Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Thoreau Walked Thru (what later became Maynard)

On August 26, at 7:00 p.m., the Maynard Public Library will present a Zoomed talk titled: “Thoreau Walked Thru.” Register at https://www.maynardpubliclibrary.org/may150. This is the seventh in a monthly series of history lectures produced by the Sesquicentennial Steering Committee as part of Maynard’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of its creation on April 19, 1871. The September talk will be “Schools Through the Centuries.” A new history book “MAYNARD MASSACHUSETTS: A Brief History”, is for sale for $21.99 at 6 Bridges Gallery, 77 Main Street, WED-SAT, 12-5.  

This stamp, issued May 23, 2017, commemorated
the 200th year anniversary of HDT's birth. The
oil painting used as its model a photograph of
Thoreau taken when he was 39 years old.
He died five years later (May 6, 1862)
Henry David Thoreau's writings contain mention of this area in 1851, documented in publication of the journals after his death as an entry "A Walk to Boon's Pond in Stow."

It begins "Sept. 4. 8 A. M.  A clear and pleasant day after the rain. Start for Boon's Pond in Stow with C." By "C" he meant William Ellery Channing, who had been a classmate at Harvard, a neighbor in Concord, and the author of the first biography of Thoreau, published in 1873. From mentions of landmarks along the way it is possible to recreate a map of their path. The round-trip distance was a tad over 20 miles, some of it on roads or along the railroad, some through farmers' fields and woods.

Outward bound, Thoreau notes that odors from the gunpowder mills made them cough. Their walk continued westward on what is now Route 62. They skirted the paper mill (now site of 7-11/Dunkin), but did not cross the river on the newish (1840) bridge, nor walk down Main Street. Instead, they turned south onto what is now Route 27, then west on Old Marlboro Road, then into what is now the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge.

Click to enlarge. Boon was
killed in 1676 during Metacom's 
War (King Philip's War)
Boon's Pond, their goal, was a much smaller body of water back then, described by Thoreau as shallow and muddy looking. The pond was the namesake of Matthew Boon, who had started a farmstead in 1660. The pond drained via a short creek to the Assabet River. Some time after 1850, Amory Maynard had bought land and water rights around Boon's Pond, then built an earthen dam to raise the water level. His goal was to have additional water reserved to release to the Assabet, so as to keep his mill in operation during summer months. Decades later the wool mill converted to steam power, so less water was needed. The water level no longer dropped every summer. Campsites, rented cabins, second homes, clubhouses and resorts proliferated on the now stable shoreline of the renamed Lake Boon, popular because it could be reached by train from Boston.

On the way back, Thoreau and Channing walked along the railroad tracks, beside the Assabet River. Construction of this railroad spur off the Boston to Fitchburg line had begun in 1849, and by 1850 extended through Stow to Hudson. Thoreau complained in his journal that there was no good place to bathe for three miles because Knight’s new dam (the Ben Smith dam, constructed 1846-47) had raised and stilled the river. His description “The fluviatile trees standing dead for fish hawk perches and the water stagnant for weeds to grow in.”

They crossed what is now the White Pond Road bridge, climbed Summer Hill, then headed east on Summer Street to Concord Street, and so homeward. At the time of their visit the gunpowder, paper and wool mills of Assabet Village were the business center of a population of about 800 people, citizens of Stow or Sudbury depending on which side of the river they lived.

A typical day in the life of Henry David Thoreau might mean work in the morning, either the family’s pencil manufacturing business or later as a surveyor-for-hire, followed by an afternoon of walking and an evening of writing in his journal. In his own words: “I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absolutely free from all worldly engagements.” He became alarmed if he found that he had gotten a mile of so in the woods, but his mind was still filled with thoughts of his obligations in the village.

“Walking” was the title of one of his essays. His first public reading was at the Concord Lyceum on April 23, 1851. Between 1851 and 1860 Thoreau read from the piece a total of ten times, more than any other of his lectures. “Walking” was published in the June 1862 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, shortly after his death from tuberculosis at age 44. The essay’s length is slightly more than 12,000 words. Various internet sources have the complete essay available on line – some with researchers’ annotations. He was aware, however, that his Massachusetts terrain was not true wildness, but rather a post-colonial return of once-farmed land to meadow, woodlot and forest. Civilization had led to local extinction of bears, mountain lions, wolves, deer, turkeys and beaver, so the largest wild animal Thoreau might sight would be a fox.

One dozen Thoreau pencils, with the original
paper wrapping, in the collection of the 
New England Historical Society
Wait, wait…pencils??? Charles Dunbar, brother-in-law to Henry’s father, John Thoreau, was in the pencil-making business from 1823 onward. Natural deposits of graphite, then called ‘plumbago,’ were mined. If very pure, the graphite was cut into rods, encased in wood (two pieces, glued together), to make a pencil. If not of highest quality, the graphite was ground fine, then mixed with a binding agent such as hard wax, encased in wood, to make a not-very-satisfactory pencil. The Thoreau ‘factory’ was in a shed behind the house.

After finishing his education at Harvard (in part paid for by pencils) Henry took it upon himself to make a better pencil. He either learned about a European process or developed it independently, to mix clay with the graphite, resulting in pencils of varying hardness depending on the ratio of clay to graphite. Henry also invented a means to collect only thoroughly ground graphite. A wooden tower was erected over the grinding apparatus, and a fan was directed to gently blow from the bottom upward. A collecting shelf was at the top. Only the smallest particles accrued on the shelf, the larger falling back to the grinder to be further milled. 

Thoreau pencils came be known at the best-made pencils in America. The high-quality plumbago was also used in electrotyping (an electroplating process). With a different ambition. Thoreau could have expanded the factory, hired more people, and become very wealthy. Instead, the business was kept modest – enough to provide the Thoreau family with a middle-class lifestyle – thus allowing for Henry to hie off to Walden Pond for two years, and in general, to use his afternoons for wandering and his evenings for writing.

At auction in 2018, an authenticated Thoreau pencil sold for more than $1,400.          

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Thoreau: Bibliography and Quotations on Walking


Thoreau's journal for 1851. His walk thru what became Maynard is the entry for September 4th. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/59031/59031-h/59031-h.htm 

Carl Bode (ed.), Collected Poems of Henry Thoreau - enlarged edition  John Hopkins University Press, (2010), ISBN 978-0801895708.

Thoreau himself was ambivalent about the work of poetry:

My Life Has Been the Poem (1841)

My life has been the poem I would have writ/But I could not both live and utter it. 

Don Marquis (1878-1937) expressed the same conflict in a shorter timeframe:

I never think at all when I write. Nobody can do two things at the same time and do them both well. 

Images of his land surveys (in the collection of the Concord Library) #107a is the Concord River, but it described the Sudbury River as the upstream part of the Concord River, and the Assabet as the North River.  http://www.concordlibrary.org/scollect/Thoreau_surveys/Thoreau_surveys.htm 

http://mainewoodsforever.org/itinerariestrail-map/ Describes three visits to Maine.


Henry Thoreau as Remembered by a Young Friend               Edward Emerson, (1917)

Edward was a son of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who had been a mentor to Thoreau. This collection of notes and observations >10,000 words. 



"As for walking, the inhabitants of large English towns are confined almost exclusively to their parks and to the highways. The few footpaths in their vicinities 'are gradually vanishing,' says Wilkinson, 'under the encroachments of the proprietors.' He proposes that the people’s right to them be asserted and defended and that they be kept in a passable state at the public expense. 'This,' says he, 'would be easily done by means of asphalt laid upon a good foundation'!!! So much for walking, and the prospects of walking, in the neighborhood of English large towns.

"Think of a man—he may be a genius of some kind—being confined to a highway and a park for his world to range in! I should die from mere nervousness at the thought of such confinement. I should hesitate before I were born, if those terms could be made known to me beforehand. Fenced in forever by those green barriers of fields, where gentlemen are seated! Can they be said to be inhabitants of this globe? Will they be content to inhabit heaven thus partially?"


“The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the world.”

“It is true, we are but faint-hearted crusaders, even the walkers, now-a-days, who undertake no persevering, never-ending enterprises. Our expeditions are but tours and come round again at evening to the old hearth side from which we set out. Half the walk is but retracing our steps. We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return; prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only, as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man; then you are ready for a walk.”

“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absolutely free from all worldly engagements… When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shop-keepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them — as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon — I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago.”

“But the walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours — as the swinging of dumb-bells or chairs; but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day. If you would get exercise go in search of the springs of life. Think of a man’s swinging dumb-bells for his health, when those springs are bubbling up in far off pastures unsought by him.”

“I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit. In my afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations, and my obligations to society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head, and I am not where my body is; I am out of my senses. In my walks I would fain return to my senses. What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?”

“SAUNTERING, which word is beautifully derived ‘from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre,’ to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, ‘There goes a Sainte-Terrer,’ a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander.”

“At present, in this vicinity, the best part of the land is not private property; the landscape is not owned, and the walker enjoys comparative freedom. But possibly the day will come when it will be partitioned off into so-called pleasure-grounds, in which a few will take a narrow and exclusive pleasure only, — when fences shall be multiplied, and man-traps and other engines invented to confine men to the public road, and walking over the surface of God’s earth shall be construed to mean trespassing on some gentleman’s grounds. To enjoy a thing exclusively is commonly to exclude yourself from the true enjoyment of it. Let us improve our opportunities, then, before the evil days come.”

“I was walking in a meadow, the source of a small brook, when the sun at last, just before setting, after a cold, gray day, reached a clear stratum in the horizon, and the softest, brightest morning sunlight fell on the dry grass and on the stems of the trees in the opposite horizon and on the leaves of the shrub oaks on the hillside, while our shadows stretched long over the meadow east-ward, as if we were the only motes in its beams. It was such a light as we could not have imagined a moment before, and the air also was so warm and serene that nothing was wanting to make a paradise of that meadow.”

“My vicinity affords many good walks; and though for so many years I have walked almost every day, and sometimes for several days together, I have not yet exhausted them. An absolutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon.”

"The Old Marlborough Road" (Thoreau poem)

Old Marlboro Road in Maynard, MA. Click to enlarge.
Maynard did not become a town until 1871, so the road
predates the town by several centuries.
This entry (first posted March 2017) is about connecting Henry David Thoreau's poem "The Old Marlborough Road" to the factual people and places named. See below for final version of the poem. Marlborough is a Massachusetts town 16.5 miles from Concord.  Both towns date to the 1600s, so a road could be 'old' in 1850.

Thoreau created a lecture entitled "Walking," first delivered at the Concord Lyceum on April 23, 1851. He spoke on the topic close to a dozen times, revising the presentation as years passed, so it is referred to in some descriptions has having been written 1851-1860. As a published work, which includes the poem, "Walking" first appeared in the Atlantic Monthly magazine in 1862, shortly after his death. The entire essay is available at several websites, including: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1862/06/walking/304674/

What is unknown is whether the poem was ever part of the lecture presentations, or only added to the essay for publication. Research on this would require locating and transcribing lecture manuscripts. The Concord Public Library Special Collections does have Thoreau's handwritten manuscript of "Walking" as submitted for publication. The poem - in his sister's handwriting - has no mark-ups or amendments. (Thoreau was ill/dying from tuberculosis as he worked on this and other writings that were published posthumously. His sister helped by making clean copy for some parts of his marked up drafts). The manuscript does differ in a minor way from what was actually published: the poem's title and spelling throughout were "Old Marlboro Road."

An earlier version of the poem can be found as an 1850 journal entry with the title already set, but missing the first eight lines, and with extra lines, later cut. What in the final version are the important last four lines instead were located in the middle, just before "Nobody repairs it." The journal version of the poem can be found on line at various sites, including pages 54-56 of the Bradford Torrey edition of the journals, covering 1850 thru September 1851. See: https://archive.org/details/writingsofhenryd08thorrich

Elsewhere, as recorded in Thoreau's journal on September 4, 1851, he and William Ellery Channing walked on parts of the old road to Marlborough as part of their trek to Boon's Pond. Thoreau mentions that he had walked in this general direction many times - he described it as a tendency to head west or southwest once stepping out his door - but not as far as the destination of that specific trek. He described the road to Marlborough as "little-frequented," and no more than a woodman's cart path. [Torrey edition, pp.452-462]

The beginning of OLD MARLBORO Road in Concord,
near Emerson Hospital. 
The road exists again, paved, and named Old Marlboro Road. It wends west from near Emerson Hospital, cuts across the north corner of Sudbury as Powers Road, continues as Old Marlboro Road in Maynard, where it ends at the east border of the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge. Within the Refuge, it continues as a trail named Winterberry Way; then out the west site yclept Bruen Road, White Pond Road and finally Concord Road all the way to the center of Marlborough.

As to how old the road was, and why it had fallen into disuse, Marlborough officially became a town in 1660. By 1663, Sudbury records describe an intent to create a road to "Marlbrow." The road from Concord to Marlborough, across the northern part of Sudbury, became a major route for stagecoaches transporting farm produce, freight and people. From 1685 to 1815, Rice Tavern, Sudbury, was at the crossroads of the Concord-Marlborough and the Sudbury-Lancaster roads. But by Thoreau's time a new road had been built farther south. Rice Tavern had reverted to a farmhouse, torn down in 1942.  

While the theme of the poem is that by stepping out on disused/abandoned roads - as was already true of the old road to Marlborough in his day - you are in effect traveling on any road and every road, the poem also contains factual references specific to Thoreau's time and place. Martial Miles owned land near the road (Martial Mile's Swamp mentioned elsewhere in Journals). Elijah Wood (1790-1861) was a life-long resident of Concord, descendant of one of the founding families; his son, Elijah Wood, Jr. (1816-1882), was a contemporary of Thoreau. Why Thoreau wrote "And Elijah Wood/I fear for no good" is a mystery. Perhaps aware of Wood's pending death.

Elisha Dugan was a free Negro, never married, son of Thomas Dugan, an escaped slave who had become a landowner in Concord. The Dugan family history is described at length in Black Walden, by Elise Lemire. In the poem's context, "Close to the bone" would have meant in poverty/destitute.

"Not many there be/Who enter therein/Only the guests of the/Irishman Quin," Sudbury archives show James and Zana Quin on various town records (qualified voter, taxes). James, born in Ireland, died 1848. His wife died 1866. The house, on the old road to Marlborough may have gone to a son or relative, as an 1856 Middlesex county map shows Riley Quinn.

Possible that Thoreau passed this stone on his way from Concord to the start of
Old Marlborough Road. This is facing west, as the intersection of Route 62 and
and Old Road to Nine Acre Corner. Follow ORNAC across Route 2, then turn
right onto Old Marlboro before getting to  Emerson Hospital. The faint grooves
on the left face indicate this piece of granite was split and shaped by hand.
Granite markers: Thoreau's "Great guide-boards of stone" - were common then, and many still stand to this day. Some of these indicated town borders. Many Massachusetts towns have by-laws that require the Selectmen or their representatives to periodically confirm such stones' locations and status. Other reasons for a stone post would be to have directional arrows pointing toward towns, and perhaps mileage. One stone could serve both purposes.    

Esther Howe Wheeler's book, Nature - A Thoreau Country, (1965) has her circa 1940s photo of a large granite marker post besides the dirt road. The Concord Public Library Special Collections has a photo dated November 7, 1899, showing the same stone and calling it an Old Marlborough Road guide post. And yet more! The second (1892) edition of Old Concord: Her Highways and Byways, by Margaret Sidney (pen name of Harriet M. Stone), tells of visiting Martial Mile's House, passing by the remnants of the house of Irishman Quin, and taking her horse and carriage on the Old Marlborough Road, which she described as in poor repair. An artist's rendering in the book (pp. 176-178: https://archive.org/details/oldconcordherhig00sidn_0) shows the same stone marker as in the photographs. With a magnifying glass it is possible to discern "← 12 MARLBORO" and "→ 4 CONCORD" on one face of the stone. A recent drive-by found no stone marker at the road's boundary between Concord and Sudbury, which is four miles distant from the center of Concord.

The poem mentions Gourgas, Lee, Clark and Darby as Selectmen. Massachusetts towns elect men and women (only men back then) as Selectmen rather than electing a mayor. Francis Richard Gourgas was part of Concord government as Postmaster, Selectman and Town Clerk, also a Senator in the Massachusetts Legislature. Thoreau had surveyed land for him. Daniel Clark, Joseph Darby and Isaac S. Lee were identified in town annual reports as Selectmen serving prior to 1850 (first known date of poem, their names already included in that version).

The first two lines of the poem as published in 1862: 
       Where they once dug for money,
       But never found any;

Some interpreters took this as meaning people used to travel the road on business, which takes aim at the first line but elides the second. More likely Thoreau was referring to a Concord buried treasure legend.

In an 1856 journal entry, there is a sentence "On Money-Diggers’ Shore, much large yellow lily root washed up; that white root with white fibres and yellowish leaf buds." The text has no location, but the 1906 Gleason map of things Thoreau puts Money Diggers' Shore as squarely within Concord, on the west shore of the Sudbury River, near the start of Old Marlboro Road. Three other journal entries (1856, 1858, 1859) make mention of plants found growing on Money-Diggers' Hill without any clues as to location. A good guess is where Emerson Hospital is located.

Thoreau's Nov 5, 1854 journal entry has a description of the legend of pirate treasure buried near John Hosmer's hollow. That would be near the west shore of the Sudbury River, in Concord. Hosmer and a friend had come across a pit some six by six feet, and as deep. They explained to Thoreau that there were old stories of pirate treasure, and that people had been digging near the river for a hundred years. Thoreau revisited the treasure story in a December 1856 journal entry: "Am pleased to see the holes where men have dug for money, since they remind me that some are dreaming still like children, though of impracticable things - dreaming of finding money, and trying to put their dream into practice. It proves that men live Arabian nights and days still. I would they should have that kind of faith than none at all."

THE OLD MARLBOROUGH ROAD (as published, 1862)
Where they once dug for money,
But never found any;
Where sometimes Martial Miles
Singly files,
And Elijah Wood,
I fear for no good:
No other man,
Save Elisha Dugan,—
O man of wild habits,
Partridges and rabbits,
Who hast no cares
Only to set snares,
Who liv'st all alone,
Close to the bone,
And where life is sweetest
Constantly eatest.
When the spring stirs my blood
With the instinct to travel,
I can get enough gravel
On the Old Marlborough Road.
Nobody repairs it,
For nobody wears it;
It is a living way,
As the Christians say.
Not many there be
Who enter therein,
Only the guests of the
Irishman Quin.
What is it, what is it,
But a direction out there,
And the bare possibility
Of going somewhere?
Great guide-boards of stone,
But travellers none;
Cenotaphs of the towns
Named on their crowns.
It is worth going to see
Where you might be.
What king
Did the thing,
I am still wondering;
Set up how or when,
By what selectmen,
Gourgas or Lee,
Clark or Darby?
They 're a great endeavor
To be something forever;
Blank tablets of stone,
Where a traveller might groan,
And in one sentence
Grave all that is known;
Which another might read,
In his extreme need.
I know one or two
Lines that would do,
Literature that might stand
All over the land,
Which a man could remember
Till next December,
And read again in the spring,
After the thawing.
If with fancy unfurled
You leave your abode,
You may go round the world
By the Old Marlborough Road.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Utility Poles ("Telephone Poles")

Street 59 (Maple), pole #1
For people of a certain age, those wooden things with wires were called “telephone poles,” even though the essential function was to deliver electric power. Equally dated, we say we are going to ‘dial’ a telephone number even though rotary dial, landline phones are also history. Pushing history further back, these were “telegraph poles.” A scant few years after Samuel Morse invented the telegraph, he had a proof-of-concept grant from the federal government to build a wires-on-poles connection between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. This and early versions of “Morse Code” were operative in 1844. By 1850, some 12,000 miles of telegraph wires crisscrossed the United States. Thoreau’s journal has a note that the telegraph reached Concord in August, 1851. An entry from the diary of Harlan Maynard – Amory’s youngest son – confirms Assabet Village had telegraph service by 1857 (perhaps earlier). Creosote was already being used to preserve railroad ties, so the same means was carried over to telegraph poles.

The website woodpole.org is a trove of more information than one could possibly want, unless actually employed it the utilities business. There are an estimated 150 million poles in place in the North America. Lifespan depends on climate – short for the hot and humid deep South, moderate for Massachusetts. Three tree species make up the great majority of what is used in the U.S.: Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar and Southern Pine. Trees that meet the standards are debarked, shaped to be round and straight, then loaded into a container that will be filled with one of the several approved preservatives. Pressure and heat are applied to sterilize the wood (killing all insects, bacteria and fungi), and permeate the wood with preservative chemicals. The chemicals are approved and regulated by the EPA. Creosote, long-time used to preserve utility poles and railroad ties, is no longer used, and pentachlorophenol (“penta”) is on the verge of being phased out. It should go without saying that old utility poles and railroad ties should not be burned for firewood, nor for outdoor bonfires.

Safe lifespan calls for poles to retain 2/3 of their original required design strength. This is determined by periodic inspection and treatment. Most utilities inspect on a ten-year cycle. Poles in Maynard appear to be on a seven-year cycle, as indicated by oval aluminum tags that read “OSMOSE INSP.,” with a year, and also “MITC-FUME.” The latter indicates that the poles have been treated with an anti-fungal compound via angled holes drilled near ground, a slow-release cylinder inserted, and then capped with a plastic plug. With this preventive treatment, utility poles can last more than 50 years.

Utility pole inspection tags: 2007, 2014
Other tags will indicate a number for a street, a number indicating each pole on the street, and often the name of the company responsible for maintaining the pole. On older poles these tags can be tin, and you might see “BOSTON EDISON” or “NET&TCo.,” for New England Telephone and Telegraph. On newer poles, badges can be plastic, or even coded markings burned into the wood.

A few odds and ends: If your vehicle breaks a pole your insurance will be charged for a replacement. Poles at corners provide support for yard sale and lost pet signs, evidenced by the hundreds of staples and nails. One too-common sight in Maynard are double poles, meaning old poles next to the replacements, because some of the wires have not yet been transferred. In theory, double-pole situations are supposed to be resolved by the utility companies within 90 days, but there is currently no state law imposing fines.

As to finding the oldest utility pole in Maynard, limit your search to the narrower diameter, creosote-treated poles that still have climbing spikes, then look for date nails, hammered in facing the street, about six feet off the ground. These have two-digit numbers signifying the twentieth century year the poles were installed. Many are missing – taken for souvenirs.  Oldest I’ve found is a ’38, meaning the pole was installed 83 years ago. If you find older, write a letter to the newspaper.  

South of the Cumberland Farms gas station, on Route 27, there is a tall wooden pole with climbing spikes but no wires. The land around it belonged to Boston Edison – once the provider of electric power to Maynard. Climbing to the top of the pole was part of the job application process. Several mergers later, BE is Eversource.