Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Maynard's Bridges Revisited

Florida Road bridge closed for replacement construction on December 13, 2021.

The Maynard Historical Society had in its collection a photograph of a wooden bridge across the Assabet River at Florida Road. The road was barely more than a cart path, and the caption with the photograph mentioned that wooden bridges at that site were repeatedly washed away by floods. A decision was made in 1914 to construct a rebar-reinforced concrete bridge, the first of its type in Maynard. The Town approved a budget of $6,500. The bridge was completed in 1915 for $6,011.  It is state bridge #M-10-006.

Even taking into account dollar inflation, that was a remarkable reasonable price. The current project to replace that bridge is budgeted at $3,362,437. Time-to-completion is estimated at two years, during which time the road will be closed to through traffic. As to why the bridge needs to be replaced, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has deemed it “Structurally Deficient” for years. Rebar-reinforced concrete was an extremely popular bridge construction material at the beginnings of the twentieth century. Concrete bridges have an expected safe lifespan of 50-70 years, depending on traffic burden and exposure to the elements (weather and road salt). This bridge is 106 years old. At the time the Florida Road bridge was constructed, there was no expectation for truck traffic, as immediately south, the road passed through a narrow, one-lane-wide underpass under the railroad. Hence, the bridge’s narrow lanes and poor sightlines were not considered unsafe, as bridge traffic speeds were expected to be slow and limited to horse-drawn vehicles and the automobiles of that era, but now make the bridge tagged as Functionally Obsolete in addition to Structurally Deficient.

Crumbling concrete an exposed rebar at base
of the 106-year-old Florida Road bridge
Florida Road is not the only bridge in the United States that is overdue for replacement. From a 2017 report, the U.S. has more then 600,000 bridges, of which 40 percent were more than 50 years old and 9.1 percent were Structurally Deficient (improved to 7.5 percent as of 2021). The estimated cost of remedying the nation’s backlog of bridge rehabilitation exceeds $100 billion.   

The MassDOT project to replace bridge #M-10-006 began in 2017 with a notice to proceed, traffic counts and confirmation of the state of deterioration. In places above and below the road surface, concrete had broken away, exposing steel rebar, which was rusting. Surveying was conducted in 2018. A preliminary design was presented to the town in February 2020. The existing bridge has 9-foot lanes, low curbs and 5.5-foot wide sidewalks; full width 30 feet. The new bridge will have a full width of 41 feet to accommodate 10-foot lanes, 4-foot paved shoulders to serve as bicycles lanes and 5.5-foot wide sidewalks. Much like the Waltham bridge replacement, this will be a concrete deck resting on steel beams. The additional width will all be on the downstream side. A recent walk through the site saw that about 40 trees on both sides marked for removal, some exceeding a foot in diameter, one-third of all the trees appearing to be dead.   

Sewer pipe under the existing Florida Road bridge (Click to enlarge)
One question of interest only to a few adventuresome people is the extent of vertical space under the bridge. With just the right river depth, it has been possible in the past to put kayaks and canoes into the river just downstream of the Ben Smith Dam, to pass through Maynard, crossing under six bridges. One of the proposal diagrams shows a 9-foot clearance between normal low water and the bottom of the steel beams. However, the diagram also shows water and sewer pipes suspended below the bridge, same as those exist at present. Successful passage would require water levels deep enough to float a boat, yet not so high as to make those pipes into head bangers.      

Foot-depth markers on wall
below John's Cleaners
Are any other of Maynard’s bridges deemed Structurally Deficient? Three reinforced concrete bridges date to 1922: Route 117/Great Road (also known as the Ben Smith bridge), Main Street and Walnut Street. These spans over the Assabet River were originally bridged in 1816, 1849 and 1865, respectively. The original bridge at Route 117 appears to have been a two-arch stone and mortar bridge that stood until the 1922 replacement. Main and Walnut were replaced by steel bridges in 1872 and then concrete fifty years later. Of the three bridges that are nearing their 100th anniversary, the Main Street bridge is officially Structurally Deficient, marking it as Maynard’s next bridge project. The other two still pass annual inspections. Maynard’s six other bridges range in age from 4 years (Rail Trail) to 84 years (Mill Street).    

Mark painted the foot-depth markers on the riverwall below John’s Cleaners.

  

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Maynard's Transportation History - Part 2

The early years of the twentieth century were a watershed for local transportation. Electricity provided power for a trolley system (later replaced by a bus line). The advent of automobiles would in time end the golden age of bicycling (and passenger trains, and that bus line). Trucks would make obsolete the need for local freight trains.  

The trolley power station, now
the Indian Orthodox Church
There was an electric trolley system going by the name Concord, Maynard & Hudson Street Railway. It operated October 1901 to January 1923. In addition to the named towns, there was a spur north to South Acton and beyond, to West Acton. Trolleys ran every 30 minutes from 6 AM to 11 PM. From Maynard to the other towns cost a nickel. In addition to the standard passenger cars, CM&H operated custom-built luxury cars, for rented use. Think of these as the party limousines of the day. Each of the three cars, the “Concord, Maynard” and “Hudson” had carpeting, wicker chairs, electric lights and curtained windows. These private cars could be hired for trips, and were not limited to CM&H rails. There is a record of a day trip to Woonsocket, Rhode Island!

Worth a historical mention that in Boston and other cities, trolleys predated electric power. In 1890, the City of Boston had a horse-drawn trolley system, known then as the West End Street Railway Company. West End had 2,000 cars in service, and employed as many as 9,000 horses. Conversion to electric motors started in 1891. By 1897 the last horse was retired.

Charles H. Persons (center) being driven in his 1904
Ford Model A, on Main Street. Note trolley tracks. Photo
courtesy of Maynard Historical Society. Click to enlarge.
The first car owned in Maynard, a Stanley Steamer, was purchased by Dr. Frank U. Rich in 1899. The Harriman brothers, of Harriman Laundry also went in for steam-powered vehicles, but gas engines were a coming thing. Charles H. Persons purchased the first Ford in town in 1904. From a photo, this was likely a Model A: 8 horsepower, top speed 28 mph. Newspaper ads in 1914 offered Ford Model T cars for $500. By 1910, there were two car dealers in town, repair shops, gas stations, car rental businesses, attempts to control speeding, and the first reported accident (small boy hit, bruised but otherwise unharmed). By 1925 the town’s annual report numbered 879 motor vehicles in Maynard. The horse count had dropped from to 70. As of 2021, there are two used car dealerships, two rental businesses, four gas stations and a dozen or so repair and parts establishments. 

Steamboats operated on the Assabet River from 1906 to 1914, offering transportation from a dock at the rear of the trolley headquarters to Whitman’s crossing, at Lake Boon. The company started with one boat, named “Queen,” but in time added “Gertrude” and “Teddy.” Weekdays, boats departed every 30 minutes, 8 AM to 8 PM. At Whitman’s Crossing, a short walk to Lake Boon brought people to a dock where the “Princess” would take them to docks scattered around to lake, providing access to summer cottages, club houses, restaurants and drinking establishments.

The trolley barn, located on the west side of where Routes 62 and 117 merge, became the base for the Lovell Bus Lines (1923-1954). John Lovell started bus service from Maynard to the South Acton train station one month after the trolley stopped. In time, he added bus service to Concord and Hudson. Eventually the line was extended west to Clinton and Leominster, and east to Waltham and Revere Beach (summers only, round-trip $1.25). Lovell Bus Lines was sold to Middlesex & Boston Street Railway – which operated trolleys and buses – later merged with MBTA. Bus service for Maynard dwindled over time, ended in 1972.

As for airplanes, Sidney H. Mason created an airstrip in 1948, behind his house on Summer Street. Sid was 28 at the time, and an Army veteran. He and three friends bought a used Luscombe 1946 8A in 1947 for $1000. Sid bought out his partners soon after. The airstrip was carved out of what had been an extensive Mason family farm that dated back to at least 1875. In fact, back in the farm days, the family had two runways, and many of the pilots in Maynard and nearby towns kept their planes there. Sid was still flying as late as 1997, age 79. In the meantime, Sid's son - Jack Mason - had taken up his father's hobby while still in his teens, earned his pilot's license, and was flying a Vector Ultralight in and out of the backyard. This meant that “Sid’s Airport” continued to be an active, FAA-numbered airstrip (MA52). Sid Mason passed on to the big airport in the sky in 2005. His life-long love affair with the air is memorialized by his tombstone, as it portrays his Luscombe in flight, with the plane's registration number N72025 on the side. Jack sold the property in 2016.

The Monster.com blimp pictured flying over the
company's corporate headquarters, in Maynard.
The latest air experience for Maynard did not actually land here, but there was a valid connection. For many years, Maynard was the headquarters for Monster.com, a once vastly successful jobs search company. Circa 2002, Monster leased two blimps from Virgin Atlantic for promotional flyovers at sports events, etc. One of the blimps did a flyover of Maynard, captured in a photograph that includes the blimp, mill buildings and the clocktower. Not occurring anywhere near here, but in response to an “I dare you” from Richard Branson (the CEO of Virgin Atlantic), Jeff Taylor, CEO of Monster, water skied 3.3 miles being towed by his blimp, setting a world record. The previous record holder was Branson.

On November 23, at 7:00 p.m., the Maynard Public Library will present a Zoomed talk titled: “Transportation from Horses to Airplanes.” Register at https://www.maynardpubliclibrary.org/may150.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Maynard's Transportation History - Part 1

Kerosene street lamp, circa 1900. Courtesy of
Maynard Historical Society. Click to enlarge.
For people afoot, starting 1878, the Town of Maynard decided to providing lights for the thoroughfares of this new town. Amory Maynard was on the committee. The result was 25, six-foot tall, kerosene-fueled street lamps installed on downtown streets. By 1891, railing against darkness encompassed 74 lamps, lit sunset to midnight. (Anyone out past midnight was expected to have their own kerosene lamp.) A few businesses supplemented street lights with their own far more luminous gaslights.

In 1902, the Town of Maynard signed a contract with the American Woolen Company to provide power for 92 electric lights. Circa 1931, the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of Boston began supplying power, there having been contentious debate that the woolen company was charging more than market rates for its monopoly. Today, Maynard’s several thousand street lights are light emitting diodes, with the exception of early 20th century style ‘historic’ fixtures in downtown locations.

Horse count by year (light tint line)
Maynard’s Annual Town Reports included Assessors’ Reports which until 1933 included a horse tally. The maximum was reached in 1899 at 256 horses. Businesses moved goods about town by horse-drawn wagons. A wealthy family of this pre-car era might have a carriage house on the property and keep a horse on site, or board a horse at a livery stable in town. The site of the Fine Arts Theatre was once a livery stable. Larger operations such as Parmenter Farm on the north edge of town were caring for dozens of horses for various businesses. Maynard was also home to a number of urban barns. These were not remnants of working farms, but rather one-horse barns for people who carted goods about town or to and from the railroad.

Unlike cars, horses are not inert until needed. Horses consume 15-20 pounds of pasture grass or hay daily, and 10-20 gallons of water. What goes in comes out, so stalls needed to be mucked out daily, and new hay added for bedding. Grooming took time, as did ensuring horses got some exercise. Getting a horse into harness was much more time consuming than pushing the start button on a modern-day vehicle. The horse population gradually declined. By 1919 there were only 123 horses, then fewer than 20 when the count stopped in 1933. A few remained. Peter Grigas reminisced about how well into the 1950s he and his friends rode their family-owned horses from Maynard to Lake Boon on summer days, stopping at Erikson’s Ice Cream on the way back.

Steam engine trains, initially wood-fueled, then coal, reached Assabet Village in 1850. According to the centennial history book, Amory Maynard was a prime mover in getting the right-of-way secured, and as a reward, was given a lifetime pass. The first train ran July 1850. At that time the tracks extended only as far as north Marlborough – which became Hudson in 1866 – but were later extended to the center of Marlborough, a distance of 12.4 miles from South Acton, in 1855. Most of the traffic was freight, but it was possible to take a passenger train from the center of Assabet Village all the way to Boston, or detrain at South Acton to board a train heading west.

Railroad bridge over the Assabet River (1850-1979). There was
a smaller bridge underneath for carting coal. Location
is the site of the current Rail Trail bridge (2018)
Over the decades, there were a few minor accidents and two major ones. November 26, 1905, the local-stop passenger train from Boston to Marlborough left Boston at 7:16 p.m. The Montreal Express left the station 30 minutes later. There was fog. In Lincoln, near the bridge over the Sudbury River, the Express smashed into the rear of the local, killing 17 (9 from Maynard) and seriously injuring 25-30 others. Fault was attributed to the engineer of the Express, who had only recently been promoted from fireman. The flagman at the rear of the local, knowing it was running late, had dropped flares on the tracks so as to warn the following train, but the engineer had not sufficiently slowed the Express. The other accident was a derailment in Maynard, on Easter Sunday, 1911. Several people suffered minor injuries.

Train service declined in the twentieth century. Passenger service west of Maynard ceased in 1939; for Maynard the last passenger train was May 16, 1958. Freight service ceased about ten years later, bringing nearly 120 years of railroad to an end. In 1979, Mass Transit turned the right-of-way over to the towns, which in turn sold pieces to individuals and businesses. A vision of converting the abandoned tracks to a paved rail trail began in 1992. The five towns voted to approve the trail in 1998. The southwest end – Marlborough and of Hudson, 5.6 miles – was paved circa 2006. The north end – Acton and Maynard, 3.4 miles – was paved in 2018. The middle may never be completed, as some owners refuse to sell the land or permit passage.

Maynard bicycle club 1896
The “Golden Age” for bicycles was the 1890s – after invention of the air-filled tire and before cars and motorcycles. John Dunlop, a veterinary surgeon, experimented with putting air-pressurized rubber tubing inside a rubber tire. He patented the concept in 1888. By 1892, he was a millionaire, and the people of the United States were on their way to having ten million bicycles – for only 75 million people. Women took to wearing bloomers. There were demands for asphalt-paved roads. Bicycle racing and bicycle clubs were everywhere. Circa 1896, Maynard had a cycling club that favored the high-wheeler design – a large wheel directly powered by pedals, with a frame arching back to a small trailing wheel – over what came to be known as the ‘safety’ design, with its wheels the same size, a chain-drive to the rear wheel; and better brakes. A 1900 photo in the Maynard Historical Society collection is a group photo featuring the Priest brothers and their three-seater ‘safety’ bicycle.

Today, the fastest growing market segment is electronic/hybrid, i.e., combining battery power and pedaling. Usages are commuting, urban delivery (food and other), and recreational. Upsides include low operational cost. Downsides include safety and weather. Maynard and neighboring towns have implemented plans to promote safer sharing of roads. The towns also have miles of woodland trails suitable for mountain bike exploration.  

This is Transportation, Part 1. Trolleys to airplanes will be in Part 2. Some content in this column is in Maynard’s newest history book: MAYNARD MASSACHUSETTS – A Brief History (2020), which can be purchased at 6 Bridges Gallery, 77 Main Street, for $21.99.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

The Polish Immigrant Experience

From L to R, brothers Tony Sebastyn and
John Sebastynowicz, and Chet Leach, at
the Firestone/Acme Supply store
John Sebastynowicz, born in Maynard in 1926, was co-owner of Firestone/Acme Supply with his older brother Anthony “Tony” Sebastyn. During World War II, Tony had served in the Coast Guard, John in the Army. They bought the Nason Street business in 1951, and operated it at that site for 35 years. In an extended interview with John about his and his parents’ life in Maynard, and about the Polish immigrant experience in general, a depth of color was added to the somewhat sparse accounting of the Polish community as it exists in Maynard’s history books.

For background, the first great wave of Polish immigration spanned 1870 to 1914. Estimates are that 1.5-2.0 million people arrived during that period. In addition to Maynard, Clinton, Worcester and Boston had significant Polish populations. The exodus was catalyzed by oppression and poverty in Europe, while at the other end, what was seen as job opportunities and freedom in the United States. The jobs were hard jobs. Poles took up physical labor in steel mills, coal mines, slaughterhouses and textile mills. Work was often seven days a week, 12-hour days. At the textile mills, parents falsified child birth records to bypass laws prohibiting work for children under 14 years old.

Poland had ceased to exist as a country in the late 1700s, partitioned to the Russian, Austrian and Prussian (German) empires.  Russian-occupied Poles experienced increasingly abusive Russification in the mid-19th century. From 1864 onward, all education was mandated to be in Russian, and private education in Polish was illegal. Polish newspapers, periodicals, books, and theater plays were permitted, but were frequently censored by the authorities. All high school students were required to pass national exams in Russian; young men who failed these exams were drafted into the Russian Army. Similar oppression took place in the Prussian and Austrian partitions.

Meanwhile, a study conducted in 1911 found that close to 100 percent of Polish immigrants to the United States said that they would be joining relatives or friends, leading to conclusions that letters (and money) sent back home played a major role. That matched John’s description of his family history. His parents came to Maynard because cousins were already here. They met and married here, in 1918. John grew up in what was then called the West End of Maynard. His parents worked at the mill, his mother in the burling department, his father as a department head for napping. “Burling” referred to hand-repairing slight imperfections – knots and loose thread ends – on the woven cloth. “Napping” was a mechanized process wherein fabric passed over revolving cylinders covered with short wire bristles, to increase the thickness and softness of the fabric.

Picnic poster
(courtesy Maynard
Historical Society)
John mentioned that Polish was spoken at home, by his childhood friends, and at the grocery stores in their neighborhood. He remembers that his older brother started public school – at the Bancroft (later Coolidge) School – not knowing any English. The same applied to the children of Finnish immigrants who were living in the Presidential neighborhood. John reminisced that as a child, winters everyone went ice skating on the mill pond. Summers, they swam in the Assabet River, either near the ice house or at Russell’s Bridge (White Pond Road; the Maynard/Stow border). He also mentioned that when a bit older, he and friends would walk the railroad tracks west, to swim in Lake Boon, or sometime canoe that far, then carry their canoes the short distance from river to lake, so they could paddle around on Lake Boon.

St. Casimir's Roman Catholic
Church, Maynard, MA
St. Casimir’s Roman Catholic Church was central to the Polish community. By 1910 there were about 600 Polish-speaking people in Maynard. On December 8, 1912, Reverend Francis Jablonski said his first Mass, at St. Bridget’s Church. In 1926, St. Casimir’s parish bought what had been the power station for the trolley company (extant 1901-23). The church was blessed on November 12, 1928.

John and his wife Lena – married at St. Casimir’s in 1952 – both described the annual Polish Picnic, held in August of each year, with money raised helping fund the church. The day’s events began with an outdoor Mass, followed by food, games and entertainment provide by polka bands. There was a large dance floor laid out atop the grass lawn. John reminisced about how people had admired he and his sister Helen doing the fast-stepping Polish ‘Hop’ Polka. The picnic drew thousands of people, in time becoming so large that it was held at the Maynard Rod & Gun Club rather than on church property.      

Deaths of first-generation immigrants, assimilation of their descendants and dearth of new immigrants tolled on all of Greater Boston's Polish parishes. In 1995, Cardinal Bernard Law announced that 10 of 14 would stop celebrating Mass in Polish. Four years later the Beacon-Villager ran an article about the pending closure of St. Casimir’s. A locally circulated petition could not reverse the decision. The parish was merged back into St. Bridget Parish, although the St. Casimir building remained a consecrated space, used by the Polish community for baptisms, weddings and funerals.

Names of donors of the stained glass windows.
Click on photos to enlarge.
In 2003 the building was sold to St. Mary's Indian Orthodox Church of Boston. Interestingly, St. Mary’s decided that removing St. Casimir’s altar would not be appropriate, so a curtain is drawn across the alcove during services. At the entrance to the church, the four stained glass windows donated by John’s parents and another couple – Jan and Nadia Lojka – still grace the building.

John mentioned in passing that back in the day, Maynard was infamous for having 27 licensed liquor-serving establishments. That would include restaurants, bars, saloons, dance halls, pool halls, bowling alleys and social clubs.