maynard until 1902, when the Mill contracted to provide power for street lights.

Learning the names of the litany of owners (and the price at each sale) required going to Middlesex County Courthouse, Cambridge, to leaf through records of property sales. The oldest showed A&L Maynard Company selling the property to Charles Brooks in 1870 for $2,430. Mr. Brooks was 56 years old at the time of purchase. The 1870 U.S. Census described him as a widower working at a saw mill, with four teenage daughters. The saw mill was most likely the one owned by the woolen mill, near the Walnut Street bridge.

The deed does not specify whether there was a house on the property at the time of the sale to Brooks, but Amory Maynard and his son Lorenzo owned other lots on Maple Street at the time. It is possible they were building and selling houses in addition to owning and operating the mills. In support of this theory, most of the houses on Maple Street and Maple Court have a similar architecture, indicating they were all built at the same time.

The Owners:
   Before 1870          A&L Maynard Co.
   1870-1879             Charles G. Brooks
   1879-1896             Alexander & Elizabeth Greer
   1896-1924             Mary Hanna
   1924-1926             Charles T. Partridge
   1926-1953             William and Carrie Barlow
   1953-1987             Thomas and Blanche Marsden
   1988-2000             Craig & Tresa Jones
   2000-Present         David Mark and Jean D’Amico

At first glance that’s nine unrelated owners over 150 years, but a bicycle trip through Glendale Cemetery complemented what was learned from the deeds. Alexander and Elizabeth Greer bought the house from Brooks in 1879. The 1880 U.S. Census listed Alexander as a watchman at the woolen mill. Alexander and Elizabeth were both born in Scotland in 1827.

Summer view, 10 Maple Street, Maynard, MA
The Greers had three children: Mary, Walter and James. Walter died in 1885, aged 24 years. James died in 1879, aged 16 years. Mary married John Hanna in 1880. She took over ownership of the house. Thus, two generations of Greer/Hanna owned the house for 45 years. John was a carpenter at the woolen mill. Mary lived to 91, and in doing so, survived her parents, brothers, husband and children.  

Before she died, Mary Hanna sold the house to Charles and Esther Partridge. Upon Charles’ death it went to their daughter Carrie Barlow, and in turn to her daughter, Blanche Marsden, who had no children. This time, three generations of the family owned the house for 63 years. The Partridge/Barlow/Marsden plot is also in the Glendale Cemetery. The Marsden inheritors sold it to Craig and Tresa Jones in 1988. Jean D’Amico and David Mark bought the house from the Jones in 2000.

The house is white, with black shutters. The foundation is field stone cemented in place, topped with a few feet of brick. The scarcity of stone walls in Maynard suggests that most of the farm walls were recycled into foundations and chimneys. While the stone is likely local, it is very possible that the wood for the wide plank pine floors, framing and walls was brought in by railroad, as almost all of eastern Massachusetts was denuded of trees by the early 1800s.

Painted loon (over front door) came with house in 2000.
Houses change. The Greers were there for hook-up to town water. The Marsdens were most likely responsible for converting a front porch to a room on a concrete slab, for extending the kitchen, adding a downstairs bathroom, and for adding the current back porch with its wooden slat awnings. D’Amico/Mark removed the cramped second floor bathroom and attic space over the kitchen, and converted that into a full-size bathroom plus a laundry room and walk-in closet.

The property also includes a 25x40 foot, two-story barn, with what was a stall for one horse. Construction date unknown. A good guess would be that Brooks, Greer and/or Hanna kept a horse and wagon to haul freight to and from the railroad. As late as 1920 there were still more than 100 horses residing in Maynard.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Maynard's Native Americans

Post-apocalypse movies are a popular genre – what will people do after civilization breaks? Whatever the catalyst – atomic war, zombie viruses, aliens, the Rapture… the movies imagine what humans will do after the big, transformative event. Typically, there is starvation and death (a lot of death!), a breakdown of legalities, loss of culture from a failure to educate the next generation, a few who fight back… Now, think about how this is exactly what happened when Europeans, with European diseases, European concepts of land ownership and European weapons, arrived in the Americas.

Wherever Europeans arrived, within a generation entire cultures and populations were wiped out. The initial causes were smallpox and other diseases (plague, measles, influenza, scarlet fever, leptospirosis…) – with epidemics in 1616-19, 1631-33, 1645, 1650-52 and 1670 – capped by exclusion from traditional lands and outright war. The first spate of diseases was the worst, and was thought of by the English as divine intervention. King James I is quoted as saying “There hath, by God’s visitation, reigned a wonderful plague, the utter destruction, devastation, and depopulation of that whole territory…” Pre-contact with Europeans, the Algonquin region that extended from Long Island to Maine numbered 100,000 to 150,000 people. One hundred years later it was one-tenth that.

As a result, the Puritans who made up the “Great Migration” from England, 1620-1640, found this to be ‘empty’ land that had until recent years been cleared and farmed by the native populations. This was easily returned to productive farmland – a process of combining the native crops of corn, beans and squash, with European wheat and an assortment of edible animals (cattle, hogs, sheep, goats and chickens). With crops suitable for winter storage plus domesticated animals to eat, the colonists did not have to rely so heavily on hunting, nor move to the seashore for the summer months. Instead, they owned and farmed and prayed in place.

The native populations that had lived in our area were referred to as ‘Nipmuc’ and may have numbered as many as 10,000. Nipmuc has many alternative spellings, such as Nipmug, Neetmock and Nipnet, all generally accepted as translating to “fresh water people.” The Nipmuc were not so much a tribe as a geographical area of peoples speaking an Algonquin dialect, previously either subject to or allied with strong neighboring tribes, such as the Pequot to the south, Masachuset to the east, Wampanoag to the southeast and Pocumtuc to the west. They grew corn and other crops, hunted deer and moose, and in the spring enjoyed the bounty of herring, alewives and shad swimming upriver to spawn.  

The Puritans were firm believers in Christianity and farming. In that order. Some of the native peoples who had survived the diseases converted and gathered into what were referred to as the Praying Indian Villages. One of these was Nashobah, now Littleton. What is now Maynard and part of Stow went by the name Pompositticut, said to mean “land of many hills.” There are no artifacts or known history to suggest this was a densely settled place. In contrast, Concord was originally referred to as Musketaquid for “grassy plain.” Stow, as created in 1683 had attached to it a narrow strip of land extending west beyond the Nashua River. This came about when Lancaster and Groton were created in the 1650s. A corridor of land had been left between the two for the Native Americans of Nashobah to travel west to winter hunting regions

All this accommodation crashed to an end with King Philip’s War of 1675-76. Metacom, also known as Metacomet and by the English name Philip, was a Wampanoag chief. Attempts to maintain a truce between the Wampanoag and the English colonists were frayed by colonial expansion and scattered acts of violence on both sides. In the summer of 1675, the actions of the native Americans coalesced into concerted attacks on towns across the Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island, New Haven and Connecticut colonies. Locally, history has it that natives met atop Pompositticut Hill to decide whether to attack Concord or Sudbury (the answer: Sudbury).    

Although the colonial militias were supplemented by volunteers from the Praying Villages, there was suspicion that Nipmuc were also collaborating with King Philip. To remove this perceived threat, many were relocated to Deer Island, in Boston Harbor, an early example of a concentration camp. Winter weather combined with inadequate housing and food led to more than half dying there. In 1676 King Philip was shot, his body drawn and quartered, his head on display in Plymouth for many years. Male prisoners of war were transported to Caribbean islands and sold as slaves. (Returning ships sometimes brought Negros from the islands to sell as slaves in New England.) Many of the native Americans who survived this catastrophe moved north or west and assimilated into other tribes.