Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The River Rises and Falls

From the late 1700s onward the Assabet River was less of a river and more of a series of narrow ponds, each created by dams that first backed up water for seasonal usage by saw mills and grain mills, those dams or their replacements later put into service for factories of the Industrial Revolution. Given the dams, the river was not a useful means of transportation either for people or freight; instead the river’s watershed became crisscrossed by railroads.

Figure from 2011 book "MAYNARD: History and Life Outdoors"
shows water precipitation in inches per month and average river volume,
also by the month. Snow expressed as water inches.
Mill operations were initially all about how much water could be retained. With a sufficient supply, mill operations could be year-round rather than limited to the times of naturally higher water flow (late fall through late spring). When partners Amory Maynard and William Knight bought land in Assabet Village they also bought water rights upriver, include rights to dam up Boon Pond and to the Fort Meadow Reservoir in Marlborough. One nice thing about water power was that once the dam, canal and waterwheel were in place, power was basically free. Within years, however, the demand for power was such that instead of relying wholly on water, coal-powered steam engines were soon supplementing and then replacing water power.    

Ben Smith dam in drought conditions. Click photo to enlarge.
As to how much water flows in the Assabet River, a U.S. Geological Survey station ( located a short distance upstream from the Waltham Street bridge provides depth and flow information. The long-term average volume is 200 cubic feet per second (cfs). As the figure shows, March and April are the high-water months as a result of snow melt plus rain falling on frozen and therefore non-absorbent ground. July through September are the low-water months despite basically the same amount of precipitation every month, because of evaporation and transpiration (water molecules released into the air from plant leaves). A prolonged drought can reduce flow to under 20 cfs. An interesting legality here in Maynard is that while Mill & Main owns the millpond, it is restricted from diverting water into the canal that provides water to the millpond when flow volume falls below 39 cfs. The intent of the law is to prevent the river going dry for the section downstream from the dam. Only when the river rises, as it did after the October 17 storm, is Mill & Main allowed to top up the pond, and perhaps simultaneously release water from the east end, so as to both refresh and replenish the millpond.

The river also rises and falls after each rain storm. Case in point – after that October storm the river rose from 1.5 to 2.8 feet deep at the USGS gauge. Pre-storm volume was 30 cfs, peaking at 260 cfs about a day after the storm ended. There was then a days-long gradual decline toward pre-storm levels, reversed when rain started the night of October 22. Interestingly, a look back at historic floods finds that there was often a previous significant rainfall event that had saturated the ground and raised water levels in the river just before the big storms that pushed the river into flood. For those floods, the most recent in 2010, flood crest levels occurred three days after the heavy rains began. Sometimes the skies had cleared and the sun was shining while the water was still rising.

River depth markers painted on wall below John's Cleaners on Sept 22, 2019.
White paint markers spaced one foot apart were recently painted on the wall below John’s Cleaners, visible from the sidewalk on the north side of the Main Street bridge. These indicate how deep the water is at the wall. Nine feet is optimistic (or pessimistic, depending on hour you feel about floods), as for flood peaks measured at the USGS station, there have only been five that topped seven feet since 1942. Because river width is different at the gauge and the bridge, we don’t know yet how closely the two indicators comply.

There once was, actually, a bit of Assabet River boat transportation. From 1906 to 1914 there was steamboat service from a boat house near the Ben Smith dam, Maynard, and a landing wharf was installed at Whitman's Crossing near Lake Boon, Stow. The one-way cost was twenty-five cents. Disembarking at the crossing, a short walk brought people to a dock on Lake Boon, where a regularly scheduled steam launch would travel to docks along the shore, allowing people to reach resorts, club houses and lakeshore summer homes.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Trail of Flowers 2019 Planting

Plantings of daffodils, tulips, crocuses and grape hyacinths are ongoing along the Assabet River Rail Trail. This is part of the second-year effort for the Trail of Flowers project. See for photographs. Last year - the first year - saw $600 raised from donations and the planting of 2,000 daffodils in Maynard. This year saw $1,923 in donations so far, the domain purchase and creation of the Trail of Flowers website, and an effort to plant nearly 3,000 bulbs in Maynard and Acton - the latter with help from the Acton Garden Club.

Donations of plants, mostly leftovers from the Maynard Community Gardeners annual plant sale in May 2019, meant that forsythia, beauty bush, irises, day lilies and goldenrod have also been planted adjacent to the trail.

Lastly, wildflowers of various types grew in the borders of the trail without any human involvement. These included goldenrod, black-eyed susans, Queen Anne's lace, cornfloweres, etc.

Volunteers planting tulips, crocuses and grape hyacinth on October 13, at the east side of the footbridge
Volunteers planting daffodils at the Marble Farm historic site on October 19. Includes three Girl Scouts who
helped put the bulbs into ground after the dirt was shoveled out. About 1,200 daffodils were planted at this
location last year - the intention for this year is to add about the same.


Volunteers planting daffodils at the north end of the Assabet River Rail Trail on October 20.

These flowers magically appeared next to the Trail along the section parallel to Railroad Street, Maynard.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Maynard's 50th Anniversary

April 1921 saw the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the incorporation of the Town of Maynard, which had taken place on April 19, 1871. The date coincided with the then-time celebration of Patriots’ Day, traditionally on April 19th, changed in 1969 to be the third Monday in April. Interestingly, only Connecticut and Maine celebrate this holiday, and Maine – for some reason – calls it Patriot’s Day (note placement of apostrophe). And why Maine? Because until March 1820, Maine was a district rather than a state, and as a district, part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.    

Parade photo of Maynard's 50th Anniversary, corner of Main and Walnut
Streets. Note iron bridge in foreground, replaced by reinforced concrete
bridge in 1922. Click on photos to enlarge 
The Maynard Historical Society has on file a copy of the program for the Fiftieth Anniversary. Morning and evening church observances were held on Sunday, April 17th at six churches, of which only St. Bridget’s Catholic and the Finnish Congregational are still with us today. Monday saw a presentation pageant “Origin of Maynard,” performed by junior and senior high school students at Colonial Hall, admission ten cents. Tuesday, April 19th, started at 7:00 AM with a fifty-cannon salute, followed by a parade from the town hall east on Main, northeast on Nason (a two-way street at the time), southeast on Summer and then west on Main, to Walnut Street. Governor Channing H. Cox and others delivered addresses at the end of the parade. Plans called for the orations to be followed by choral singing, various speeches, a band concert, a baseball game at Crowe Park (Maynard versus Concord), concluding the day with ringing of church bells. Planning the whole event had happened quite fast, as only on March 7th had the concept been approved at Town Meeting, and budgeted at $1,000.   

In April 1966, Elizabeth M. Schnair, one of Maynard’s several volunteer historians, composed a description of the 1921 festivities. Details she added were that it was Battery D of the 2nd Field Artillery of Lowell that came with their cannons and gunpowder. The parade included Maynard’s police, Maynard Brass Band, veterans of the recent World War, veterans of the Civil War(!), the town’s various fraternal societies, the Finnish Temperance Band, Imatra Band, Girl Scouts, school children and other groups. The outdoor choral speaking, band concert and baseball game were cancelled on account of bad weather, but an indoor reunion of old-timers meeting with past- and present-day residents was a great success.    

Documents pertaining to the 50th anniversary include a book written by William H. Gutteridge, “A Brief History of MAYNARD MASS.” The book, 115 pages, including many photos of old buildings, describes the creation and growth of the town, schools and places of worship, and genealogy of the important early families. The Maynard Historical Society Archive has many photos of the celebration events, all viewable on line at (search on 50th, then ignore mentions of school buildings being 50 years old or high school 50th reunions). Among those documents, there exists a 13:25 minute silent film of street scenes of Maynard, with parade events starting at 9:06. Viewable at /items/show/3638.

Planning for the centennial celebrations of 1971 had a much longer lead time. The Maynard Historical Society was organized in 1961 and charged with – among other tasks – writing a comprehensive history of Maynard. The book was published in 1971 with the title “History of Maynard, Massachusetts 1871-1971.” The Maynard Public Library has a copy. A modest celebration was held to celebrate the 125th anniversary, in June 1996. Both a section of the newspaper and a booklet titled “A Maynard Sampler 1871-1996” retold historical vignettes, most taken from the centennial book. In addition to three days of musical events and one evening of fireworks, a road race was conducted in coordination with the passage of the Olympic Torch through Maynard on June 15th, on its way to the Summer Olympics, in Atlanta, GA.   

Plans for the sesquicentennial (150th) celebration are underway. The first official event will be the opening of a 1971 time capsule in April 2020.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Volunteers Needed to Plant Daffodils

Do you know which end of a shovel goes into the ground? Not afraid of the outdoors? Then there is a volunteer opportunity waiting for you this fall: Trail of Flowers (TOF). A website explains what this is about. Briefly, now that the Assabet River Rail Trail is paved in Acton and Maynard, a proposal was made in fall 2018 to embellish the trail with extensive plantings of spring-blooming bulbs and summer-blooming perennial plants. The proposer was David Mark (me). Donations were made to pay for the purchase of bulbs and volunteers helped plant. This year, on October 19, volunteers are again needed to plant bulbs. The event is BYOS, as in bring-your-own-shovel. And BYOW, as in bring your own water.

Trail Of Flowers, planting volunteers, October 20, 2018
Last fall, the volunteers planted 2,000 daffodils in Maynard, mostly at the Marble Farm historic site, which is at Maynard’s north end of the trail, across from Christmas Motors. Other bulb plantings were scattered along the trail between Concord and Summer Streets. The donor organizations were Maynard Community Gardeners (MCG) and the Assabet River Rail Trail organization. During the summer of 2019 perennial plants were added, some being donated leftovers from the MCG plant sale.

This year, the Maynard Cultural Council provided a grant, Maynard Community Gardeners again made a sizeable contribution, and many private parties donated – enough to purchase 3,000 daffodil, tulip and crocus bulbs. Donations greater than $100 are acknowledged on the TOF website. The Marble Farm historic site will be added to, plus two new Maynard sites. If the Acton Garden Club comes through with providing volunteers, a planting site will be added in Acton.

First flower-viewing walk, May 4, 2019. Click to enlarge.
Next 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. The 2020 walk probably 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 the Marble Farm site   

The Town of Maynard approved Trail Of Flowers. 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!

If you, readers of this column, or anyone you think of sharing this information with, are interested in becoming a TOF volunteer, please email your contact information to David Mark at Or just show up on Saturday, October 19, between the hours of 1:00 and 4:00 with a shovel. If you arrive by car, park on Acton Street south of the State Police building, as this is preferred to parking on Rockland Avenue.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Folate and Folic Acid

Folate is a B-vitamin that occurs naturally in plants – more in some than others. Folic acid is a synthetic compound incorporated into multi-vitamins, dietary supplements and used to fortify foods; once absorbed it is converted into folate. Starting about 20 years ago, the United States decided to mandate fortification of wheat flour and other grains with folic acid in order to reduce the risk of infants being born with spina bifida and other neural tube defects (NTDs). In effect, the decision was made to increase folate in 350 million people to prevent an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 birth defect births per year. At the time, concerns were raised that this folic acid fortification might have unknown health-positive and health-negative consequences, the latter including an increased incidence of cancer. So far, most of this has proven to be not true.

In general, beans, nuts and seeds are good sources of food folate, as are dark, leafy green foods (spinach, etc.) and cruciferous vegetables. Animal liver is a great source, but animal meat, dairy and eggs, not. People who adhere to a vegetarian or vegan diet should have no worries about getting adequate folate from food, although there are other vitamins for which a general-purpose vitamin/mineral supplement is recommended. Currently trendy diets need to be examined for nutrient deficiencies. A ‘keto’ (ketogenic) diet avoids carbohydrates, but if it contains enough in the way of leafy green vegetables it should not shortfall the recommended intake of food folate. Exceptions are any women who might become pregnant, as the recommendation is to be consuming 600 micrograms of folate as folate and folic acid before and during the pregnancy. “Gluten free” diets can lead to folate deficiency, especially if people are replacing wheat-based foods with alternative sources of carbohydrates. Here too, consider a general-purpose vitamin/mineral supplement.

Worldwide, there were about 300,000 live NTDs per year before any country required folic acid fortification. The U.S. and Canada were the first countries to implement fortification in early 1998. For the sixty-some countries that now require fortification of wheat flour, and/or corn meal or rice, the incidence of NTDs has dropped by 25 to 50% (higher in countries that started with low folate intake from diet). The reasoning for fortification over advising women who became pregnant to start taking a folic acid supplement was they the risk for development of neural tube defects is greatest in the first few months of pregnancy – a time when women may not even be sure they are pregnant.

In the U.S., the decision to fortify food with folic acid resulted in roughly a 50 percent increase in total folate (naturally occurring from food plus folic acid). There were hopes among researchers that requiring fortification of foods, and thus increasing folate status in everyone, not just women of child-bearing age, would also have benefits for cardiovascular and mental health. The latest reviews of evidence report no change cardiovascular disease in general, but a modest decrease in the risk of stroke in people who already had pre-existing cardiovascular disease. Evidence for the last came from trials with folic acid supplementation in amounts higher than were achieved just from the food fortification program. In the arena of mental health, there are not enough human trials to determine if there are any benefits toward mild cognitive impairment, dementia in general or Alzheimer’s disease. One promising result is evidence that adequate folate status during pregnancy reduces the risk of the child developing autism.  

As for the whole cancer thing, long-term intake of insufficient amounts of folate appears to increate the risk of several types of cancer, including breast, colorectal, lung and prostate cancer. Although there were theories that folic acid fortification of foods would increase risk of cancer, by promoting growth of preneoplastic lesions, this turned out not to be true. Even supplementation in amounts far in excess of what would be achieved by food fortification did not increase cancer risk – but with one exception – prostate cancer. Multi-year, high-dose trials with folic acid supplements resulted in a 15 to 25 percent increase in prostate cancer compared to unsupplemented control groups. 

The Wikipedia article Folate elaborates on information presented here. Major population centers not requiring mandatory fortification include China, India, the European Union and Russia. Instead, these countries have public health education programs recommending to women that a folic acid dietary supplement be consumed starting months before becoming pregnant and continuing through pregnancy. The U.S. and other countries that now require fortification found that health education alone was not sufficient.